Struggling to nail your personal statement? We break down the key aspects of what makes an amazing personal statement and how you can craft one for your university applications.
Writing about yourself in a complimentary and confident manner is rarely easy, and it's a skill like any other that takes time to perfect. While the personal statement is a key part of the holistic assessment process and provides an insight into what drives and inspires you, it's a great way for you to showcase your motivation and commitment, to make a good first impression, to sell yourself as an individual and provides an opportunity for self-reflection and to acknowledge your achievements.
With the UCAS deadline approaching on 31st January 2024, many of you will be starting or refining your applications for next year and this feature is all about making that process as smooth as possible.
The essentials for an amazing personal statement
Before you can even begin writing, you need to understand exactly what components elevate a basic personal statement to an amazing one. There are five key aspects that you'll want to focus on:
- Enthusiasm and motivation for study of the subject
- Understanding and/or experience of the subject
- Academic engagement with the subject
- Relevant knowledge and skills for the subject - extra-curricular activities
- Originality and independence of thought
We're going to take a look at each of these areas individually, highlighting what will transform your personal statement from OK to amazing, and most importantly, provide key questions that when answered, will nail all the things a university will be looking for.
We're going to provide examples that align with the study areas at dBs Institute, and use a mixture of audio production and game development topics in our examples.
1. Enthusiasm and motivation for study of the subject
With this first point, you're essential trying to answer, 'why this particular subject?' Below is an example of an excellent answer and a less convincing one.
|Less convincing example
|“When I studied studio recording I began to see how the developments in digital audio changed the landscape of what was possible. As I learnt more about digital signal processing I focused on experimenting with how to manipulate and transform traditional sounds creating original pieces that contained unique sonic qualities. I believe it is a deep understanding of your tools, combined with a fascination to explore something new, that will enable the next generation of producers to push the boundaries of music production.”
|“I have a strong interest in audio processing and studying at University will allow me to explore and develop my enthusiasm for this subject.”
The first noticeable difference between the two examples is the length of the answer, but don't assume that more words means a better answer. The example on the right provides only a surface-level description, with no specific examples or detail on what it is about the subject that fascinates you.
In contrast, the example on the left not only provides more detail, but specific details on what that person is interested in, how that interest has led to their own independent study and demonstrates that they have considered the implications of their studies on the future of the subject area.
You may be thinking, 'sure that all makes sense, but I have no idea how to write an answer like that.' This is where those useful prompts come in. Take a look at the following questions and start jotting down answers to each of them. At first, it's all about putting your thoughts down onto the page, you can refine things when you're confident you've included all the key points.
- What is your favourite aspect of your course?
- Why do you like this so much?
- Provide an example of a particular project or task you have done that was especially enjoyable
- How do you think this subject plays an important role within the industry
2. Understanding and/or experience of the subject
For this second point, you're trying to answer two questions:
- What aspects are of particular interest?
- What are the key issues?
Let's look at an excellent example and a less convincing example to illustrate the best approach to this section of your personal statement.
|Less convincing example
|“I am particularly interested in how the use of artificial intelligence can be used to create new immersive experiences for video games, specifically the use of AI voice actors. Although this technique is starting to gain traction in the wider games industry, there are still ethical and quality considerations when using AI instead of professional voice actors. I think that questions around AI in game development are particularly interesting and where the boundaries lie, from a moral and ethical point of view.”
|“I really enjoyed watching a documentary on the emerging use of artificial intelligence in video games and how AI voice actors can open new doors to immersive experiences. I learned much about the different AI tools available as well as historical and current issues in this approach to game development.”
This example isn't quite as easy to separate as our first. The less convincing example does provide more context and demonstrates that the candidate has considered the implications of AI voice actors in video games, but is still rather vague.
Conversely, the excellent example sees the candidate talks about why AI voice actors interests them, demonstrates their understanding of how it's already being used in the industry, and provides examples of why the practice comes with ethical implications rather than simply stating that they're aware those issues exist.
Remember, the topic you choose doesn't necessarily have to be something you have tried yourself, however, if you can speak about your own personal experience it adds an extra opportunity to show off what skills you've been developing.
- What technique or creative process do you enjoy the most?
