Let’s Remember The Trauma That Was Writing Your Personal Statement

'I am a highly motivated individual with a great interest in my chosen field' *voms everywhere*


by Jess Commons |
Published on

For those out there of you on the younger end of the spectrum, you’ll already be very aware that the first round of closing dates to submit your UCAS forms is fast approaching (that’s 15 October for anyone applying to Oxford, Cambridge or medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses, FYI). If you're older, that sentence probably filled you with a cold dread you've not felt since the time when you were 17 and spent the most stressful few weeks of your life trying to write the horror that was your personal statement.

Here's why it was particularly gruelling...

The length

FFS, the thing was only 4000 characters long, or 47 lines. That’s roughly one side of A4 typed Times New Roman font; taking away a couple of lines for lines for a fancy header and your name in the top right-hand corner of course. But for some reason, even if you were the sort to use extra paper in your exam (swot), filling that blank computer screen with your personal statement was harder than getting hold of Glastonbury tickets the day after the biggest bender of your life. Did your job at River Island really teach you fantastic interpersonal skills? Or was that sort of a lie? It was a bit of a lie, really, wasn’t it? Especially since you mainly sat hungover in the corner under a clothes rail and avoided customers at all costs.

The opening line

Whatever total dick first opened his personal statement with ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ can toss right off. Since then, all number of historical figures from Helen Keller to Muhammed Ali, Martin Luther King to Eleanor Roosevelt have had their once meaningful-speeches cut up, bastardised and vomited out in personal statements from students hoping to win a place on the Geography Course at Northampton University. In all fairness, your teachers did tell you not to go down the ‘opening quote’ road but when it came to a choice between that or ‘I am a 17 year old hoping to study English at Manchester’ you went with the quote didn’t you?

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The need to be creative

My teacher at school once said that the best personal statement he ever saw was one that took the format of a radio show. How the fuck that student managed to get an audio file uploaded in place of text we’ve got no idea, Sir didn’t elaborate (helpful). It was part of a whole bigger, more annoying thing that your teachers kept drilling in you to ‘BE DIFFERENT’ with your statement to ‘help you stand out from the crowd’. This invariably led to much agonised soul searching as to whether your planned gap year building a school in Kenya really WAS that much of an achievement or whether you were just a smaller cog in a much bigger machine in the capitalist business of moving from school to higher education.

The achievements you really thought were achievements at the time

Ergh, what does it say of your 18-year-old self that you actually listed ‘scoring the winning goal’ in a hockey match as one of your greatest achievements? Justin Bieber had sold nearly eight million records by the time he was 18, did you really think your future lecturers were going to care about ten seconds of physical prowess you once exhibited on a sports field? I mean evidently they weren’t turned off by it, since you got in, but we bet they had a good chuckle first.

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Trying to limit the words you’re not meant to say

TBH, before personal statement time you thought you had a pretty good vocabulary. Once you sat down to write your personal statement though, it turns out you only knew four words; ‘passion,’ ‘inspirational’ and ‘highly motivated’. Everything else just faded into the background.

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Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons

Picture: Lukasz Wierzbowski

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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