Personal Statement Preparation
4000 characters and that is it - what can feel like a limited amount to get your whole self across and to make the admissions tutors go "yes we want to see them". The journey of personal statement writing is a journey of self reflection, acknowledgement and understanding of yourself and how prepared you do feel for this journey of becoming a midwife. It really is the starting point for recognising your unique individuality of what you can bring to midwifery.
I have put together here some tasks to help get you started on your journey of getting something onto paper. When I began writing mine, I had a flip chart paper on my wall, and it was covered with many different points - most important thing was not to become to overwhelmed. My point is FC can be helpful because you could leave it on the wall and take a few days to reflect your ideas and thoughts.
So here we go - personal statement journey to commence......remember you've totally got this!!!
1. Read about the medicalisation of birth and ongoing issues in this Open University summary:
Read about advocacy in this summary of birth and feminism by the Open University. I know it doesn’t mention advocacy by name, but it illustrates some of the issues midwives have to cope with to be good advocates very well and is thought provoking:
2. It would be very helpful for you to set up your workspace (or think about which cafe you can go to so you'll have a few hours a week or so uninterrupted) - you'll need a computer/laptop and an A4 notebook or A4 paper and pens you like writing with.
3. Think about what time you have available over the next 7 days and fit in some time as PS time. What might this look like? Will the kids be in bed? Will it be after work? Do you have a favourite spot that allows you to think? Talk to the people around you and let them know this is what your doing and how important it is, they they know they can support you.
4.Have you thought about the kind of midwifery language you might use in your statement? Any thoughts on whether you're comfortable with 'deliver', 'birth', 'catch' or something else? Have a think about this because you will want the language to be consistent through your statement.
You have now made a start no going back.....I think you got this!
Ask AT LEAST 10 close friends/family members what your top 3 strengths are.
In asking this you’ll be pushing outside your emotional comfort zone….but guess what midwives have to do this all the time. Chose people that you know are positive and will respond to you.
Tell them this is to help guide you with your application for midwifery.
It’s amazing when people start agreeing on your strengths, and you might start to see a pattern emerging. Some family might play a little joke, but they will get past it and give you some valuable feedback.
NB: You’re not going to say ‘my family suggest my three top strengths are….’ in your statement.
This task is to give you an understanding of what you're good at and to underpin your writing.
You'll end up putting things like, 'Balancing academic work and family life has given me an insight into the pressure on many women, giving me the compassion needed to build meaningful relationships.'
This exercise is also great for confidence building and preparing your brain for flow...
Send out that text when your ready and have some pen and paper to start noting down your responses.
Writing rules for selling yourself in your PS:
1. Each week, schedule time to work on your statement in advance. If you don't do this, once your excitement drops a bit, you’ll find an excuse not to.
2. Never, ever compare yourself to anyone else. A bad case of comparison will stop you writing for days. You are your own unique self remember that.
3. Done is better than good. It is ok to have rubbish drafts to begin with, this will happen. But try and stop telling yourself its rubbish and tell yourself this is good, this is me and i can do this.
4. When it feels like nothing’s happening: Stay in your seat, don’t distract yourself with Facebook or research. Look out the window the whole time if you need to, but do not go online.
5. Aim for Healthy Striving, not perfection. Don't criticise yourself - it wont help you write a good statement, you will just draw upon negative thoughts and they wont get you anywhere.
Believe me you will break ALL these rules, that’s how it works. But now you have something to come back to on your path to an amazing application as a midwife :)
The first thing I’d suggest is planning.
Jumping in is fine but you can save worry and effort if you know where you’re headed
1) Mind map
You’ll need an hour for this. Set yourself a rule that I can’t answer my phone, go on Facebook/Twitter or do anything other than stare into space or write.
Brainstorm all your skills, qualities, experiences and anything else relevant for the following categories:
- Academic Experience
- Volunteer Experience
- Career Experience
- Personal Insights and Reading
- Life Experience
At this stage, you’re aiming for volume rather than refining. Don’t censor yourself, write down absolutely everything from ‘great hair’ (Lucy) to ‘two weeks shadowing a community midwife’.
It’s great if you can use a really huge piece of paper but lots of A4 sheets is fine too.
The really good stuff tends to turn up towards the end. Give yourself permission to stare into space, the only rules are writing or sitting at the desk for an hour/staring out the window.
You’ll end up with some huge mind maps which you can use for structure planning.
Then put your work aside for a few days.
2) Planning structure
This section is all about planning the main body of your statement. Not the introduction or the conclusion, we’ll get to those later.
You'll need another hour.
This will likely be the toughest bit of writing your statement but don't skip it or every other writing prompt will fall flat.
Remember 4000 characters to be typed in Times New Roman font size 12.
What you’ll need to do is choose the top 20 skills, experiences and insights from your mind map.
There’s room for a bit of flexibility – but 20 seems to be about the right balance between getting it all in, and causing confusion, or not addressing topics in enough depth.
Circle them, these will form the basis of your statement.
Then choose an order to write about them.
What you’re aiming to do is move from least complex>most complex in terms of categories and skills, qualities and insights.
