Yesterday, I flew from Tokyo to London, then took a train up to Durham for the start of my third and final undergraduate year. I’m currently studying English Literature at Durham University and enjoying it immensely. I’ve been busy settling back in Durham and preparing for my modules, and so I’m going to use that as an excuse to post my personal statement I wrote 4 years ago instead of writing something new.
For those unfamiliar with the process of applying to universities in the UK, let me explain briefly. Unlike the USA where each university has a different application process (usually requiring several supplication essays), almost all British universities handle undergraduate applications through an online service called UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). All that prospective students have to do is submit a single application (personal details, written reference, etc.) accompanied by one personal statement.
The personal statement is the only written piece of work that you’ll submit to universities, meaning it’s well important for it to be polished, polished, polished. Naturally, you might feel pressured to make it perfect. But that does also mean you don’t have to write any of those pesky supplication essays. It’s worth the effort.
What is the personal statement? It usually contains reasons for wanting to study a certain subject, your future ambitions, your skills and achievements and experiences, and how your qualities will help you in your future goals. The personal statement page on the UCAS website asks 3 questions: 1. Why are you applying?; 2. What makes you suitable?; 3. Which of your skills and experiences are most relevant?
Just some tips when writing your personal statement:
- Maximum length: 4000 characters or 47 lines of text.
- You’ll want to make your statement stand out from the rest; but be careful not to overdo it, especially with humour or anything unusual.
- Since the same statement will be sent to all of your chosen universities, you shouldn’t talk specifically about a university or its course. Before I wrote mine, I was interested in various English courses, ranging from English Language to English Literature to Creative Writing. The common thread was, of course, English – so I wrote generally about my passion for English, ensuring it would be applicable to all the different courses.
I’m posting my personal statement below so you can get an idea of what it looks like. I’m still rather proud of it – I definitely overemphasised my internationalism. I was accepted by the Universities of Durham, Kent and Nottingham, and I was also asked to go for an interview with Cambridge (unfortunately, that was during my 2 years of national service; I was in Taiwan for overseas training during the interview period so I couldn’t go). As aforementioned, I eventually chose to study English Literature at Durham University.
Hopefully, this will be useful. If not, well, you’ll get to know me better. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
UCAS Personal Statement
(English; 3839 characters)
by Justin Lau
My life journey thus far easily resembles a wild roller coaster ride. I grew up in fast-paced Japan, lived under the care of British hostel parents for two years, studied at an international school located in ever-hectic Tokyo, built a preschool for poverty-stricken Thai children and am currently serving my two years of National Service in the Singapore army. Throughout my highly active life and my hobbies of reading and writing, I have maintained an intense passion for English.
As a multicultural student, I have come across an extensive array of fascinating languages, cultures and people. In the midst of this barrage, my strong foundation in the world’s principal language allowed me to communicate with people from all walks of life. Ultimately, English continues to genuinely appeal to me. I can intricately formulate the correct expressions for my feelings. The intellectual wordplay and the very manner in which a string of words can contain such meaningful emotion are utterly fascinating.
Writing is the leading passion in my life. It enables me to pen down my opinions and far-fetched imaginations. This is fuelled by the fact that I am an avid reader, devouring everything from classic to modern literature in order to enhance my understanding of this world. I admire Jane Austen and Kazuo Ishiguro for their elaborately witty and meditative novels. Neil Gaiman’s fantasy stories embedded with realism are highly entertaining, and Nick Hornby’s amusing but pleasantly insightful novels never fail to make me explode with laughter. All four authors demonstrate how the right combination of words can concurrently entertain and stir up reflective thoughts in their readers. From the controversies of societal conformity to the importance of bearing unconditional love towards all, these authors have rigorously spurred me to hunt for the truths of life. They have invigorated a passion to increase and share my knowledge with others. My desire to influence society for the better elucidates my aspiration to become a writer, for it allows me to connect universally. Just as people’s writings have impacted me profoundly, I also seek to simultaneously entertain and challenge others to meditate on their ever-changing lives.
Though my school was located in Japan, English was my school’s primary language. I took the Advanced Placement exams for English Language and English Literature, achieving a 5 and a 4 respectively. I held a number of responsibilities over the years such as an English teacher’s assistant, a writer for my school’s newspaper, a member of my high school’s senior council, a lawyer’s secretary and soon-to-be military logistics officer. These valuable experiences allowed me to exercise flexibility and cultivate a proficient adaptability. I believe I will naturally integrate into the flow of university life. I have always longed to study in the UK, incited by my admiration for its rich history and diversity. There is no better nation than the birthplace of the language to grow in my English abilities, writing skills and linguistic knowledge.
Outside of reading and writing, music constitutes my other passion. I indulge in the joys of music through my proficiency in multiple instruments and love for singing. Personal achievements related to my passions include getting an excerpt of a novel published in an anthology in Singapore, and singing with my a cappella group in a competition broadcast nationwide on Japanese television.
Studying English requires an abundant amount of fervour and commitment. I am confident that I possess those very attributes and am firmly dedicated to furthering my education on a much loved subject. I look forward to contributing new and substantial ideas to the university’s diverse community with my international background, unique experiences and passion for life.
© Justin Lau, 2014
- Advanced Placement
- application process
- Cambridge University
- creative writing
- Durham University
- English language
- English Literature
- Jane Austen
- Justin Lau
- Kazuo Ishiguro
- Neil Gaiman
- Nick Hornby
- personal statement
- University of Kent
- University of Nottingham