Step 4: Decide on style and supporting data

When it comes to writing the section, you will need to decide on the general style to aim at and the amount of detail to include for each point you make.
The style to strive for is one of relaxed intelligence. Spelling, accuracy of grammar and diversity of vocabulary are all important in creating the right impression. Aim for a compromise between an impersonal list-like page and one that is too chatty or vague. You will find you need to search for alternatives to starting each sentence with ‘I like . . . ‘
It is very important to strike a personal note: it makes you stand out from the crowd, and shows you to be an individual. In some cases this is clear just from the list of your achievements and interests, but most people do not have a huge number of these. This is where adding some supporting detail comes in. For example, don’t just write down ‘Reading’ but include what you read. Ditto for music: what do you listen to? It doesn’t have to be high-brow. When describing experiences, add something about what you got out of it – a highlight, an impression, a useful skill. ‘I have had a regular Saturday job’ is not as good as ‘I have a regular Saturday job working as a cashier at a local supermarket. Even better is to add ‘This has given me an insight into the importance of good customer relations and of the potential of information technology to transform jobs.’
Do avoid clichés, especially if you feel tempted to talk about how travel ‘enables me to experience and understand other cultures’. Everyone says that. Find something fresh to say.
If you have fewer things to say you can go into more detail on those points. However, the writing must remain concise, and it is better to leave empty space than to fill it all with vague sentences.
Helpful comments from admissions tutors include:
• ‘Up to half of the section can be used to support course choice.’
• ‘The section should provide insight into the student’s thinking in relation to themselves and their future.’
• ‘It should be more than just a description of experiences; achievement and effect upon the individual should be emphasised.’
• ‘Originality – eg, starting with a quotation from Goethe – should not be discouraged but should only occur where the applicant feels comfortable with the expression of originality. A touch of humour in reflecting on achievement or lack of achievement is probably the simplest and most natural way of making the statement really personal. It is, however, an approach which applicants should use sparingly and with care.’
Next: Step 5. Coming soon…