The Personal Statement

Writing
Not another essay!

Your Singapore-Cambridge A Levels Results is just released, you scored pretty decent grades, enough to get you the course you want in University, so now what? The thing that stands between you and the offer to the course you want from the University is an application form (besides the tuition fees of course). And unfortunately the application form is not just about filling up your details and your results, it requires some information of your personality, aspirations and such. And they do this through a Personal Statement (or whatever they call it).

Usually a personal statement doesn’t offer any questions; at least UCAS works that way but they do give some sort of guidelines as to what to include in it. You should generally talk about your academic interest, the motivating factor behind your choice of course and some activities or achievements that is in line with that. Or if appropriate, you could talk about the kind of books you read. After which you can include some of your other interests and the reason for your choice of study setting. And depending on your preferences, you could end with an appeal for an offer.

Unfortunately, not all applications are that liberal with the stuff you can write. Some would restrict you with a question, which students might prefer at times. The most popular question that have been asked is ‘What are some values or beliefs do you hold on most strongly? Give evidence of how you demonstrated them.’ And to tackle this question, you basically have to choose some of these values and beliefs. They come across as pretty generic and the content would depend really on the story you have to tell about yourself. A good story is rare but would come strong; that doesn’t mean that ordinary tales about your life won’t stand out. You’ll never know. Here are some values that you might use and also guidelines as to what life story you can pick.

Discipline – How you managed to keep yourself away from temptations/distractions and pursue your goals (in studies and other endeavors of life)

Integrity – How you have been consistent in your thought, words and deeds (Maybe during leadership stints in CCAs, or what you’ve promised your teachers and friends)

Teamwork – How you might have dropped your own idea in support of a team activity and gone along with everyone (maybe in Project Work)

Compassion – How you’ve gone all out to reduce pain and sufferings of others (perhaps community work and such)

Hard Work – How you worked hard and it paid off (very cliche and overused value so I’m suggesting you don’t use it unless you’ve a unique experience to share)

Balance – How you’ve managed to juggle commitments and the lighter bits of life (once again, drawn from work and life)

Excellence – How you’ve insisted on the best from yourself and the people around you (probably in Project Work or your CCAs again)

There’s also questions that ask for an event or a person that has influenced your life; these usually end up being very cliche sort of writings but then if you know how to package it, even cliche writings can appear impressive. It is important that the influence is positive and powerful if not significant to your current attitudes towards life. This is especially true when your content has something original to offer within the cliche framework in the first place. I’ve seen the essay of a successful Havard Applicant about his mother’s influence in his life; he started out about how a cliche is one because it is often true and then about his mother who is a NASA engineer.

Other questions could simply ask for what you’ve done in your last summer vacation or what you will be doing before entering the university. These are easy for those with exciting experiences like touring around the world or working at an interesting job. For those involved in mundane jobs and boring work, try your best to extract lessons learnt from your workplaces and experience that could be applied to university life or the course of your interest. It could range from making calls and interacting with customers to researching on the Internet for some information your employer have asked you to put together.

Some other general pointers about this writing is to stay humble (humility, incidentally, could be used as one of the values) and to keep description of your experiences simple and free from unrealistic adjectives. Use plain English with more sophisticated sentence structures rather than bombastic words to impress readers. That way, you exhibit maturity of thought rather than a childish urge to flaunt your vocabulary. Finally, paragraph your writing properly and it would be best to get a tutor or teacher to go through it for you. They are experienced and have seen the statements by many other students so would be in a good position to offer advice for improvement.

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