Writing a personal statement

Updated: Jan 19, 2019




I will be starting my first year of English and Creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London in September. The “English and Creative writing” part is important to keep in mind when reading my personal statement, which you can find towards the end of the article.

I started writing my personal statement mid August 2016. I had a 3 page first draft and almost none of the information written there made the final cut. Three drafts in, I was just starting to get my personal statement to say what I wanted it to. Approximately 4 more edits followed. I had it reviewed by five people. And my brother was the greatest help when it came to polishing the final draft (mostly because he is very critical).


Basically, what I’m trying to say with all this is: write a lot. Write anything that comes to mind. All your extracurriculars, your transferable skills, volunteer work, your motivations, your goals, your dreams. Everything!


Then start deleting. As much you’d like to talk about your debating skills and how passionate you are about BEST and all the things you did with your school’s debating team, etc, etc. Firstly, it might be irrelevant to your course, in which case you should think about cutting it altogether. There are certain skills, which are relevant to any course: time management, teamwork, research, communication… it’s always valuable to have examples of you displaying those skills in certain situations. But it’s a good idea to separate them into their own paragraph and remember to keep it short. In case the previously mentioned debating IS relevant to your future studies, then great, write a sentence or two, but don’t go into unnecessary detail, because you’re going to end up eating up your word count. And in a personal statement every single character counts. Literally.


After you’ve deleted everything irrelevant, go through what you have and see if anything else comes up in addition to it. You may have forgotten about that time your research project about the ecosystem in lake X was quoted in an online article and that is very relevant, because you are applying for a Marine Biology course. Jot down all your fresh ideas and then just as you are getting excited about the fact that you are doing so well — find yourself unable to write an openning.


The first paragraph is always the hardest. I finished it last. I found it challenging to decide on the tone I wanted set. I just didn’t know what I wanted to convey. Everyone knows that the first sentence of your personal statement is the most important. Start with the cliche “ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to be…” and whoever’s reading your statement will automatically decide that you’ve got nothing interesting to say.


Don’t try to fit into certain expectations you assume people have for you. Be yourself! That’s the most important part of writing a personal statement. It’s the personal part. You are given the chance to display your best qualities, to “brag” a bit about THAT thing you are really proud of. You are given the freedom to explain yourself, to talk about your passions, your quirks even (you made a short film based on a fan fiction you wrote when you were only 13! WOW!). If you are authentic then the person assessing you will be able to decide whether you are a good fit for the university and the course. And in case you aren’t, you shouldn’t be disappointed. That just means that it’s not the place for you. However, another institution will LOVE your statement and will offer you a place based on it. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, you WANT to stand out.


You have to present your qualities in an objective, argumentative, but also positive manner. Don’t just say “I’ve developed leadership skills”, give examples. Remember that time when you were forced into a group project with some very introverted students, so you took the lead and helped everyone get comfortable and give their best? Now is the time to mention it. If you don’t think you are a leader, then talk about another skill you have! Don’t use sentences such as: “I’m not really a natural leader, but I can work well with others when someone else takes initiative”. Instead say that you are a team player. Talk about how well you and your teammates managed your time in that competition and what you achieved by working together. Forget the “but”. If your sentence has a “but” in it, you most likely have to change it.


DON’T I went to a writing competition, but I didn’t do as well as I hoped, because it was my first time and I was worried. However, It was a good experience, and I learned a lot.


DO From my participation in the writing competition “Sofia writes”, I learned the importance of drafting, editing and how to work under pressure, I also developed my time management skills and stimulated my creativity.


You gain something from all of your experiences. If you want to include a certain competition that you know will make an impression, or maybe you just don’t have much participations aside from that, then ask yourself this: What did I gain? If you can’t think of a possitive way it influenced you or your abilities — don’t write about it.


When you are finally happy with what you’ve written, show it to someone you trust to advise you and give you constructive criticism. The proofreader should be someone who will present you with ways to improve your statement, rather than just praise you and say how brilliant it is. Because, guess what, it’s probably not. It will most likely need a bit more work before it is satisfactory and that’s OKAY. It doesn’t have to be perfect. For example, the proofreader didn’t quite understand what you meant by *insert sentence here*. Don’t change your voice or you message, but be open to rewriting certain sentences in order to make them better or replacing one word with another. Simple changes can go a long way when polishing your final draft, so don’t be upset if someone suggests an edit.