This will help with really underpinning what you are actually doing?
Why you’d like to be a midwife
What you can offer women
Your background in one line and something you love doing
1. Use ‘signposting sentences’:
Use signposting sentences at the beginning of each section, which tell your admissions tutors what that section is about.
Signposting sections are a really good technique, both in terms of making your statement really easy and enjoyable to read for your admissions tutors, and giving you a framework to start writing each section, making it more likely you won’t get writers’ block.
For example, if you’re writing your ‘academic experience’ section you could open with,
‘In terms of academic background, I have enjoyed studying…’
‘I have gained academic skill and experience I believe will help me in completing a demanding midwifery degree...’
‘I have balanced my access course with a busy schedule, and believe I have gained skills which will help me complete a challenging midwifery degree...’
You get the point – they’re called signposting sentences because they help the admissions tutors navigate. They help with that hard to achieve flow which makes for magic writing. Check out some videos on youtube for further clarification on these sentences.
Don't think about character count just now.
Believe in yourself.
If you get stuck write the opposite to what you think you should say ie "i find women annoying and irritable".
Don't go through examining every word - read through at normal pace - and you might just have your first middle draft.
It’s introduction and conclusion time! You don't need to sprint through.
I love introductions and conclusions, I think they have massive potential to grab the admissions tutors’ attention.
Keep them short and sweet.
Your introduction is an ‘elevator pitch’ – the admissions tutors should know you are a candidate worthy of an interviewing right from the beginning of your statement. You’re aiming for about 150 words.
First let’s concentrate on your first line, the most important part of your statement.
- First Line Approaches -
1. Tell the admissions tutors in plain terms what they need to hear about you to offer you an interview
This is easier said than done but it’s the most effective method.
You’ll need to work out the one thing about you that midwifery and women will benefit from most.
The admissions tutors are looking for the midwives of tomorrow, and want to know what you can offer the profession – simple as that.
*Your empathetic and caring personality is well suited to supporting and empowering women accessing maternity care in many different circumstances
*You are passionate about trying to provide the highest quality care to childbearing women
*In your current role you’ve developed the clinical and interpersonal skills which will benefit you training to be a competent and confident midwife
It’s best to give *concrete* reasons here – motivation and passion are good, but remember they alone don't give the admissions tutor a good enough reason to offer you an interview.
If you’re having problems identifying what your most important asset is, do the future test.
Imagine you are a qualified midwife, going about your day. What is the one problem you’re best at solving, compared to your colleagues?
Then put this into words.
2. Story tell, using something about your life experience to draw the admissions tutors in.
The story telling method can be very effective, but is a little more risky and harder to do well. You use story telling to engage your admissions tutors in your statement, and once you have their attention, interest them in your abilities.
First, think about the most surprising or interesting thing about you in the context of applying for midwifery.
*You have many siblings
*Attending an unexpected birth
*Your drive to enter midwifery was inspired by a family member
And then combine it with *why* this will help you become an excellent midwife.
*You have many siblings, meaning you have been exposed to childbearing journeys and maternity care for a long time, so you have empathy and insight you could bring to training
*Attending an unexpected birth was a moving experience, one that prompted intense motivation to learn everything you could about midwifery – this passion and desire for education and training would support you well in training to be a student midwife
*Your drive to enter midwifery was inspired by a family member, meaning you have had opportunities to develop passion for the impact of midwifery care on women, something which you’d like to bring to training
It’s ok to infer if it’s obvious why you’re appealing as a student midwife – you don’t have to spell it out for the admissions tutors, if it detracts from the impact of your first line. The quality of your writing is important too. But you should go further than just mentioning something interesting about yourself, it has to showcase exactly why you’re not to be missed as a potential midwife.
Remember to split your ideas up into a couple of sentences if it works better. Long sentences are not usually an engaging way to start. Don’t spend too long on the details of the story itself, remember to concentrate on showing what you have to offer.
You should also avoid being over emotional. Often this means cutting adverbs (these usually end in -ly like ‘hugely moving’ and ‘fantastically special’) as these can emphasise what you felt as opposed to what you can offer.
Try and keep objective and professional, as story telling is a brilliant way to intrigue your admissions tutors but it’s essential to get the tone just right.
3. Use a quote
I love quotes, they’re all over midwifery groups online.
But using them as the opening line for a personal statement is hard to get right.
This is because admissions tutors could feel a quote shows an applicant isn’t confident in using their own words in their first line. They are probably best avoided unless you’ve got a really good reason for using them.
If you’re desperate to use a quote, because you think it sums up something particular about what you can bring to midwifery, then consider putting it into your own words. If you do this, you’ll often find something insightful about you to add.
‘A midwife should have the heart of a lion, the eyes of an eagle, and the hands of a lady’ – Aristotle
‘I would like to become a midwife because I believe my natural qualities lend themselves to developing the determination, observational ability, and empathetic approach needed to achieve excellent maternity care. This is an adaptation of an Aristotle quote that I found while reading - I am also highly motivated to become well educated in order to support and empower childbearing women’
It is important to mention the quoted person though, as the last thing you want is to be accused of plagiarism!
