Personal Statement Advice in a Year Like No Other

Personal Statement advice in a year like no other
You don’t need me to tell you that this academic year has been like no other, with the closure of schools to most students and the cancellation of exams.

Year 12 has been something of a forgotten year group in all of this – and some schools seem to have filled the gap by asking students to get their UCAS personal statements done earlier than usual – without the support they would normally receive.

In this article, I’m going to give you some advice about how to fill in the gaps left in the personal statement process by the lockdown, the lack of open days and the lower level of support given by schools this year.

Choosing universities in our socially distanced world

It’s tough for our young people to make major decisions about where and what they want to study for the next three or four years without being able to visit.
However, most universities are offering virtual open days – which, at least mean, as a parent, you don’t have to take several days out of your busy life to trek all over the country. However, these events are unlikely to give students the full sense of what it would be like to be part of the academic and social community of each institution.

So, what can you do, instead, to make sure your child is applying to the right five universities via UCAS?

  1. Be ready with questions on the virtual open days. In my Personal Statement Masterclass, I provide you with ten questions every student should ask about their courses to make sure they are the right learning environment for them. It’s all too easy to end up on a course that emphasises coursework when you prefer exams if you don’t ask the right questions.
  2. Be ready to contact the university by email or phone if you’re unsure of anything. This is particularly important this year, without being able to visit, as you don’t want to have doubts when you submit your application.
  3. Use social media to contact existing students. Many students these days have YouTube channels or Instagram or Twitter accounts – these are great ways for current sixth formers to get a feel for whether they will fit in socially at their chosen universities or on their desired courses.

Boosting your application
Over the last couple of decades there as been a big shift away from universities wanting to hear about students’ extra-curricular activities (music, sport, volunteering etc) to them wanting to know about super-curricular activities (also known as supra-curricular activities).

Super-curricular activities are things like further reading that you do over and above your school curriculum to develop your interest in what you’d like to study at university. This year, because of the lockdown and social-distancing, many opportunities for super-curricular activities have been stopped e.g. work experience and summer schools.

So, what should students do to boost their applications this summer?

  1. Read, read, read. There really is no substitute for further reading and every student applying to university should have it in their UCAS personal statement.
  2. Do a personal project e.g. design something, write something or solve something. This should be relevant to the course you want to study – it’s a bit like doing an EPQ, but more freestyle.
  3. Use online resources such an online courses, lectures and TED talks.

Writing your personal statement
Once you’ve chosen where you want to study and boosted what you have to write about in your application, you need to write your personal statement.
This is often where students come unstuck – particularly those who don’t see writing as their ‘thing’.
My Personal Statement Masterclass holds students’ hands through every step of the personal statement process, including the writing step.

Some tips to make it easier include:

Brain-dumping everything you’ve ever done that you could write about in your personal statement, then sifting through it all to choose the most relevant and important things

  • Planning a structure before you start writing.
  • Making sure you have a compelling opening sentence that conveys your passion for the subject.
  • Not just listing all your super-curricular activities but saying something interesting about each thing you’ve done.
  • Using the editing process to vary the language, make sure the grammar and spelling are correct and that the whole thing sounds authentically ‘you’.

You can find out more about how to write a UCAS personal statement in my article and video.

Over to you
It’s perfectly possible to write a brilliant personal statement that gets offers from all your child’s chosen universities, despite the unusual circumstances we’re living in. And, if you need more help than there’s space to give in this article, please do check out my Personal Statement Masterclass. It’s been developed through five years of experience helping students get into a diverse range of courses and universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.

Lucy Parsons is an academic coach who helps GCSE and A Level students to achieve their full potential through 1:1 coaching, her online hub for families, The Extraordinaries Club, and her book The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take. Join her online Personal Statement Masterclass here to get all the help you need with personal statements, and get that thing ticked off your list.