Let’s Get Personal: eduFair’s Top 8 Tips for Writing Personal Statements
In China, exam scores and university rankings are at the forefront of Chinese students’ and parents’ minds. For students who decide to study abroad, whether they want to get into a higher-ranked university, improve their additional language skills, or experience living abroad, many students will prioritize exams above their other application materials. While exam scores are one aspect of international applications, they are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to students getting into their top choice institutions.
Standardized tests provide a baseline for universities to gauge students’ knowledge and test-taking skills, but a great or even perfect score is not an automatic acceptance. With many students achieving excellent test scores, and also considering the various standardized testing cheating scandals in Asia, students need to focus on more than just exams to stand out.
Many countries like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia prioritize critical thinking and personality over exams and rote memorization. Admissions staff use additional application materials to try and get a better picture of the student as a whole, so it's important for Chinese students and their parents to shift their mindsets for exams to a holistic student view when applying for international institutions. One application item is the perfect opportunity for students to let their personalities and accomplishments shine: the personal statement.
What is a personal statement and why does it matter for Chinese students?
A personal statement is a short essay for students to tell admissions why they want to go to that university or study in that program, and why they are a great fit. With such a heavy focus on tests and grades in China, students and parents might not give the personal statement as much thought; however, a compelling personal statement can make a student stand out above the many other students who had high test scores, got good grades, excelled in an internship, etc. These essays are a chance for Chinese students to tell admissions about themselves and to show who they are beyond grades, test scores, and resume items.
Writing a Cohesive Narrative
When writing a personal statement, students do not need to cover everything about themselves, but rather they should focus on writing a story about their experience that shows their values. These essays are typically about 500-1000 words, and while there are many topics students can focus on for their story, the most common are based on academic, personal, or professional experiences.
Academic: Experiences related to school, such as research projects, conferences, clubs, managing busy student schedules, etc.
Personal: Experiences related to daily life, such as moving, personal projects, or challenges with friends or family.
Professional: Experiences related to employment, such as internships, entrepreneurship, volunteering, career goals, or overcoming a work challenge.
eduFair’s 8 Tips for Chinese Students Writing Personal Statements
Once students have chosen their story, it’s time to write an outline and first draft. Below are eight tips for Chinese students to write an impactful personal statement while minimizing stress during the writing phase.
Write an outline – Many people will have different writing processes, but writing an outline is a great way to figure out what to include and how the personal statement should be structured.
Write the first paragraph last – Instead of agonizing over the beginning of an essay, let the rest of the personal statement be the guide. This will help students who are feeling stuck in their writing by giving them the freedom to be creative.
Be themselves – Admissions staff want to see students’ unique personalities and accomplishments, and they want to know why each student would be a great fit for their university. Students should be honest about their abilities and passions and let their personalities shine through.
Talk about accomplishments instead of tasks – Instead of just describing what they have done, students should talk about what they learned from their experiences, the results, or how they overcame obstacles. Adding specific metrics is also an impressive way to elevate a personal statement.
Read the personal statement aloud – Students should read their personal statements from start to finish after completing a draft. Does it make sense? Does it sound natural? Does it convey the intended message? Reading aloud can help students realize if their personal statement conveys the right tone, and it also forces students to read slower than if they were reading aloud, helping them catch typos.
Use the right words and grammar – Chinese students may struggle with conjugations, subject-verb agreement, word choice, etc. due to the differences between English and Chinese. Students can use tools like Grammarly or spell check in Microsoft Word to help catch errors, and they can ask a trusted adult to proofread as well.
Write multiple drafts – The first draft is about getting the ideas on paper and figuring out what works. The first draft could be close to or completely different from the final product, so it’s important to allow extra time to step away and look at the personal statement with fresh eyes.
Update personal statements for different applications – While students can mostly re-use their personal statements, they should tailor them to different universities, countries, and programs. Students should add specifics about how their passions and experience make them the perfect fit for that program, or why that specific country is ideal for reaching their personal or educational goals. Because different universities, colleges, and countries may have different word length requirements, students should also make sure to carefully read their application instructions and modify them as needed.
While exams are necessary components of applications, a personal statement is where Chinese students can show who they are and why they belong in a specific university, college, or program. By following our top 8 tips, Chinese students can feel confident in their applications.
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