As the autumn term gains pace, students up and down the country are perfecting the most important 4000-character document of their academic career - the personal statement.
Follow this simple list to make sure that your personal statement is something that you can be proud of, rather than something that will leave your admissions tutors scratching their heads.
DO show passion for the course
Your opening paragraph and final sentence should encapsulate why you want to study your subject - your interest, your motivation, and why they should pick you. For example:
"The more I've studied History, the more I've realised its relevance in every aspect of our lives. From our languages and customs to trade partners and political allies, an understanding of history is essential in understanding our world today..."
is far more likely to convince admissions tutors than:
"I want to study History because it's less boring than the other subjects I study..."
DON'T include anything you don't enjoy or you aren't good at
Make this a positive piece of writing! Universities want to see your interests and strengths. You've only got 47 lines - don't waste them.
DO include examples of your interest beyond the classroom
Your universities will want to know how you engage with your subject. Anything relevant can go here - wider reading, school societies, work experience, MOOCs, TED talks, online/public lectures, volunteering, exhibitions you've visited...
DON'T include information without making it relevant
Explain how each activity has helped prepare you for study or university in general. For example:
"A lecture entitled 'The UK and Overseas Aid' introduced me to the concept of international ethics, something I look forward to studying in greater depth."
"My teamwork skills, useful for lab work in the future, have been developed in the completion of my Duke of Edinburgh Award."
DO research the courses beforehand
If you know what the courses entail, you can write things like, "I particularly look forward to learning about Financial Mathematics". This shows universities that you aren't going to turn up in September and say, "I had no idea the course would be like this!" Just try to mention topics that come up in every course you are applying for (see next point).
DON'T name the university you want to go to the most
Remember that you only write one personal statement, but it is seen by all five of your universities. Therefore, it's not very wise to write, "I really want to study at the University of Manchester because..." Manchester might be happy but that's a sure-fire way of getting four rejections!
DO include extra-curricular activities
Ok, there are some universities that place less emphasis on this section, but the majority are still interested. If you are a brilliant athlete/actor/singer etc., say so! Not only does it prove you can balance wider commitments with school (showing time-management and organisation), but you never know when a university may lower the entry requirement for someone who they need on their sports teams and so on. I have seen this happen several times!
Your extracurricular activities can also make you stand out from the hundreds of applications the admissions tutor has read that day, making you more memorable.
DON'T include anything you aren't prepared to discuss at interview
Everything in the personal statement is 'fair game' for admissions tutors to bring up in an interview. Make this work in your favour by including the topics and activities you are comfortable discussing. The interviewer will soon find out if you don't know much about what you have claimed to know.
DO get it proofread, again and again
An error-free personal statement not only proves your ability to write well (which is handy for all the essays you'll be doing on your course), but it also demonstrates you take pride in your work.
We've all heard the horror story of someone who wrote something in their personal statement that wasn't true, only to be uncovered when asked about it at interview.
You also need to remember that admissions tutors can and will Google you, so make sure there's nothing in your digital footprint that paints a rather different picture to the person you've described in your personal statement.
Make sure you've followed everything here and it won't be long before the offers start rolling in. Good luck!