8 Top tips for new school starters
Originally Published: 07 September 2020 for TheNeedToLive
Starting a new school or college can be a daunting experience for anybody. Throw in the added complications of the seemingly unrelenting global pandemic and those feelings of fear and apprehension may well multiply to preposterous levels of intensity.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Believe me. I may well be 40 years old, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re going through. Indeed, just last year when I returned to education after twenty years I felt the same feelings and carried the same worries that I did all those years ago.
So, with that in mind, here are eight top tips to help you tackle those first few weeks at your new place like a seasoned pro.
Face things head on
As easy as it might be to run away from a situation that isn’t to your liking – be it because you’re overthinking the outcome or worried about how others might perceive your approach – it takes a lot more guts to stick it out and face it head on. You’ll certainly feel pleased with yourself afterwards.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
We all mistakes. Yes, even that one person in your new class that appears to be perfect. So don’t be afraid to get involved in your lessons. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Put forward your ideas and theories. Start discussions and debates amongst your peers and teachers. By doing so you’ll get a lot more value out of each lesson and ultimately you’ll learn more.
All that intense learning can really take it out of you. So to keep a clear head and help you to remain focused during your day, make sure you’re regularly quenching your thirst. Water is naturally best, but fruit juice and squash are just as good. Remember to avoid those sugary energy drinks too. They’ll do you no favours in the long run.
With a new school comes a whole bunch of new people. Of course, you’ll more than likely know a few people from your previous establishment, but it’s important to get to know new people too. So don’t be afraid to go and chat to people that you’ve never met before. Naturally you’re not going to become best friends with everybody but you might just meet a few people that you share a common interest with.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
It may be a cliché but when it comes to your education it’s one that’s worth remembering. You might think now that learning to speak French is a waste of your time. After all, you’re going to train to be a plumber when you leave school and the chances of you needing to ask “which direction the butchers shop is in” is hardly something you’re going to need to know, is it? But believe me, life really isn’t that simple. You don’t know what direction your life is going to go in the years to come so it’s important to get as broad an education as possible while you can. Learn the sciences. Learn different languages. Learn about the world we live in. It’s all important and it all matters.
Take time out
As much as it is important to concentrate on your education, it is also important to take time out for yourself as well. By all means get your homework assignments done as soon as possible, but remember to spend some time doing those things you enjoy as well. Hang out with your friends, catch a movie or simply spend a couple of hours in front of your favourite video game. Whatever you enjoy doing, make sure you take the time to do it alongside your studies.
Look after your mental health
The pressures of starting a new school can be tough, and all that stress and anxiety can be detrimental to your mental health. So it’s important to keep it in check on a regular basis. Why not try keeping a blog or a journal? I find that writing my thoughts and worries down is a great way of getting them out of your mind and dissecting them accordingly. Meditation as well comes highly recommended as a way of relaxing the mind and calming the soul. There are plenty of free apps out there too that will allow you to get started such as Insight Timer or Headspace.
Don’t suffer in silence
Whether you’re struggling to understand algebra, (Trust me, you won’t be the only one) or you’re having difficulty deciphering your chemical formulas – don’t be afraid to ask for help! Your teachers are there to teach you, so take advantage of their knowledge and expertise as much as you need to. Remember, they want to see you succeed as much as you want to succeed yourself.
Surviving Lockdown 2.0
Originally Published: 03 October 2020 for TheNeedToLive
Lockdown is once again upon us here in England and just like before we’re faced with the prospect of a month spent mostly behind closed doors. For some the opportunity to spend more time at home can only be a good thing. While for others the prospect of being stuck inside with little to no human interaction can fill them with dread.
If you fall into the latter of those camps then the next four weeks are likely to deal a significant blow to your own mental health and wellbeing. So it is important to try and keep yourself busy and your mind in check.
With that in mind here are a few suggestions of how to take care of yourself during the second lockdown period.
Just because you cannot see your friends and family in person that doesn’t mean that you can’t see them altogether. We are lucky now that technology has gotten to a stage where making a video call is just as simple as making a regular call. So make the most of Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom to stay connected with your social circles.
