Personal Statements - what are they for?

Thursday, October 31, 2013 12:00 AM

Our good friend, Johnny Rich, has some strong opinions and good tips for personal statements.

No-one actually likes having to write a personal statement, but would it be better if they didn't exist?

Your personal statement is the page in your uni application where you get to write about what a unique and wonderful individual you are and how you're so much better than just your exams results.

The idea of getting rid of them altogether is being put forward in a report by a group called the Pearson Think Tank. A think tank is a group of bright sparks who get together to come up with ideas to solve problems. They usually publish their results and try to encourage the Government (or whoever) to take up their idea and run with it.

So it's not like this is about to happen, but just what problem did they think this might solve?

Well, it's pretty much accepted that when it comes to getting into uni, the process isn't very fair.

When you consider that less than one in ten of the whole population goes to private, fee-paying schools, we should all be pretty worried that at some of our most highly regarded universities, the proportion is nearer half. In fact, there are seven times more people from the richest fifth of society studying at 'selective' universities than there are from both of the poorest two fifths put together.

The unis in question must be to blame, right? We should say they must recruit poorer students, but that's not so easy. If poorer students haven't had the breaks, even the brightest ones might not be getting the top grades to get those most hotly fought-for places.

So surely personal statements are a great idea? They allow unis to tell the truly able students from the carefully coached ones. Don't they?

Unfortunately not if the coaching doesn't stop at just the exams. In private schools, students often get close-up coaching how to write a killer personal statement. In poorer schools, they're sometimes lucky if they get help with their application at all.

So, is doing away with personal statements the right solution?

Personally, I don't think so. A classic case of chucking out your gran's embarrassing birthday card before removing the crisp twenty from inside.

But there are lessons here for students - all students:

(1) Write the best personal statement you can. There are some great blog posts here [tom-blogs-about-personal-statements] and here [zoe-blogs-about-personal-statements] about what makes a good statement. And there are top tips here [http://www.push.co.uk/get-a-place/Give-your-application-the-edge/Writing-a-personal-statement/s.htm] and here [http://www.brightknowledge.org/knowledge-bank/education-pathways/applying-to-university/personal-statement-checklist].

(2) Find someone - several people, ideally people who'd know - to read it and give you feedback.

(3) Don't hold back on applying to the best uni for you, whatever your background. The most competitive unis are looking for students with potential not just grades and if you do your research by picking a course that suits your interests and matches your goals in life, then maybe you can show them that you're just the person they want.

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