- Describe a time when you did this with a successful outcome
- What current or future advancements could impact this particular process either negatively or positively?
3. Academic engagement with the subject
For this third strand, your objective is talk about the relevant reading, events, lectures, documentaries, TED Talks, etc. that you have engaged with in your pursuit to learn more about the subject.
|Less convincing example
|“Having read Recording Unhinged: Creative and Unconventional Music Recording Techniques by Sylvia Massy I now have more confidence to try less obvious approaches to recording audio. I found her stance on experimentation refreshing and the outcome of some of her techniques sonically exciting. The argument for applying unconventional approaches to recording resonated with me as when we hear something that sounds slightly different from what we might expect we tend to listen more closely and engage with the music on another level.”
|“In one of my classes, my lecturer told me about trying out different microphone positions to see what variations there were between each recording. This stimulated my interest in trying unconventional recording techniques and now I try different things in every session.”
By this point, it's clear what separates these two examples and makes one better than the other. The excellent example is detailed and specific, once again demonstrating how the candidates reading has impacted their mindset and approach towards recording music, while the less convincing example is somewhat vague in the lessons learned and how they impacted their future recording techniques.
When it comes to examples, anything that could be considered external research or reading that has made an impact on how you view your chosen subject area is appropriate for this portion of your personal statement.
- Describe a book, event, lecture, documentary or TED talk that you have experienced and was relevant to your area of study?
- What was it specifically about this experience that inspired your work?
- How have you implemented this and what was the outcome - did you learn anything or observe something from the process?
4. Relevant knowledge and skills for the subject
Here is your chance to talk about the extra-curricular activities or work experience you've engaged in and the skills and understanding that you have gained.
|Less convincing example
|“I am fascinated by how the various departments of a game studio operate in different ways in service of creating the same desired outcome. In the summer, I was involved in a local game jam, where I was able to produce a finished game in collaboration with a team of developers. I gained an invaluable insight into how my role as a game artist impacts the other members of my team, specifically that while my art should edify the gameplay and level design, it had to also consider the memory constraints of the game and allow space for the audio implementation.”
|“Over the summer, I was involved in a local game jam as an artist. I learned about memory constraints for video game development and I will be more of aware of this in future projects.”
We know that not everyone will have had the opportunity to gain work experience, so if you can't give an example, think about what you've done independently outside of your studies. If you a game development student, have you created any of your own assets for a personal project or helped design a game with a friend? If you're studying music technology or similar, have you recorded any bands at your college or in your local area, have you rescored a trailer with your own original music, etc.
This is your time to really show that your passion for the subject lies beyond the classroom and that you're using your free time to develop your skills and build your experience.
- Describe an extra-curricular activity or work experience placement you undertook that relates to your specialist subject area
- What skill(s) did you gain or improve on or what new knowledge did you gain from this experience?
- How have you used this new skill or knowledge within your practice?
5. Originality and independence of thought
This final section is all about opinion and self-reflection. It's an opportunity for you to talk about something you deeply care about, without necessarily needing it to justify your understanding or the subject or a skill you possess.
|Less convincing example
|“I believe that the hybrid approach of combining both acoustic and electronic sound sources as heard from some of the most successful indie bands, such as Everything Everything, Tame Impala and LCD Soundsystem elicit a move emotive response in the listener due to the range of timbres and textures that can be achieved through this synthesis of instruments.”
|“A ten year-old boy got home from school one day and decided to pick up his mother’s guitar and began to strum the strings. Entranced by the magic of music he started to teach himself to play some simple chords and six years later was performing in two bands as the lead guitarist. That boy was me.”
Where the excellent example is specific, provides examples and really pinpoints exactly what excites the candidate, the less convincing example is wishy-washy and doesn't really give the person reading it any clear indication of why they started to pursue music or what areas of it really resonate with them.
Be specific. Nerd out about what it is you are really interested in and say why.
- What trends in your subject area are happening now (give an example) and what do you think of them from a personal perspective?
By now, you should have a much clearer understanding of what makes an amazing personal statement and how you can create your own in five easy steps. Don't expect to get everything right on your first try and be prepared to let your answers breathe. It's OK to step away from them for a couple of days and then come back and refine them.