Reduce your news intake
Watching the news is heavy going at the moment. Coronavirus dominates of course, but there’s all sorts of other bad news out there that if consumed too much is likely to make you feel deflated. Try to limit how often you check in with the television and radio news, and try not to spend too long looking at the news sites online. It is important to focus on the things that you can control rather than those that you can’t.
Regular meditation is a great way to settle an overactive mind and can help you to refocus your energies onto the things that really matter in your life. Try to meditate at least once a day if you can, especially when you begin to feel any anxiety kick in. There are plenty of good meditation resources out there to choose from such as Headspace or Insight Timer and all will guide you through the process from start to finish. I recommend you use headphones for the best experience.
It is important to get a decent nights sleep at the best of times. But if you’re stuck at home for a month with the knowledge that you don’t have to go anywhere, you might find yourself falling into the habit of staying up later than normal. Try to stick to your regular routine if you can. Go to sleep at the same time that you normally would when we’re not in a lockdown situation, and try to get at least 7 hours a night. Avoid caffeine in the evening and try to use the blue light filter on your phone in the hours before you head to bed. A lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on your overall wellbeing.
Keeping your mind active is just as important as keeping your body active. So try and stay as busy as possible during your time at home. As old-school as it sounds, I find jigsaw puzzles to be rather relaxing and a great way to kill a few hours. Set yourself up with a 1000 piece puzzle, a hot drink and a playlist of your favourite music.
Of course if that’s too pedestrian for you then there are plenty of other ways to keep busy. Lose yourself in a good game or binge on a boxset, (Upload on Amazon Prime is one that I recommend!) or if you’re really bored, why not tackle all of those tedious but necessary jobs around the house? Cleaning, tidying and sorting out can be very therapeutic!
Lastly, remember that you’re not alone in all this. We are all in the same boat, all worried about the ongoing situation and fearful for the future. I know it’s tough and I know it feels like this is how life is going to be forever. But it’s really not. Things will get better and they will return to normal one day. So keep focused, stay strong, keep busy and don’t be afraid to reach out if you find yourself struggling. It’s okay not to be okay.
Common sense during the Covid crisis
Originally Published: 14 October 2020 for TheNeedToLive
“The new normal.”
“Good old-fashioned common sense.”
Just three of the infuriating soundbites that are wheeled out by every politician, journalist and broadcaster under the sun., and the less said about “Hands, face, space” the better.
2020 really isn’t the year any of us were expecting, (sorry!) but it really has changed my outlook on the world around me. If anything, it has made me appreciate my own company that little bit more.
I’m based at home the majority of the time so I don’t have to leave the house unless it’s for essential food or medical supplies or because I’ve chosen to take some exercise. I’m one of the lucky ones. Many, many people don’t share that luxury. Instead having no choice but to head out into the world and try to carry on as if we aren’t in the midst of a global pandemic.
Indeed, my own partner is one of those people. Being office based and working for what has arguably been defined as an essential service, she has had to run the risk of going into a work environment where her own health and wellbeing is predominantly at the mercy of other people, and that worries me.
We’ve been told repeatedly during this crisis that we should “exercise caution” and “use our common sense”when it comes to our behaviour. But one persons idea of common sense will be different to that of your own. Take the subject of face coverings for example. We’re told that we must wear one when venturing into an enclosed space such as a shop, and rightly so. But seemingly that message hasn’t quite reached everyone in the same way. Or if it has then there is a wildly varied idea of common sense amongst the greater population.
I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve seen with their mouth covered but with their nose poking out as if it is in no way connected to their respiratory system. Or those that remove their face covering inside to take a phone call, firmly of the belief that their voice simply cannot be heard if their mouth is covered by a small piece of material.
There are those people that choose to make a stand. The ones that don’t think the rules apply to them. Those people that think that by disregarding the rules that the majority of us try our best to follow they are somehow getting one up on the powers that be.
We’ve all seen the stories about those illegal raves and gatherings. Or the demonstrations in the capitalattended by thousands who have been brainwashed into believing that Coronavirus doesn’t actually exist.
Do they have common sense? Are those the sort of people that I want to be surrounding myself with during a national emergency?
