How to achieve personal statement success

For sixth form students hoping to go to university, now is the time they will be starting to write their UCAS personal statements. This can be a daunting task and many will worry about what they should include to help them secure their place at university.

In a recent BBC article University admissions: The art of the personal statement Alex Hayman, managing director at Which? University, highlighted several ways for students to achieve personal statement success.

You need more than just top grades

“Demonstrate you are the right candidate for the course and university by not only showing that you meet the entry requirements but that you also have a strong grasp of, and engagement with, what studying this discipline at degree level entails. Use examples of academic work or projects to support this.”

Whilst good examination results remain the top priority for schools, developing student’s independent learning and research skills throughout their school career is also critical for future success. Mary Curnock Cook, independent educationalist and former chief executive of UCAS says in her recent article How can we better prepare students for university?In many schools and colleges, the extended project qualification is the only exposure that students get to independent enquiry and learning, and much of the rest of the curriculum is relentlessly assessment-driven.

Online resources are vital for providing access to the wide range of materials needed for extended essays and projects. “JSTOR and MASSOLIT are essential research tools for boys doing IB and the EPQ” Lesley Harrison, Bedford School (Independent school for boys).

Studying at degree level entails using the University’s extensive catalogue of electronic databases. Students are expected to use these resources to find, refine, analyse, and cite academic research for their essays and assignments. If students have had the opportunity to do this at school within extended essays such as the EPQ, then discussing these projects in their personal statement helps prove that they have a good grasp of what degree level studying entails.

Few understand that there is a different teaching and learning model at university and that this can be even more challenging than the social transition…I just wish they’d arrive at university able to… structure a decent paragraph,” Dr Harriet Jones, expert in transitions to higher education. 

Many resources also have specially developed tools to help students learn how to effectively plan essays and projects. For example, Questia School’s Writing Guide and JSTOR Secondary Schools Collection’s outline builder.

Show that you are a critical thinker

“Regardless of subject, studying at degree level is all about thinking independently and analytically. It will make you look very impressive if you can demonstrate or explain how one of the subjects that you have previously studied has made you think more critically and how.”

eResources support the development of independent research skills and digital literacy, skills essential for success at degree level. They allow students to find and study materials covering a variety of different opinions and perspectives in a safe, academic environment giving them the chance to then objectively analyse and evaluate an issue to form their own judgement. Discussing examples of how a topic and their reading around that topic has made them think critically will look very impressive.

What interest in the subject can you show outside the classroom?

“It’s important to display an interest in the subject outside your current syllabus. This could be further reading around the subject — but anything from podcasts, periodicals, exhibitions or performance could also help.”

Students often struggle to know what type of further reading is appropriate (and impressive) to mention in their personal statements. If students are finding this difficult they may end up Googling for articles or videos. This “one-click” research can result in students discussing irrelevant or unacademic articles, using them as a filler rather than a way to better their personal statement.

Subscription e-resources such as those available through JCS contain academic materials carefully curated by publishers and experts. They provide a safe environment where students can find appropriate further reading. They also include tools to refine search results, so students can find the most relevant articles, videos, periodicals etc. They can therefore be assured the further reading they discuss in their statement is an appropriate way to

See the full BBC article University admissions: The art of the personal statement and to discover more information on writing personal statements, take a look at Which? University’s page on personal statement advice.

eResources are essential for supporting extended essays and research, that's why JCS Online Resources have negotiated with publishers to ensure schools receive the best possible pricing. Take a look at the catalogue of resources available here.