Personal statements
Widening participation

What can Year 12 students do over the summer to prepare for writing their personal statements?

The most daunting and difficult task for students when applying to university is writing their personal statement. Students don’t necessarily need to engage in prestigious work experience or expensive extra-curricular activities to write a great statement. However, they should spend some time doing some extra research around their subject. How might they do that this summer?

What will universities be looking for in the personal statement?

Admissions tutors do not want to read hundreds of very similar personal statements. They want to read about applicants’ personal experiences, what fascinates them about their subject and why they should be offered a place. The research students do this summer can help to form the basis of a ‘research paragraph’ (or paragraphs…) which applicants can include in their statements.

A good research paragraph will not cover the entire subject and instead will focus on a niche area of interest. This focus will make it easier to offer original insights. The applicant will discuss the research they have carried out, critically reflecting on a few sources to convey their aptitude for the course. They may choose to reflect on work experiences, trips, books, articles, podcasts, online tests, documentaries and so on. Students should not feel intimidated by this; they are not expected to know everything before they have started the course! But this paragraph will indicate the student’s desire to study the course by highlighting their engagement with the subject so far.

One of the best ways for students to show their enthusiasm for their subject is through self-directed learning and 'reading' around their subject. Your students can prepare themselves now by making plans to explore their subject this summer!

‘Reading’ around their subject

Reading in the traditional sense may fill some students with dread. Reading can be useful but students don’t need to read stacks of books cover to cover. Depending on the subject, students may choose to research in several alternative ways. Challenge students to consider different ways they might ‘read’ around their subject; suggest organising some work experience, planning trips, talking with experts, attending talks or events, listening to podcasts or audiobooks, watching documentaries, or reading articles.

Encourage students to focus on a particular area and build on their learning. This will help them interweave different sources and be critically reflective when writing their research paragraph. See an example below:

A student considering studying an Early Years Education degree may organise a couple of weeks work experience at a local nursery. This may inspire them to listen to a podcast on child development which could lead to researching particular learning needs which affect development. They may read several articles about children with autism and strategies to help support them. With permission from the nursery practitioners, they may test some of the strategies they have learnt and reflect on their findings.

Make an action plan

Knowing where to start could be difficult for students. Encourage them to note down areas of interest and brainstorm how they could explore these more. This will give students some initial ideas and give them the chance to ask you for guidance before the summer.

For inspiration, take a look at our super-curricular activity guide. This contains links to readings, podcasts, documentaries, tests and websites for a variety of subjects to get students started. You may also find it useful to read our blog about super-curricular activities and their benefits and you can also complete our interactive learning module on super-curricular activities.


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