I’ve always suffered from a certain degree of social anxiety, so I’ve never needed much encouragement to stay at home and avoid people. But the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus has really made me see the flaws in the population around me. The whole reason why the rate of infection is spreading and hospital admissions are rising is because the government are relying on the common sense of people that just don’t have any.
It’s said that the only behaviour you can control is your own, and throughout this pandemic that statement has never been more appropriate. So do the right thing. Wash your hands regularly, keep your distance from others and wear a face covering correctly. Then one day perhaps the new normal can become a thing of the past.
#TellYourStory: 5 tips for supermarket shopping
Originally Published: 14 October 2020 for TheNeedToLive
Plan your meals
It’s a good idea to plan your meals for the week before you head to the supermarket. That way you know exactly what you’re going to eat each day and what ingredients you need to buy in order to make it. If possible, try and stretch your ingredients to last a couple of days. For example, why not buy a slightly larger chicken and use the leftovers from your roast to make a curry or sweet & sour?
Don’t rule out ready meals either if you’re on a tight budget. A lot of the supermarkets run regular offers where you can buy a certain number of ready meals for a set price. It can often work out cheaper than buying all of the ingredients separately, and it’s a lot less effort to cook. Buy a ready made lasagne for example and pair it with some broccoli and garlic bread for a cheap and cheerful meal.
Oh, and it’s a lot easier to stick to your food budget if you make one big weekly trip to the supermarket instead of lots of impulsive ones.
Try own brand
A great way to make considerable savings on your weekly shop is to switch to own-brand products. These are considerably cheaper and usually just as good, if not better than the more familiar branded goods. Why not try replacing your usual branded shop with supermarket own-brands for a week and see how you get on?
A great example of a switch that could save you considerable money each week is washing capsules. Supermarket own brands are usually two or three pounds cheaper than the likes of Ariel or Persil and will clean your clothes just as effectively.
Another one to consider is toilet rolls. As much as it’s nice to have expensive toilet paper that’s double quilted and enriched with cocoa butter, it still ends up in the same place. Think about it.
You might find you actually prefer some of the cheaper brands and switch to them permanently.
Scan as you shop
If you’re on a tight budget it’s probably best to avoid shopping blind. One of the best ways to keep an eye on how much you’ve spent as you trundle round with your trolley is to use a scan as you go system. Most of the major supermarkets offer this service and as the name suggests it allows you to scan your own shopping as you go. The handset will tot up your total as you scan each item, enabling you to stick to your budget and avoid any nasty surprises when you get to the checkout.
Some supermarkets allow you to do the same thing using a phone app. Tesco’s Pay+ app even allows you to add funds to a digital wallet which you can then use to pay for your shopping each week.
Get a loyalty card
One of the ways to get the most out of your weekly shop is to sign up for a loyalty card. Pretty much all of the big supermarkets have these such as offer these and it’s usually completely free to sign up.
By using one each and every time you make a supermarket trip or purchase fuel from a supermarket petrol station you’ll accumulate points which – once you reach a certain milestone – can be used to take money off of your shopping bill. Some of the loyalty schemes such as Tesco’s Clubcard and Nectar allow you to redeem your points at other retailers as well. So you can make savings on everything from train travel to cinema tickets.
Avoid impulse buying
Supermarkets love to try and make you buy more than you went in for. Ever wondered why they always place tempting treats such as cakes and sweets at the end of the aisles? It’s to try and catch your eye and encourage you to put them in your trolley. We’re all guilty of it.
One of the easiest ways to avoid impulse buying is to make sure you’re not hungry when you visit the supermarket. Because if you’re hungry you’re going to instantly crave whatever delicious goodness they’ve deliberately placed in your view.
Write a list and stick to it.
Living with Emetophobia – #TellYourStory
Originally Published: 29 October 2020 for TheNeedToLive
We all have fears. Even the most confident and brazen people are afraid of something.
I was thinking about my own fears while I was planning this piece. I’ve always had this deep-rooted fear of vomiting ever since I suffered from a persistent bout of travel sickness during a school trip. I was only 11 at the time but that memory and that underlying fear have always stuck with me. Emetophobia is the correct term for such a condition. I’ve never actually been travel sick since then but the fear of it is always there in the background.
