This time two years ago I was knee deep in the stress of drafting and redrafting my personal statement, a process which is extremely daunting even if buckets of advice and examples are thrown at you. This post outlines three things I learnt during the process about how to deal with applications and make yourself stand out.
When your personal statement is structured, read, edited and approved by teachers, advisers, family, friends and the neighbour’s dog there is a high risk of it losing all sense of yourself and becoming almost a clone of the ‘perfect’ statement. My teachers edited my words so much that I lost track of what I was saying and felt as if my personal statement had morphed into something which I no longer recognised or felt confident about. While I am not recommending that you ignore other people’s advice – teachers and mentors have been picked to help you for a reason and their advice is very valuable – my advice would be to filter the advice you receive by choosing which teachers or mentors you trust the most (for me, they included my Oxbridge applications adviser and the head of law at my school) and follow their advice more closely than other people who may also be offering help. It’s impossible to listen to and follow everyone’s advice, so wisely choosing those whose advice you value most is useful, not least to keep track of what you are trying to say in your personal statement.
Embellishing the truth is common and is often used to make an applicant stand out and seem like the best fit for a place on the course of their choice. However, crossing the line from exaggeration to falsity and lies helps no one, especially yourself. I know it’s tempting to reference a long heavy book of which you have only read the blurb, but not only will the applications team spot your overcompensation a mile off, you may find yourself in an interview or being offered a place at a university for which you are unsuitable or unable to cope due to not expressing your true self in your applications.
I touched on this in my last post, but if you are applying to a university that holds interviews, try not to give away everything about yourself or your interest in the subject in your personal statement. You obviously want to show off enough to be invited for an interview; however, you also need enough material to use at the interview itself in order to impress the interviewers and receive an offer. Therefore, don’t list every book you have read – instead, mention some and save one or two to discuss if asked. Further, don’t mention every part of the law that you have studied or researched and, if possible, save some hobbies to discuss and mention during the conversation. This will help you to appear more natural and genuine in an interview and prove that your interests are broader than your written application suggested.