The importance of the personal statement cannot be overstated. This component of the university admission application is the deal maker for students to be successful in their purpose of pursuing higher education. Students invest time, effort and resources to be able to come up with the best statement so that they will have a fighting chance of getting the highly competed slot in the incoming class.
In writing their personal statements, students are at a quandary of what to write and how to write. They go through myriad examples of what to include and how to outline the writing about these items. Genuine interest for the subject, activities to back it up and the potential to perform in the course are the top angles which students know. But in a recent survey of admissions staff, the most important element of the personal statement is good written English.
Good English beats all other aspects in the university application, this is what admissions staff at Russell Group and other prominent universities say who are the respondents in the survey. Among these respondents, 97 per cent chose good spelling, punctuation and grammar as the most important element that they look into. Holding leadership positions or being in a role with responsibility, having work experience and excellence in a performing arts activity which are generally considered by students to be important are left behind with only one in every three admissions tutors voting them as the key for students to be successful in writing this application requirement. They place low in the top 10 at No. 7 to 9 with 35, 32 and 30 per cent of the votes respectively.
The annual survey on what admissions staff look for in personal statements has been done for seven years already. ACS International Schools commissioned it with the purpose of knowing what admission tutors look for so that students will be aided on how to successfully write their statements. With good written English and the way how students’ communicate their passion and drive to study and work hard resulting as the top important ingredient, ACS head Jeremy Lewis says that these could be what students are not that successful in demonstrating because they are what the tutors are looking for.
Being involved in volunteer or community activities did not even make it to the top 10 attributes that university admission officers are looking for in personal statements as additional points to academic qualifications and grades. True enough to what students believe, they have to show evidence of a passion for their chosen course subject which got 88 per cent of the votes and is overall second to good English. After showing genuine interest in the subject, student should back it up with a demonstration of having a positive attitude towards study which comes third at 83 per cent. Last among the top vote-getters is showing independent thinking and working ability garnering 72 per cent of first place votes.
Supporting the perception of most students that work experience is important for university admission, LifeSkills Youth Barometer Survey shows that 9 out of 10 teenagers and young adults say that compulsory work experience in schools for 14 – 16 year-olds should be reintroduced. Such system was phased out two years ago.
Other university applicant qualities that admissions staff are looking for that make it to the top 10 are a reasonable grasp of maths at fifth with 44 per cent and evidence of success through a difficult start or background with 35 per cent. Further, only 6 per cent of the 80 admissions officers in the UK and 20 in the USA who are the respondents of the survey say that they would also look at contextual data about applicants’ socio-economic background. The UCAS application form allows applicants to include contextual if they choose to. It includes information about the higher education record of the parents of the applicant.
Thus, to be able to write a personal statement that will be successful, students should show good written English, demonstrate passion for the course subject they have chosen, reinforce it with evidence of a good attitude towards studies and show the ability to think and work independently.
Do you have the qualities which admissions staff look for in personal statements? How will you write one to be able to demonstrate them? Why do you think are they looking for these elements? Do you agree that work experience is not a very important requisite for university studies? What reasons can you support your answer with?