I haven’t set foot on an aeroplane because of this fear. I’m not afraid of flying as such, but afraid of what might happen if my stomach decides to regurgitate its contents. It’s the same with sitting in the back of a car, or travelling on a bus or a coach. Even the thought of having to tackle any of those everyday activities brings me out in a cold sweat.
That’s the thing about Emetophobia. It prevents you from doing perfectly normal things that other non-sufferers wouldn’t bat an eyelid at.
According to Anxiety UK, Emetophobia is not widely diagnosed even though it is a fairly prevalent anxiety disorder. It is also more common in women, with an estimated 6-7% of females reporting experiencing the condition compared to 1-3% of men.
Whenever my partner and myself go to a theatre or arena to see a show my fear is always lurking somewhere in the background. I have to make sure that we get a seat right next to the aisle so that if I suffer an Emetophobic panic attack at any point I can quickly escape to safety. I also have to buy a large bottle of water and cling to it for dear life. I find that sipping water throughout the performance helps to focus and reassure me that everything is going to be okay.
I’ve never been on a rollercoaster or any form of extreme ride. My partner has suggested on many occasions that she would love us to book one of those experience days where you get to go in a supercar. I love cars and I love driving. But the thought that I might end up painting the car’s interior with the contents of my stomach prevents me from entertaining such an idea.
I often see Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (CBT) as well as Exposure & Response Prevention, (ERP) suggested as tried and tested methods of overcoming Emetophobia, which I’m sure will work for some people. But me personally I’ve never had much success with CBT when it comes to managing my other ongoing mental health conditions. So I’m not sure whether it would have the desired effect on me.
I wish I could get over my fear of being sick somehow. As a condition it’s debilitating. It stops me from doing the things that other people manage to achieve so easily. I would love to travel and see the world outside of England one day, but until I can work out how to conquer my biggest fear there is very little chance of that ever happening.
The importance of being idle
Originally Published: 02 November 2020 for TheNeedToLive
One of the most important elements of keeping your mental health in good check is allowing yourself to enjoy some regular downtime. Some ‘Me time’ if you will. The problem is though, that more often than not we’re encouraged to “keep busy” or “stay active” in order to stop our minds from drifting back into that dark, yet comfortable void.
Indeed, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been told that I should try and exercise in order to combat my own depression and anxiety.
“You’ll feel a lot better if you lose some weight.” I’m regularly informed.
Here’s the thing though. When I was 4 or 5 stone lighter than what I am now, (Yes, I’ve piled on the pounds somewhat in the past few years.) I still suffered from depression and anxiety in exactly the same way as what I do now. So in my mind, that argument is well and truly null and void.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m sure focusing on fitness and wellbeing works for some people. But for me personally, I’ve never found it particularly helpful.
Focus on you
What I have always found helpful when it comes to my mental health is concentrating all of my energies into doing things that I actually want to do. Things that I personally enjoy spending my time participating in.
Writing, for example, is something that over the past few years I’ve found incredibly therapeutic. Not only does it allow you to let your creativity flow, but it’s also a great way to empty all of those troublesome thoughts from your overactive mind. Try writing your worries and fears down onto a piece of paper, then – safely and responsibly – burn it, allowing all of your problems to disappear into the flames.
If you want to focus on exploring your thoughts in more depth, why not try writing a blog? There are plenty of resources out there that will allow you to do so for free – such as WordPress and Blogger – and you’ll be surprised at just how many people will be interested in what you have to say. Your words really can resonate with others who are in a similar situation to your own.
If writing isn’t your thing how about expressing your thoughts in a different way?
As easy as falling off a vlog
Vlogging is a great way of sharing your thoughts and opinions with a wider audience. It’s also really easy to do! All you need is your smartphone, a YouTube account and something to say. And if you think that what you have to say won’t be of interest to anybody – you’re wrong. There are YouTubers out there catering for even the most niche of audiences.
Think of your vlogs as therapy sessions if you like. You’re actively extracting those troublesome thoughts and feelings from your mind and putting them out there for whoever wants to listen. It really is rather therapeutic in it’s own way.
