02 JUN 2019
So you've decided to apply for an arts-related course in the UK. You've found a subject you're passionate about, and want to focus on it for the next three, perhaps four, years of your life. This is already a big step to have taken, yet the next one in front of you perhaps seems more daunting; you have to write a UCAS personal statement.
You have to pack your passion for your chosen subject into a container no larger than 4000 characters in size. Or perhaps you feel like you just won't have enough to say. Whatever subject it is you're applying for in the humanities, whether it's English, History, Egyptology or beyond, there are common elements of a great personal statement that will get you off to an ideal start on this exciting journey you've allowed yourself to take.
Be independent. Be specific. When studying an arts subject at university you will often be left to your own devices. You will be required to undertake wide reading, to digest complex arguments and to express yourself with the written word.
Your personal statement is a chance to show that you have what it takes to thrive in this environment, to be a creative and independent learner.
It is a chance for you to show your hunger to learn, grow, and grapple with the unknown. And there is a great deal of the unknown. You don't know where your interest in the subject will take you, but luckily you don't need to yet. What you do know is that you want to take your interest further, and it is this exact process, of taking interests further, that will be so vital to you in the years to come as an arts student.
With this in mind, it's helpful to see your personal statement as a place for you to forge links, or spot differences, between specific works you've read, seen or heard. Perhaps you hadn't spotted these links, or contrasts, until now, or maybe you read something that resonated with you and consciously sought out more works by that author, or about that topic. Either way, it's great, because you're investigating your own interest in your subject. And crucially, you're not engaging with your 'subject' as a vague, daunting whole, but with specifics within it. As you draw together various specific works you've engaged with and found stimulating, see if you can shape them into paragraphs, all working towards building up a picture of your personality, of your relationship with your subject. In the process you will go a long way towards showing you can study your subject at the highest level.
Beware hot air. Your personal statement is, in simple terms, a chance to express yourself. The openness of this has much in common with the arts themselves. On one hand this is helpful, as it offers you a great chance to demonstrate your written style, which is itself probably a key part of the subject you're applying for; you can communicate your passion and flair for your subject in the way in which you write as much as, if not more than, the statements that you make. However, there is a temptation to waffle. Try to be concrete and concise. Your goal should be to convey your passion without using excessive padding. Every word counts. To open with a phrase such as "I've been passionate about History from an early age" doesn't help you stand out as much as, say, diving in and exploring what you were struck by when you read a specific book or article that proved central to your interest in your subject. It's better to show rather than tell. Write with curiosity about your subject, rather than make too many assertions about yourself, and your personality will shine all the more as a result. If you can convey an appetite to learn, the professor reading your statement will most likely want to teach you in turn.
Above all, trust yourself. You've most likely chosen your subject because you enjoy it. This enjoyment is the best platform you can ask for. Don't panic if you feel you haven't read enough. You can't say all that can be said about your subject within your personal statement, and it would be a mistake to try. It's better to focus your attention on a select few works (that could include a single image, an object or a chapter) that really mean something to you, rather than spread yourself too thinly.
And rather than just adding extra-curricular achievements or activities purely as an afterthought, separate from your exploration of academic interests, see if you can choose ones that have the most relevance to your subject, and find ways to link them together. The more you can craft a unified personal statement, in which all the parts play their part, with grace and focus, in communicating that you have the potential to thrive in your chosen subject, the better.
There it is, tips about how you can write a certifiably amazing UCAS personal statement.
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