To summarise:

Write down anything and everythingDelete. Leave only relevant informationBe yourself and decide what you want to saySay it, but also prove itSay it to someone elseSay it a little better

And lastly: hit send and wait.


In case you are wondering about time-frames and when it’s best to send your application. I can’t answer that question. But I can share my experience. I sent my application on 30 November 2016 and I recieved my acceptance letters as following:

2 December 2016: University of Westminster — conditional offer

13 December 2016: Goldsmiths University of London — unconditional offer (had to also provide a portfolio in addition to the statement)

13 December 2016: Brunel University London — conditional

28 December 2016: University of Roehampton — conditional

25 January 2017: Royal Holloway, University of London — conditional (had to also provide a portfolio in addition to the statement)


My highest conditional offer was from Royal Holloway and it was a Bulgarian Diploma with 5.5 (out of 6) overall, including 5 in Bulgarian Language and literature.


By the end of April I had already selected Goldsmiths as my firm choice, but in the end my diploma could have secured me a place in any of these universities. That would have been irrelevant, however, had I not worked hard and taken the time to write a good personal statement. So without further adieu…


***


I discovered literature through the mythological world of Percy Jackson when I was eleven. I was absorbed in the story from book one and felt privileged to accompany Percy through his quests. I was teleported to a different world and when my travels there ended, I had to find others to conquer. My passion for fiction guided me from the wizarding world of Harry Potter through the dystopia of “1984” all the way to the classical tales of “Dracula” and “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. Percy Jackson’s adventures were the first to make me feel the thrill of reading, while the latter made me dive deeper into understanding the message of the texts. My interest in the written word flourished after reading “The Picture of Dorian Grey” and “The Night in Lisbon”. I became invested not only in the characters and stories themselves, but also in the way they are created. In time, writing became an outlet for my emotions, imagination and creativity.


It all started with exploratory fan fiction — from imagining the Gods of Olympus pondering over the demigods, to envisaging the Simpsons family in the future. In fifth grade I started writing screenplays and learned how to make videos in order to create different sketches with my friends. A year later, I wrote a series called “Anonymous”, centred around cyber bullying. In eighth grade I finished my first feature film screenplay. In spite of all that, I am no stranger to writer’s block. Thankfully, in the end I still have full notebooks, because my dreams are always there giving me food for thought. I believe that every developing writer should continuously seek feedback and learn to grow from it. When I felt ready to receive critique, I made an account on as many websites, as I could find. It was beneficial and impactful to my writing. I was determined to establish my brand. The first step was launching my blog in 2014. One year later, my English teacher started editing me, pointing out any mistakes and clarifying them so they don’t reoccur. Another benefactor to my improvement has been “Skillshare”. From it I learned about adding suspense to my writing, avoiding dead verbs, creating a writing habit and many more. I started seeing my online presence gaining momentum. For example, my latest short story “7052 Shady Cape” was published on a fiction blog called “Fiction Hub”. This year, I participated in multiple literary competitions and was a finalist in an annual English competition called “I can here and now”.


Alongside my writing and my studies, I have also tried to be involved in as many activities outside of class as possible. For example, I have been a consistent participant and finalist in the Bulgarian National Olympiads in English, I.T and Philosophy. From my experiences and projects, I learned how to make an interactive story and bettered my public speaking. In parallel, I am enthusiastic about educating and mentoring younger students. For instance, this year I am leading a social campaign for sexual education is schools. Most of my energy, however, is focused on my work with a non-profit organisation called GLOW. Over the last two years I have stepped up from being a participant in their summer leadership academy, aimed at empowering young girls, to becoming a Junior Counsellor and permanent member of staff. Working with GLOW, I increased my emotional intelligence, planning efficiency, leadership skills and learned how to create a successful social campaign. I believe that I will be able to apply all of these skills to my university life in a way that will benefit the community.

While I can undoubtedly say that my writing has vastly improved through the years, I know that I am yet to learn much more. Therefore, I see university education as the essential and natural last step before I realise my full potential. The profession of a writer can be quite challenging. However, I am positive that with my creativity, adaptability and determination I will be successful.


First published June 26, 2017 on Medium.com

in Student Voices

© Gery Galabova.