Of course, such intense creativity isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.
If you’re less into blogging and more into binge-watching then that’s absolutely fine. Whether you prefer to lose yourself in a good book or you’d rather engross yourself in a great game. The important thing is to take time out for yourself, do the things that make you happy and never feel guilty about putting your own mental health and wellbeing first.
My new year resolution is to be more selfish. Here’s why.
Originally Published: 08 December 2020 for TheNeedToLive
The new year is fast approaching and many of us will be starting to think about our new years resolutions. For some it might be to join a gym and lose some weight. For others it might be to give up smoking or to reduce your alcohol intake. Or perhaps it’s something a little more personal. Something that only affects you personally but by doing so will greatly improve your life.
I only have one resolution for 2021, and that is to be more selfish.
You might now be thinking that to make such a resolution is, well, selfish. But hear me out. I have my reasons.
Put yourself first
A lot of us try to live our lives selflessly. We go out of our way to help others. To be there when the people closest to us need us the most. And that’s all well and good in moderation.
But what I’ve found over the years is that the more you go out of your way to help other people, the more that is then expected of you. Rather than it being considered a kind and generous act that you might have undertaken once to help somebody, it then becomes expected that you should always do that thing indefinitely. Whether it is convenient or not.
What then ends up happening is that you are expected to do more and more for other people and, naturally, you end up having less time to spend on your own needs. As a result, your own hopes, dreams and ambitions become second to other peoples, and your own mental health and wellbeing begins to suffer.
That doesn’t mean that you should say no to everything anyone asks you to do. But you have to strike the right balance between what’s right for others and what’s right for you.
If somebody asks you to help them with something and it’s not convenient, say no.
If somebody expects you to do something and it’s likely to affect your own health and wellbeing, say no.
Don’t feel guilty about saying no either. No matter who the person asking you is or what their expectation of you happens to be, don’t ever feel obliged to do something just because somebody else expects you to do so.
If declining their request causes them to be offended, so what? That’s their problem. Not yours. You’re not responsible for anybody’s behaviour other than your own.
So next year I implore everybody reading this to try and put your own hopes and dreams first, and make your own health and wellbeing a priority. Be more selfish. You only have one life and that life is precious.
Learning to drive? Check out my top tips.
Originally Published: 15 December 2020 for TheNeedToLive
Learning to drive is exciting. But it can also be one of the most challenging and rewarding things that you do in your life. The ability to drive opens up a whole wealth of possibilities that might well have passed you by if you had remained a pedestrian.
I learned to drive later than most, at the age of 31. But by doing so it gave me the freedom and the opportunity to relocate to another part of the country, changing my life for the better. I regret not learning sooner.
If you’re thinking of learning to drive, here are a few tips from me to help you along the way.
Choose your instructor carefully
Learning to drive is expensive. There’s no denying that, and it can be tempting to just go with the cheapest option. But it’s worth taking some time to research the various driving schools and instructors in your area before you make a decision.
Most reputable instructors will have some form of online presence. Whether that be on social media or on their own website. Find out how long they have been teaching for and what their overall success rate is.
It’s also a good idea to look at any testimonials they might have from former students.
Keep in mind that you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your teacher whilst learning. So if you’re struggling to gel with them after a few lessons it may be worth trying another.
Book in bulk
Once you begin the process of learning to drive you’ll soon see the costs build up.
One way of making your money stretch a little further is by booking blocks of lessons in bulk. Many instructors and some of the larger driving schools will offer a discount for pre-booking a certain amount of hours at once. So for example it might work out that you get 16 hours of tuition but only pay for 14.
It’s worth taking this into consideration when you come to choose your preferred instructor.
Pass your theory test ASAP
Exams are a pain. But when it comes to learning to drive passing your theory test is a necessary evil. So getting it out of the way as soon as possible is essential. Your instructor will more than likely impress this on you as well.
When I was learning to drive I bought an interactive DVD-ROM that taught you everything you needed to know in order to ace the theory and hazard perception tests. Crucially, it also contained mock versions of the actual test that you have to tackle at the test centre. I would spend an hour a day running through the various revision exercises and then take a mock test. Only when I was consistently scoring above the required pass rate did I then book my theory test.
