Writing a personal statement | The five-paragraph principle
The personal statement is an important part of the UCAS application; it’s the opportunity for students to demonstrate their ambitions, skills and experience. James Barton, Director of Admissions at MPW London gives some advice on writing a memorable personal statement using the five-paragraph principle.
There is no magic wand that will get you into university, only a correct way of filling in the application. People question the importance of Personal Statements over grades. The truth is, they are important, perhaps not definitive, but in a time where the majority of universities do not interview students, this is their only way of getting to meet candidates. Therefore, they should make it count.
What these statements should be is a reasoned argument as to why they wish to study this course and what they have done to research it. The latter point is vital, as through research, they gain that critical understanding as to whether this is the right path for them to follow.
The key is to extrapolate the skills that they have learnt through their education and work experience, discuss what they have discovered and how they have applied the knowledge they already have. If work experience is lacking then focus more on wider reading and examples of life experiences that help prove interest. If wider reading is mentioned, they should be prepared to make a pertinent comment on what they have read, stopping short of giving a book review.
Never swallow a thesaurus. English is key, but content is king over style. Avoid words like ‘passion’ and ‘love’ – any admissions tutor will tell you that these phrases turn them cold (in these situations perhaps thesaurus is acceptable!). Tailor the personal statement to make it work for them and submit it when they feel it is an accurate representation. The advice I was given then still applies today - stop, think, make a list of all the things you have done, things you would want someone to know about you, and above all, don’t horse trade with your friends. Theirs will- and should - be different (it is worthwhile remembering we also live in an age of plagiarism software).
So what is the Five-Paragraph Principle? How can it help you write a personal statement that stands out from the crowd and is memorable for all the right reasons?
Why this course? The best personal statement will show real passion for the subject area. Remember, academic are passionate about their subject. If you are stuck on how to start, leave it until the end. These are stand-alone paragraphs.
How can you apply what you have learnt on your a-level courses to your work experience? The best personal statements tailor to relevant course details.
Three: Work experience/ wider reading
What have you done to investigate it? Be creative with how you can interpret work experience. Any work experience is valuable, provided that it can be related to the degree course in question. That said, try and make it relevant from the outset.
It is important to know more about them, even if it does not form the bulk of the personal statement. The important phrase here is why, not what, in terms of things you have done.
Five: Closing statement
No more than one sentence is necessary to tie the piece together and give a compelling reason why the university should offer you a place, without arrogance. Keep it academic and to the point. It is not an essay. Do not write, “In conclusion”. Be honest, be true to yourself and remember what your end goal is.
James Barton is Director of Recruitment at MPW London. He has authored a number of 'getting into' university guides providing advice for applicants. James read Ancient History and Archaeology at Warwick University and subsequently gained an MA in Performance from the University of East Anglia. He worked as a professional actor and taught Drama in a number of schools before joining MPW in 2007.