A personal statement is up to 4000 characters or 47 lines where you tell a University why you are a suitable candidate for the course. Unfortunately there is no way of guaranteeing a place on your chosen course but a combination of a good personal statement and the right grades will certainly give you a good chance.
To offer you something useful, we asked senior Economics lecturers around the country what they like to see in an Economics personal statement;
1) Ensure the personal statement is grammatically correct and without spelling errors. Applicants have time to prepare and go over their statement over and over, as well as to get help from their teachers, parents etc. Sloppiness of this kind gives the worst possible impression.
2) Keep paragraphs short and to the point. This is easier to read than a big body of text – admissions officers are unlikely to spend a long time reading over the statement, so make the key points stand out.
3) I see little need to innovate by writing bizarre things so as to stand out – keep things clear, relevant and to the point, also statements such as ‘I have dreamt of studying Economics from when I was a small child’ are completely implausible and all too common! Show enthusiasm for the subject but back it up with evidence of this, such as relevant books you have read (but make sure you have indeed read them before an interview…if caught out lying, looks very weak – you would be surprised how often this happens), issues in the media or current affairs that interest you etc.
Emphasise the reasons why you’re interested in, and want to study, Economics. What is it about the subject that makes you want to spend 3 years specialising in it? What especially appeals? If you’ve studied Economics before you might talk about some of the areas you’ve found most interesting; if not, then explain how you came to want to study it. I think this is an exercise that’s of value notwithstanding the personal statement: students who’ve thought carefully about their choice are more likely to make the right one and ultimately to enjoy success with their degrees. Both with this and more generally on the personal statement, be honest (for your own sake as much as the selector’s, remembering that any exaggerations and poorly thought out statements are likely to be exposed in the event of any interviews) and resist the temptation to write what you think the selector wants to hear (e.g. “I have always loved Economics ever since I was 2”) or to try and flatter (e.g. “I welcome the chance to study at your esteemed institution”); both are likely to sound insincere, won’t convince and will therefore add little value. Just be yourself, and be both interested and interesting!
Paragraph 1 – give a general introduction of why you wish to study Economics; this might include a particular aspect of the subject that fascinates you (though explain why), when your interest was peaked and how a degree in Economics fits in with your future career aspirations.
Paragraph 2 – give a brief account of why you are suitable for the degree(s) in questions, highlighting relevant A-level courses taken and aspects of them that were of interest. Give academic and non-academic reasons -applicants tend to focus on what they would take from the opportunity to study towards a particular degree- it is nice to explain how they hope to contribute also to the social fabric of the university and interaction within the course/degree.
Paragraph 3 – give evidence of interest for Economics by listing one or two popular Economics books (e.g. Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics, the Armchair Economist, the Bottom Billion…the list goes on) that you have read. Rather than giving an implausibly long list of books read, focus on one or two (or three if the course is a joint honours degree with other subjects) books and (this is crucial…) identify how the book/particular chapter/treatment of a particular issue fuelled your interest in Economics, in particular what questions it raised in your mind that a degree in Economics would help answer.
Paragraph 4 – describe (briefly) any work experience/voluntary work, highlighting any aspects that are relevant to Economics. A few lines on hobbies or sporting activities could also be included – perhaps to show perseverance of enjoyment in interacting with others. Some interests e.g. debating, are arguably of more relevance than say, golf.
Somewhere in the statement – if applying from overseas, list the qualifications attained in English language and perhaps say a few words on how studying Economics in the U.K. is of particular value to you.
Paragraph 5 – list any awards, prizes etc attained or participation in things like the Model UN or Duke of Edinburgh awards. Some applicants are involved in Target 2.0 and in doing so get a first hand feel of the role of monetary policy and how interest rates are set and inflation targeting. These are relevant to the statement.
A statement that follows the structure above should give enough information to satisfy most readers and should appear structured, well-written and clearly thought out.
Vague statements of interest with broad sweeping statements of unbridled enthusiasm for the subject lack credibility if not backed up by specific activities/books read/courses taken etc. In my view, a straightforward personal statement that gets all the core points across in a coherent way serves the purpose best.