Suffice to say, I passed the test first time.
I imagine these days you can get an app for your phone or tablet that offers a similar experience.
Remember. You can’t take the practical driving test until you’ve passed the theory. So make it a priority.
Check your mirrors
One of the main things that my instructor kept drilling into me was to check my mirrors regularly.
Slowing down? Check your mirrors.
Overtaking? Check your mirrors.
Turning off? Check your mirrors.
Setting out? Check your mirrors.
As monotonous as it sounds it’s actually really important. When you eventually take your practical test the examiner will be keeping on eye on whether you are checking all around you before undertaking any manoeuvre. So try and get into the habit of checking your rear view mirror, your side mirrors and your blind spot regularly.
Driving – like most things in life – becomes a lot easier the more you do it. So while you’re learning to drive it’s important to try and keep your hand in.
Try and have at least two hours of professional tuition per week. This keeps things consistent and fresh in your mind.
I also recommend varying the time of day that your lessons take place. When I was learning my driving lessons was always at 9:15am. As a result I had absolutely no experience of driving at night once I had qualified.
If you have access to a car away from your driving instructor, ask a qualified family member or friend to help you practise everything that you’ve learnt. Remember, they must be over 21 and have held a full driving licence for at least 3 years and you must remember to slap some L-Plates on the vehicle you’re using.
Consider Pass Plus
Once you’ve passed your test you’ll no doubt be itching to get out there and hit the road immediately. But before you do it’s worth considering the additional Pass Plus course.
Pass Plus is an advanced module that expands upon everything that you’ve learnt previously. During the six or so hours you’ll get a chance to drive supervised on busy dual-carriageways and motorways, in busy town centres, on challenging rural roads and after dark.
By completing the course you’ll gain valuable driving experience and an additional certificate. You also may qualify for discounts on your car insurance from certain providers.
Remember that learning to drive is a personal journey. It might take you longer to get the hang of it than your friends or you might be streets ahead of them. Not everybody passes first time. It took me three attempts to get my licence but I ended up a much more confident driver because of that.
The most important thing is to listen to your instructor, build good habits and above all stay safe.
Managing your mental health at Christmas
Originally Published: 24 December 2020 for TheNeedToLive
Christmas is almost upon us again and, as always, is depicted in the media as a happy, fun-filled time packed with presents, family and an obscene amount of food. This has always been the way the festive season has been painted in my lifetime and seemingly even the threat of the ongoing pandemic hasn’t made an iota of difference. This is how you’re supposed to spend Christmas and if you don’t conform to our commercial ideals then you’re not doing it right.
That’s not the case though. How we spend our Christmas is a personal choice. We all have our own ideas and traditions of what makes a perfect Christmas and we stick to them.
However. For many Christmas is an extremely difficult time of year. A time when a lot of people struggle with the pressures of living up to some non-existent standard of celebration. Not everyone enjoys the festivities. Not every everyone likes being forced to spend time with family members that they don’t see at any other point of the year.
Some people struggle with isolation or loneliness. Sometimes you can be in a room full of people, (Not this year though, obviously) and feel the loneliest you’ve every felt in your life.
Just like Covid, mental health conditions don’t take time off for Christmas. So it’s important to take extra care of your own personal mental health throughout the festive season.
If you do find yourself struggling, there are plenty of places to turn to:
The Samaritans are always at the end of the phone no matter what time of year it is. I’ve called them myself on several occasions when I’ve been struggling and they were fantastic. So don’t be afraid or ashamed to pick up the phone if you find yourself in a bad place. Their number from any phone is 116 123 or if you prefer you can email email@example.com.
Other helpful resources include C.A.L.M who operate their helpline between 5pm and midnight, 365 days a year. They can be reached on 0800 585858 from any phone or you can use their Webchat service if you prefer.
7 Cups Of Tea is a free online chat support service that allows you to chat anonymously and in confidence with trained listeners, online therapists and counsellors. You can find them here.
Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning the #Joinin initiative that has run on Twitter for the past few Christmas Days.
