12 The rest of your personal statement

The advice schools often seem to give to students about their personal statements is very formulaic and tends to result in very dull pieces of writing.

For some reason everyone talks about how A level Maths has improved their problem-solving skills. Really? (And isn’t that what your school should be saying about you, not what you should be saying about yourself?)

I think the best personal statements weave together a series of specific anecdotes about you and what you want to study at university. The mantra is: show me, don’t tell me. So don’t say

I read “The Economist” every week

because I don’t believe you.

Instead say

In a column titled “Philosopher Kings” in The Economist, Schumpeter argued that business leaders would benefit from studying great writers. Although I ultimately want to work in finance, I am applying to study English jointly with Business Studies because I agree that there’s more to commerce than balance sheets and profit forecasts.

That’s specific and it’s relevant. And now I believe you read The Economist.

You see, your personal statement is just that: a personal statement. When I read it, it should be clear that it was written by you because only you could have written it. Only you have read those things and had those thoughts and been to those places and had those experiences. Your goal should be that – by the time I’ve finished reading your personal statement – I have a clear sense of who you are, and I really want to teach you.

Because if you don’t achieve that goal, you’ve simply written the kind of generic personal statement I see all the time. And how on earth can an admissions tutor distinguish you from all the other identikit applicants? Why is she going to give you an offer and not them?

Maybe you’re scared to be really you because you’re worried about somethign bad that you don’t want to admit to . . .

NEXT: 13 Bad things