Bluebottle's Personal Statement Blog

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Everything that Bluebottle says will be taken down and used as evidence against him...

William Shakespeare not knowing what to put in his personal statement

I work in a University, and a large part of my job involves setting up interviews for the applicants for the courses I look after. The UCAS1 application forms are split into four pages. The first page shows details of who is applying and what they're applying for, the second page details qualifications gained, fourth page references and predicted grades, but the third page is dominated by the personal statement.

When I think about it, writing a statement about yourself is quite a daunting task. The sole purpose of the statement is to convince the reader that you are exactly the sort of person that is needed on the course. I always find it surprising how so many people from such a wide range of backgrounds, ages, sexes and nationalities with such different interests all end up writing exactly the same sort of thing. Everyone who comes to University works well in a team, can work on their own initiative, and is dedicated. The statements often end up being less a statement of what your personality is and who you are, but more a string of management clichés strung together. Applicants 'give 110%' when doing 'blue-sky thinking outside the box'.

It would be interesting to see if there is any connection between what people write in their personal statement and how well they eventually do in their course. Do the applicants who claim on their statement that they think of nothing but the subject they're applying for morning, noon and night really have better attendance levels and get better degrees than those who write more about their hobbies and extra-curricular activities?

How easy is it to write something that you know will be reviewed? Does every statement we write become a personal statement that we are judged by? I cannot help but wonder whether the people reading this, and the previous Post and Edited articles I have written, make judgements about me.2 And if so, what impressions do they get? Sometimes I write to be controversial – to cause disagreement and discussion. Sometimes I wish to be informative, other times I wish to amuse – depending on what I've written, you could get very different impressions of me, especially as you cannot tell facial expressions or tone of voice from the written word.

Some students, however, do write moving and emotional statements about their lives and the hardships they have faced. I often wonder how frequently these personal statements are read by the admissions tutors because they are being nosy rather than using them as a basis for deciding how legible the applicant is for getting a position on the course.

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged?

Sadly, some admissions tutors seem to take great delight in reading through personal statements looking for spelling and grammatical errors. They use it as an ego boost, feeling smug and superior to those that would like to be taught by them. They long for a big red pen to cross through and correct poor sentence structures and incorrect English wot like this 'un is. The amount of text messaging language in personal statements that are part of the University application process never ceases to surprise, nor the number of incorrect spellings of 'University' by those wishing to apply to University.

So, should we judge a person from a personal statement? Can a whole person, the sum of all their years of life, their hobbies, interests, goals, ambitions, failures, disappointments, experiences, loves, laughs, triumphs and the impact and influence of their friends, family and peers be reduced to half a side of A5? I would hate to think that all that a living, breathing human being is can be so little. Yet there are times when reading a personal statement has, despite my best intentions, made me laugh. Here are a few examples that I have spotted this year:

  • "I have known since I was a child that God intended me to be a photography student". Course applied for: Animation.
  • Another Animation applicant wrote on her personal statement: "I really love Groaning". I assume she meant Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama. If she didn't, that's more information about her extra-curricular activities than we needed to know about...
  • "My interest in art started when I was just a small child when I was given colouring-in books and I didn't like them."
  • "I am also a car hobbyist, spending hours taking bits of my own car apart to find out how they operate. Reassembly, however, is one of my weak areas..."
  • "I feel that I would really thieve in a course like this" - I assume he meant thrive, and isn't confessing that he is going to steal stuff from everyone.
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1Universities & Colleges Admissions Service - all University applications in Britain go through the UCAS system2I also wonder whether any people read the previous Post and Edited articles I have written, but that is another matter.

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