Organised by comedian Sarah Millican, the idea is that you search for the #Joinin hashtag and connect with other Twitter users who are struggling with loneliness, their mental health or the pressures of the day. You can of course send a tweet yourself if you find yourself struggling and the chances are somebody else using the hashtag will respond. I always make a point of having my laptop open while I’m cooking the Christmas dinner and chatting with people whenever I have a bit of down time.
However you’re spending this Christmas, I hope you have a good one.
Tips for writing a good personal statement
Originally Published: 15 February 2021 for TheNeedToLive
Getting into university is something that many of us dream of, but there are many obstacles and challenges to overcome before we can finally accept a place. One of the biggest of these is writing your personal statement. Indeed, if you’re somebody who is currently completing an access to higher education course at college, chances are you’ll be spending plenty of tutorial time refining your statement until it closely resembles something that your college tutor deems acceptable.
But do you really need to make your personal statement as perfect as everyone would have you believe?
Well, as somebody who has just recently accepted an unconditional offer for my first choice of university I say no. Forget spending countless hours trawling the Internet researching what others might have you believe to be the type of personal statement that universities are looking for. Your personal statement should be just that. Unique and personal to you. Reflective of what makes you tick as an individual and not a comprehensive list of books that you’ve supposedly read and had a life changing experience because of.
Telling a university admissions department what you think they want to hear rather than what you actually want them to hear isn’t going to do you any favours in the long run.
The first thing you need to do is to throw any misconceptions about writing a personal statement out of the window. Honestly, any university worth it’s salt isn’t going to turn you down flat because your statement doesn’t flow well or because you’ve failed to mention the title of at least ten Shakespeare plays. They want to know about you as a person and how your journey has led you to apply to study at a higher level.
Remember as well that your personal statement will be seen by every one of your university choices. So don’t make it too personal to any establishment. You might very well prefer to attend university ABC but university XYZ needs to believe that they are your first choice. So keep things generic rather than specific.
The next thing to think about is why you want to go to university and study your choice of subject in the first place. What led you to develop a keen interest in your chosen subject and what has inspired you to pursue it as a career?
I’m going to be studying for a degree in Creative and Professional Writing and what interests me particularly about the subject is the process of using words, manipulating them and constructing them into sentences and paragraphs that then communicate my thoughts and ideas to the reader. Whether that is to inform them, entertain them or simply to make them think. I enjoy extracting that one little spark of an idea at the back of my mind and converting it into a piece of work that hopefully others will get something out of.
I would love to be able to write professionally in some capacity and and so to spend a few years spent at university, surrounded by others with the same mindset and learning from the professionals is to me a no brainer.
So if you are hoping to head off to university to study one of the sciences. Like biology for example, it’s worth spending some time writing out why biology is of particular interest to you. What led you to develop a keen interest in biology as a subject? What aspects of the subject are particularly pique your interest? What career do you hope to pursue once you’ve gained your biology degree? Do you have a roadmap of the next five or ten years of your life planned out in your head?
Essentially, it’s all about pre-empting the types of question that you are likely to be asked at a university interview and including the answers within your personal statement. Okay, so you might very well have a keen interest in biology or English literature or a particular strand of mathematics, but what sets you apart from everybody else that shares that interest with you? What makes you unique and what makes you deserving of that highly sought after place on the course over hundreds of others?
Keep it punchy
Another thing to remember when it comes to writing your statement is that you are extremely limited in the amount of characters that you are able to use. I wrote what I believed to be a concise and rather punchy statement as a Word document. Yet when I came to transferring it onto the application form on the UCAS website, I found that I had to somewhat brutally cut it down for size. Although I felt that I has written the best statement that I possibly could, I essentially had to rewrite it to fit within the confines of the space available. The current limit is 47 lines or 4000 characters. Believe me, that’s not very much, so try to keep space at the forefront of your mind when you’re working on yours.
Lastly, as hard as it might be, try not to get too het up about your personal statement. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it doesn’t need to conform to a particular ideal. Yes, it’s an important part of the application process but so are the A-levels that you’re studying for and so is the life experience that you’re continuously gaining.
So, stay focused on the end goal and keep your statement relevant, keep it concise and above all else, keep it personal.