US to UK: Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

Us to Uk finalAs an American, when I think about writing an essay for a college application, I think of the prompted essays like “What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in life?” and “Who is your hero and why?” Those essays may be annoying, but they do, at least, give an idea of what you’re supposed to do.

Then there are personal statements.

When I first heard of personal statement, I was horrified. Personal statements are the “tell me about yourself” of the essay world. Open-ended, factual but not flowery, highlighting strengths yet humble, and lots of information packed into a small space, from a paragraph to a page or two.

It was foreign territory to me, but luckily I’m equipped to handle foreign territory, at least when it comes to writing. Give me some guidelines and enough time to have ten drafts going simultaneously, and I will figure it out.

Given some guidelines, anyone willing to spend the time can, and will, figure it out.

So what are those guidelines?

Simple: things to include in the personal statement, and things NOT to do.

Things to Include:

  1. The name of the program you’re applying for.
  2. Why you are applying for that program.
  3. Your academic experience related to the program.
  4. Your work experience related to the program.
  5. Any books or article you’ve read recently that you enjoyed and can comment on.
  6. What the program will do for you in your future career.

This list may seem intimidating, but the main point is to be honest. Make a list of things that can be included in each category and decide which ones are most important to you, not which ones you think the program will like more.

Personal statements should reflect you, not what you see as an ideal candidate for the program.

Personal statements should also reflect the program. A personal statement for an engineering program will be more skill and experience specific than one for, say, Celtic Studies.

Things NOT to DO:

  1. Become literary or poetic. The focus should be on your academics and abilities, not on how you felt presenting a project. It’s about your thoughts more than your feelings. For instance: if you want to talk about what it was like presenting a project, focus on what you learned or your method of presentation, not on your nerves or the relief when it was over.
  2. Highlight your weaknesses.
  3. Leave something out.

Okay, so 2 and 3 might contradict each other a bit, but hear me out.

You don’t want to highlight your weaknesses by saying you don’t have experience with something. For instance, if you don’t have work experience related to the program, just don’t mention any work experience related to the program. Focus on academics instead. It’s what I had to do. Some programs will be more open to it than others, but simply not mentioning it is better than saying “I have no work experience related to the program.”

On the other hand, you don’t want to leave something out. If you have work experience tangentially related to the program, you can include that. If you’re torn between career paths, mention it, and talk about how the program will help with both or help you choose.

And if you’re not sure, have someone you trust read it and give feedback after they’ve read a bit about what personal statements are. It’s always good to have a second pair of eyes.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,



One thought on “US to UK: Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

  1. Pingback: US to UK: Introduction – Bonnie Celtophile

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