For year 13, it’s Uni application time. And, even if you don’t plan on doing a degree after school, you’ll be expected to prepare a CV for job interviews or apprenticeships. Those around you – at home and in school – care about what happens to you after sixth form and so it’s time to sit down and start writing about ‘product you’ for the benefit of those who will take you on next.

Today, we’re looking at your personal statement and the similarities and differences between that and your CV. Read more …

What is a personal statement?

If you want to apply to higher education, most Unis use the UCAS admissions process. This means that you can apply for up to five courses using a single online form. It includes a personal statement which is a space to tell the Unis about yourself in your own words – that bit’s important – and why you like the subject that you’re applying for. You’re allowed just 4,000 characters including spaces – or 47 lines of text. That’s about 600-700 words depending on how many characters you use up with spaces. It’s not that much, but sometimes it’s harder to keep it brief than to keep typing. Fortunately, the form counts down the characters so you can see how you’re doing.

The above paragraph is 119 words and 673 characters with spaces. That’s about 16% of the length of your personal statement – i.e. you’ll need to write 6 or 7 times that much again to reach the character limit for your personal statement. Ready to move on ..?

What sort of things do I put in my personal statement?

Why are you applying? Why do you want to study this subject at this Uni? This is typically based on your current academic studies, hobbies and interests. And clearly a challenging one to answer if you are applying for more than one degree subject or to multiple Unis.

Why should they pick you? Unis also want to know why they should choose you – what’s great about you and what do you do (or have you done) that proves you are a good match.

How will the course benefit your future prospects? If you know what you want to do after Uni, there’s also an opportunity to show you understand how the course will benefit your graduate career.

What’s similar to a CV

No waffle – no one wants to read how you’ve always had a passion to be a nuclear physicist since you were at pre-school. And there’s no time – or space – for long and ‘flowery’ sentences, quotes and exaggerated descriptions. They’ll be bored before they start.

Evidence – prove you are the amazing person you say you are with examples. They’ll be interested in the benefits you bring to the course, the Uni or the job. It’s all the same – it’s about selling ‘product you’.

Grammar and punctuation – It goes without saying – doesn’t it? – that any application for anything should be UK (not US) spell-checked and read through first. There’s nothing more off-putting than typos, spelling mistakes and auto-fil words.

Structured – both applications have a roughly defined format. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you can set out your application clearly and logically. Just like any subject assignment, it will be a lot easier to read and therefore put you in a better light.

No excuses – There’s a lot of other applicants in the ‘pile’ and little interest in explanations why you haven’t done something – e.g. dropped out of a team or switched courses after the first year. But if they do want to find out more, they’ll invite you for interview and you can explain in person, seeing their face to grasp how much they want to know about it.

Skills – both are great places to include your list of skills. There will be transferable skills such as being a self-starter, punctual and conscientious with good attention to detail. There will also be those which are relevant to what you are applying for – such as your IT credentials if you are applying for a computer science degree or apprenticeship.

Experience – as with skills, both forms are opportunities to showcase the actual experience you have had relevant to the subject or job you are applying for.

Feedback – show others. Talk to people who have the most experience of what you want to do. For your personal statement, you’ll be expected to show your teacher, perhaps head of year, or careers adviser. For your CV, it may also be worth talking to someone who has experience of the same industry or similar. And please please always listen to their opinions: they will be trying to help you succeed.

What’s different to your CV

Stats – your CV has a place for hobbies/interests where it’s sufficient to list what you like doing and where you’ve travelled. It rarely needs further explanation; unless completely relevant to the job. However, Uni admissions tutors are less interested unless to show your outgoing personality or to draw a clear link to the course that you’re applying for so explain the relevance and what you learnt – e.g. to show you can cope with Uni life.

No names – Your personal statement is sent out to all the Unis you are applying to via UCAS, but they don’t know about each other. Each one needs to believe that they are your number one choice. Think of it like a dating website where you try to impress each date individually but by using the same words. With your CV however, you tailor it to the named employer and role so, of course, you want to name them.

Copying – UCAS uses tools to check if you’ve pinched your words from elsewhere so that won’t do you much good if Uni is expecting you to write independent content for your degree coursework. And whilst your CV is unlikely to be checked for ‘cut and paste’ sentences, the emphasis is more on the benefits that ‘product you’ offers. We don’t recommend it, but as long as it’s relevant – and truthful – it won’t matter too much.

General – you may have a general CV template, but when you apply for any role you should tailor it to the company and to the job that you are applying for – more on that in future blogs. However, your personal statement is going to be seen by up to five Unis and could well be for five completely different courses so you’ll struggle to say why you want to go to one particular place or why you want to study one particular subject. Either rethink your application – or concentrate on the benefits of ‘product you’, how you are an ideal student, self-motivated, used to living away from home – if that is relevant – a great cook and actively involved in lots of clubs and societies so keen to get involved at Uni as well.

Ambitions – UCAS describe your personal statement as somewhere to describe your ambitions. It’s unlikely you will need to put these in your CV. Wait and see what they ask you in interview.

Enthusiasm – It’s unlikely there’ll be much room for your enthusiasm to shine though in a CV – save that for the cover letter or interview. But Admissions Tutors will definitely expect to see you wanting to study their subject and go to their Uni.

And finally ..

Just as you would with any important piece of work, it’s a good idea to practice the key points in advance rather than go straight onto UCAS Apply and start typing freeform. Why not also follow our useful tips on CV writing in future blogs to set out a template CV which you can then adapt to individual applications?

There’s also a fantastic template on the UCAS website to help you draft your personal statement. It gives you great tips on what to include and helps structure your application in a way that really works. You answer some questions by filling-in some small boxes and it automatically populates the main form on screen for you – simple! Then you can save it in a pdf to print and show your teachers or careers adviser, for example. Take a look here – https://www.ucasdigital.com/widgets/personalstatement/index.html#/splash

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