Because English is increasingly considered the world’s lingua franca, applying to universities in English-speaking countries is a great way to improve your language skills and meet other interesting international students. As a current graduate student at the University of Oxford, I know that strong English writing skills and a well-prepared application can be ‘passports’ for international adventure!
I have studied in the USA and the Netherlands as an undergraduate and have conducted academic research in Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar. This means I have written plenty of English personal statements. Writing a one or two page explanation of why you are applying and what makes you a good candidate can initially feel like a daunting task, but the following list of DO’s and DON’T’s can help make the writing process a little bit easier.
- Be honest.
The best personal statements are genuine. Think about how your past experiences inform your current academic interests and let admissions advisors know you are passionate about your work.
It is easy to make spelling and grammar mistakes when you are in a rush. Allow yourself enough time before submission to look over your essay.
- Have a native speaker read your essay.
Writing in a non-native language can be particularly challenging, even for highly proficient English language learners. A native speaker can offer valuable suggestions about phrasing and flow.
- Summarize your CV.
The CV is an integral part of any university application, but admissions advisors do not want to read it twice. Use the personal statement to describe how these past experiences prepare you for the program to which you are applying.
Talking about your achievements without sounding pretentious is a tricky part of personal statement writing. It requires a nuanced understanding of English. Do not mistake arrogance for confidence. Avoid superlatives like best or smartest and instead opt for adjectives that describe character like committed or determined.
- Use colloquial speech.
As much as “Having a master’s degree in computer science will be really cool because playing computer games all the time is amazing!” reframe the sentiment professionally as “A master’s degree in computer science will be a professional asset given my interest in website design and app development.”
- Start thinking about the unique perspective you will bring to university life and make this evident in your writing.
As a student of Spanish, French, and Armenian, I often feel like there is a gap between the ideas I want to express and the words I have to do so. Bridging this gap with pen and paper is a challenge, but one that has enormous pay-offs personally and professionally.
Don’t get discouraged! I have included a template for a final personal statement paragraph that you can modify according to your needs. Please find it below.
TEMPLATE FOR A FINAL PARAGRAPH:
Upon graduation, I hope to (A). I also plan to (B). Because I have interests in (C) and (D), a degree at (Name of University) will allow me to (E). For these reasons, it would be a privilege to pursue a degree in (F) at (Name of University)’s (Name of Department) in (Year).
Happy writing and good luck!