Imagine yourself going through an interview. The first question the interviewer may ask is, “why did you apply for that specific job, course, etc?” The same goes for a personal statement; hence it is crucial to answer this question first with specific supporting details (i.e. how you developed that passion or why you took the mission) before moving on to something else. For me, I wrote on my passion for maths and the reason behind it, so I focused on my exposure to the elegance and usefulness of maths (heck, we can even use maths to calculate degree of procrastination and perfect ratio of a face, not forgetting its already mind-blowing application on quantum physics and computing!).
Secondly, after sufficient elaboration on your reasons for picking the course, you can include activities that you carried out to showcase your passion or curiosity. These activities could include frequent reading on related subjects, competitions that you participated in, and practicals or experiments you did on your own. In my case (BEWARE! Math geekiness ahead!), I focused on how I spent part of my free time deriving the math formulas in and out of A-levels syllabus, and developing an intuitive understanding on the equations taught in class rather than using them on the exam papers like a zombie (you know what I mean). Besides, I also included my favourite mental sport, which is creating unusual problems (like finding number of rectangles in a large rectangle made up of individual squares and looking for number of possible arithmetic progressions within a series of integers), and solving them in order to improve my creativity and problem solving skills.
Thirdly, if you think your passion also gives you non-academic insights, do include them as well. Such examples would be “years of indulging myself in maths taught me we can always view a problem from a different perspective in case we are stuck,” “engineering made me realise that there are no unsolvable problems, only problems yet to be solved,” or “through my experiences in studying accountancy, I understand the importance of accuracy and consistency,” and so on. Of course, briefly mentioning them is not enough, so elaborate accordingly. However, do remember to be authentic. Faking these personal insights would seem very unnatural.
Last but not least, I would like to share a tip my friend told me on how to elaborate things nicely. We have lots of events and experiences going on in our lives but the most important things are what we learnt and how we grew mentally. Hence, while mentioning those events, emphasise on the learning outcome instead of the details of the events. The following are 2 short paragraphs for comparison.
“Cycling has always been one of my favourite pastimes as it gives me lots of fun and lessons. I started off using a small bicycle with 2 supporting wheels for balancing and I would spend hours a week practicing it. After a few months of training, I could finally remove the supporting wheels, and though I fell several times afterwards, keeping the balance is now no longer an obstacle on my cycling quest. Reflecting on my cycling journey, I deeply understand the importance of effort and sacrifice.”
“Cycling has always been among my favourite hobbies which provide me both leisure and lessons. The process of starting cycling with 2 supporting wheels to removing those them is analogous to learning to overcome fear and stepping out of current comfort zone. After removing the supporting wheels, I fell a few times, but perseverance served me well, as weeks of practicing completely erased the problem, and my confidence grew. Soon I realised that cycling is just similar to life: we may face setbacks and sometimes have to sacrifice a few things for the intended result, but what differentiates success from failure is one’s perseverance, effort and willingness to explore the unknown. Although cycling may seem trivial, this journey is always a good reminder for myself on my path towards my goal.”
I believe the difference in maturity is pretty clear between these 2 paragraphs and you know which one to choose.
Alright, before I finish off here, let’s have a summary on the important things.
- Write on your reasons for choosing the course. Passion/Mission/Vision?
- Include activities that showcase your passion or curiosity.
- Add in any non-academic insights you gained after indulging in your passion.
- Focus more on mental growth/change/ learning outcome of events instead of details of the events.
All the best in your future university applications, and don’t get too stressed out because of it!
Links you might find helpful:
- Personal statements: universities tell you what they want (UCAS Online)
- Top tips to help you write a personal statement for UCAS (University of East London)
Wong Wen Jian is a math and gaming enthusiast who will be pursuing his maths degree in Imperial College London under the JPA scholarship. He is mostly seen either with a pen and paper full of equations, researching about ancient alien theory, performing some crazy experiements or glued to a computer screen playing strategy games.