How important are our personal statements?

Last year, as an undergraduate student, I found myself in the troubling situation of trying to write a successful personal statement to sell myself to my prospective Universities. When I turned in my personal statement, I was biting my nails for months waiting for responses from my University choices. However, I’m starting to think I was worrying more than I should have been: according to Simon Atkinson from the University of Bristol, many Universities don’t even bother to read personal statements anymore. In an article from The Guardian, he states that this is because they are “too unreliable, too easy to get a lot of help with writing, and too easy to write things that aren’t terribly true”.

“We now use [personal statements] for 50 percent of ratings of candidates and I anticipate that will fall in years to come,” he added. Atkinson interviews medicine, veterinary and dentistry students as part of the applicant screening process at the University of Bristol, which to me suggests that he knows what he’s on about. “50 percent of ratings”. Great.

Reading into these claims only set my concerns deeper. The UCAS system doesn’t seem to have a way of determining whether or not the applicant wrote the statement themselves – meaning a lot of people don’t bother. I had no idea myself, but hundreds of A-Level students across the country are hiring tutors and University graduates to basically write their personal statements for them, either by preparing a framework and letting them fill in the gaps or just writing up the entire thing themselves. While this may be less significant in the drop in the amount of Universities who actually read them, it does have the obvious impact of drawing every single personal statement – including genuine ones – into question. A few bad apples spoil the bunch, I suppose.

Some Universities are now using personal statements for just 50% of their application reviews.

And it gets worse. According to the same The Guardian article, Clare Marchant – Chief Executive of UCAS – said that, out of 118 Universities surveyed, 89% of them used personal statements in their initial applicant selection process. 89% is a good statistic, but this still means that a little more than 10% of the Universities surveyed cheerfully informed UCAS that their applicants’ personal statements are popped into the recycle bin before they are even read. That’s every 1 in 10. Depending on which University you’re applying for, your personal statement might not even be glanced at before you’re invited in for your interview.

That’s not to say that personal statements aren’t helpful. Every University department is different, and some of them take personal statements more seriously than others. There’s no chief way of defining their significance in the application process, and they could turn out to be a deal-breaker, especially in situations where candidates are evenly-matched.

However, it’s important to note that it’s not worth panicking over how your personal statement will look. A lot of Universities are just interested in filling spaces, and unless you’re applying for a highly competitive course, you shouldn’t worry about drafting and redrafting your personal statement for months on end. So long as it comes from you and gives an honest impression about your character and your ambitions, it should be more than helpful.

And, when you do come to send the thing off, remember it’s not worth stressing about. There’s plenty of stress in store for us during our Year 13 exams, anyway.

Unless you’re applying for a highly competitive course, you shouldn’t worry about drafting and redrafting your personal statement for months on end.

Published by Lewis Hyden

Writer, poet, and inquisitive journalist.

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