Whilst there are significant differences between the UK personal statement and the US university admissions essay (and our specialists will point these out to you), there are some things you can begin thinking about years before writing time rears its ugly head:
1 – Try to really excel at (at least) one thing.
There is a common misconception that the kind of applicant universities prize above all things is a Jack of all trades. This is not true. Whilst being a Jack of all trades is not necessarily a bad thing, it is often better to focus on one thing and excel at it. The top universities are looking for great diversity within their classes, but not necessarily within each student. It is often better to offer something distinctive (anything – photography, piano, painting) and to have excelled at it through years of dedication, than to have tried a number of things without ever committing fully.
2 – Lead.
Whilst there can only be one captain of the football team or one principal violinist in the orchestra, everyone can lead at something. Whether it’s setting up a debating club, or teaching the Duke of Edinburgh Award to younger students, there are plenty of opportunities – more than you think – already in front of you to adopt some kind of leadership role. Leadership is one of the most attractive things to flaunt on an university admissions essay as it presents you as someone who will make a proactive and positive contribution to the university and your academic department.
3 – Be altruistic.
It’s never too early to start acting charitably and a side-benefit of helping those less fortunate than yourself whilst at school is that it shows universities that they are dealing with someone who goes out of their way to help others. Get involved with a charity or volunteer scheme, raise awareness about a specific cause, organize a cake-bake or lead (that word again) a sponsored walk. All of these things reflect very well on you as a person – don’t keep your kindness bottled up inside, share it with the world and let the universities know about it too. They’re looking to accept students who will look after those around them to enhance the university environment, and who will use the benefits of an excellent degree to help the wider world after graduation.
4 – Be altruistic and lead at the same time.
Combine the above two points, as many times as possible, to add potency to your profile.
5 – Go beyond your syllabus.
Everyone knows, at least vaguely, the details of their course. Not everyone takes what’s on their course and reads around the subject, or explores topics that no teacher has broached. Ski some fresh tracks down an area of interest, and mention it in your university admissions essay. Be creative and enjoy yourself. One of Riviera Tutors’ main principles (and it’s not a complicated one) is that if you enjoy your work you’re likely to do better at it. Don’t read around a subject simply because you think universities will respect it; read something that interests you and see where it leads with an open mind. Then tell universities about the journey. It’s a more enjoyable process, and more interesting to read about.
6 – Be authentic.
The web is full of ‘guides to getting into university’, such as this. Take the main points, but never let them override who you are or distract from your story. There is no substitute for authenticity, and no story more interesting than your own if it’s told properly by you. Part of a successful university admissions essay is not to replicate ‘the perfect application’, but to present yourself and your achievements in the best possible light. We often take for granted things that are central to our characters and our achievements. Sit down with those around you and go through your ‘profile’, although it’s much better for everyone if you think of it like a ‘story’, because that’s what it is.