The truth is, we are ill-equipped to give that advice, and therefore need to be careful what we say. This time last year, I was going through the personal statement process with my eldest daughter, so I thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences just in case you are going through the same right now.
The UCAS personal statement
I started off full of optimism that I would be a great asset to my daughter as she prepared this extraordinary piece of writing. It wasn’t long before she had to point out my paragraphs were peppered with clichés, and I over-used the word ‘passionate’ – both of which are classic mistakes, apparently, so I turned out to be more of a liability than an asset.
Since then I have found this great summary of what not to do in personal statements, which I wish I had read a year ago.
Thankfully, the other adults advising my daughter were far more tuned-in, which brings me to my list of top tips.
Five top tips for preparing a UCAS personal statement
1. Your child’s school or college is where the expertise lies, so make sure they use it. They will probably be allocated a specific mentor or tutor for this, so make sure they keep in touch and submit draft after draft, until it’s perfect.
2. Don’t pay someone else to do it. It needs to sound like a 17 year old has written it – albeit with some guidance. Don’t be tempted to pay online to get one written for you. Your child will be questioned about their statement in interviews, and it’s important their personality shines through.
3. The word count is very strict (4,000 characters), so start off with a longer draft and then cut it down. It will take a long time. Estimate how long you think it will take, multiply this by four, and you may be somewhere close.
4. Three main areas MUST be covered: why the course is right for your son/daughter, why they are right for the course, what extra-curricular activities they do, and how these activities are relevant to the course.
5. Perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar is vital. A parent can help with this, or you can find someone else who can!
The main lesson I learnt
Your child will be expected to have a career path in mind, extra-curricular activities relevant to this career path, and a clear vision of how their chosen degree course will help them on the road to their career.
Quite rightly, teens often get a little spooked about being asked to fix their life’s journey at such a young age. The best thing to do is reassure them that things change; we can all have many changes of career throughout our lives. So, advise them to pick a direction and follow it until something comes along which makes them want to change. Help them explore as many potential career paths as possible.
Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website www.aftertheplayground.com.