UCAS allows you to make your own case in your application, to let universities and colleges see the person behind the grades and the admission test scores. Your reference will put some flesh on the bones, but this is your real opportunity to show them who you are and what you are capable of.
You have 4000 characters; that’s about 500 words or just under 50 lines of text. That isn’t a lot of space to make the case for your whole future, so practise writing clearly and concisely to pack in as much content as you can.
Your personal statement is your chance to describe your ambitions, your skills, and your experience to show admissions staff that you are not just a suitable person to study medicine, but one they want in their medical school. Write about your motivation to study medicine and highlight the skills and qualities you have that make you someone they want to find out more about.
Even though you don’t have to submit your application until October, it’s never too early to start thinking about it. Making a list of what you already have to include can help you spot where there are gaps (eg some relevant work experience/volunteering) or where you may need to prune some things to keep the balance right. You don’t want to use all your words to describe your hobbies! Practise writing concisely. 4000 characters are soon used up, so aim for solid content, simply expressed, rather than elaborate wording.
UCAS has a free Personal Statement Tool, which will prompt you with questions, and keep a word count, so this could be a good place to start making a draft. You will want to review it over and over again, phone a friend, and maybe start over a couple of times, but the more time you spend on it, the more you will be comfortable with what you finally submit.
Medical schools are looking for candidates who can think clearly and logically, so let that show in the way you structure your personal statement. Start by confirming you want to be a doctor, explain why giving your own personal reasons. Then progress to the evidence you are presenting for why you should be considered, such as leadership qualities (sports team captain?), strong teamwork (playing an instrument in an orchestra?), and of course compassion and empathy, as displayed in your volunteering and work experience. If you have no personal experience of a healthcare environment, then show you have done enough research to understand the demands of the profession. Finally, a brief summary, restating your earnest desire to study medicine.
Everything that points to you as being suitable and worthy to study medicine:
Your motivation should be personal to you, not just a bland ‘I want to help others. It’s a worthy reason but explain how and why.The skills you have that are relevant to your future medical career. To find out what’s wanted, look at what the Medical Schools Council says on what makes a good doctor.Talk about any work or volunteering experience that has added to your skill set or has helped you learn more about the healthcare profession. The medical schools want to hear about your reflections as much as what you actually did.Mention any research you have done to learn more about the profession, or any academic research following up a personal interest, also explaining why. If you keep a blog, include that too, with some comments on what you have gained from the exercise.Your hobbies, including sports/music interests, give you a chance to present yourself as a rounded person, not just someone with their heads in their academic work. Medicine is a demanding career, and it is important to show you have a way of unwinding. It can also be another way of demonstrating leadership skills and teamwork.If you have a clear ambition of something you want to do in the future, which is relevant to your career, then mention it – but don’t make anything up that won’t stand scrutiny in an interview!
Throughout your statement, do not include anything you are not prepared to justify. Even if there is no room within the statement to give a full explanation, then be ready to answer questions about it during an interview.
Remember that some universities will not read your personal statement until after they have made their first cut for interview selection. If there is anything you feel they should know that might explain deficiencies in your application (such as a bout of illness during your GCSEs) then discuss with your school advisor the best way to get this information across, as your personal statement may not be the best place for it.
For something as important as this, you want to do the best job possible. Make sure you eliminate all spelling and grammatical errors (if you are using a spell checker, set it to UK, not US English). Some universities will check your statement for plagiarism, so although you can use sample statements for ideas on how to express things, do not copy text from them.
It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion, however confident you may feel. You could start by getting a friend, or family member, someone you trust, to read your statement out loud to you. That will give you a different perception of how it sounds. Ask the teacher in your school/college who is responsible for advising on university applications to read and critique it. There are also lots of commercial companies who will review your statement for a fee. But remember, this is YOUR statement. Take advice, a lot of it will be good, but always make sure the final statement is what you want to say, as you are the one who will have to justify the contents in your interview.
If you get called for an interview you are almost certain to be asked a question based on your personal statement. It might be about your work experience, something you have written in your blog, anything that is going to get you talking. If you keep a copy of what you actually submitted, you will know what to expect and can do some last-minute preparation based on it.
You will find guidance on your personal statement on a lot of medical school websites, so once you have shortlisted your favourites, make sure you read what they have to say. This will not only tell you what they expect to see in a personal statement but also how they plan to use the information.