Now for the rest of your introduction.
You may find once you have your first line sorted you know just how to write the rest of your introduction – the topic may expand to fill 100 words or so, which is a great length. Try and keep withing 150 words.
However, there may be something else important about you that shows your aptitude that you haven’t included elsewhere in your statement. This is a good opportunity to include it. It should be a simple concept.
*You have always loved science based subjects, so feel you would relish the academic challenge
*You are passionate about normality, and promoting natural birth to make a difference
*You work best when challenged, and would embrace the opportunity to make a difference
And that’s it! Your admissions tutors are hooked and ready for your first section.
Take Care of yourself - you have got this!
Remember this is the last thing your admissions tutors will read before going on to the next personal statement on the pile – have a look at your overall message, this is what you’re trying to get across.
Just like your introduction, your conclusion doesn’t have to be long. A couple of lines will be absolutely fine.
There are 3 different strategies for writing your conclusion, which we’ll go through. You can choose one of these, if it says everything you want it to. Or you can link two together.
1. A summing up phrase:
‘I want to become a midwife to..’ (what you want to achieve) (this might be something you’ve realised during writing your statement, or something that features heavily)
2. A ‘putting it all together’ phrase:
‘I have gained this skill, that skill, and this experience, all of which I would love to bring to midwifery’
Kind of like a pinball machine, you hit a few important points or sections and bring them back to your application.
'I have this academic experience, I’ve sought out this experience, I have these overall qualities…all of which I’d love to bring to midwifery.'
3. An acknowledgement of the great opportunity midwifery provides, for instance:
‘midwifery will allow me to fullfill my passion to provide high quality care for childbearing women, through developing knowledge and skill. I am excited and motivated by midwifery training.’
Remember to write about what midwifery can do for you, not what you can do for midwifery, if you choose this option.
Don't end your statement with ‘I feel I will be a fantastic midwife because I have every essential skill and quality necessary’.
I would always err on the side of humble because midwifery is an overwhelming and huge career and none of us is perfect.
Saying something like ‘I cannot imagine doing anything else for the rest of my working life’ doesn’t give any practical reason for the admissions tutors to offer you an interview - apart from your commitment, which you’ll have demonstrated in many other ways - all you’re doing is appealing to their emotions, which is a risky thing to do in application writing.
If you show rather than tell all of the excellent reasons why you’ll be a great midwife, and then let the admissions tutors make up their minds, this is a more powerful psychological tool. If you tell people you are amazing, it’s basic psychology that they start looking for reasons you’re not. If you show people you’re amazing, they’ll be on your side.
Character Count and Polishing - the finish line is in sight.
Last prompt but regardless of how far you've got, be proud of how hard you’ve worked. Even if you’ve just read the prompts and the Q and As you’ve put energy into your personal statement way before the deadline.
And if you have a draft, brilliant!
First think about character count:
When you've finished your draft you'll likely have a statement that’s far beyond 4000 characters.
This is often something that can cause a lot of trouble for midwifery applicants.
Don’t despair though, as there are so many things you can do to get to the character count, without losing content or meaning.
A tip before we start working: concentrate on the small things. Rephrasing and making small saves here and there adds up fast. It can feel like nothing’s happening – but honestly, do one big sweep to get started, and then concentrate on the small things and you’ll get there.
First of all you’ll need a good, accurate way of working out how many characters you have – this UCAS simulator that you can cut and paste your work into does a great job of this. http://maccery.com/ps/
Quick and Dirty Tips:
1. Use slashes; instead of ‘legal and social reasons’ try ‘legal/social reasons’ – this change gets rid of 4 characters
2. See if you can get rid of beginnings of sentences, for example ‘I believe empowering women can have a powerful effect…’ or ‘I feel high motivation is essential in providing high quality care for women’ try ‘empowering women can have a powerful effect’ or ‘high motivation is essential’
3. Get rid of connectives: ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘but’. See if you can make two separate sentences instead, or use a semi colon or a dash. For example ‘I have experience in team building as I worked in a busy department store, and I learnt how to manage difficult customers’ can be ‘I have experience in team building as I worked in a busy department store. I learnt how to manage difficult customers’. 4 characters saved, ka-ching!
4. Get rid of adverbs – this is a good writing technique anyway, as it’ll help your writing be more professional and clear. Adverbs usually end in ‘ly’ – for for example, ‘I researched midwifery thoroughly’ could become ‘I researched midwifery’ again, another judgement call, but getting rid of them adds up
5. The word ‘of’ often flags up areas you can reduce for instance ‘I am enjoying the challenge of volunteering on labour ward’ could just be ‘I am enjoying challenging volunteering on labour ward’
6. You can often get rid of ‘that’ ‘childbirth can be frightening but I believe that education is powerful’ could be ‘childbirth can be frightening but I believe education is powerful’
7. Use contractions (no not that kind! :) ) for example ‘I have’ can be ‘I’ve’; ‘I am’ can be ‘I’m’.
8. See if you can get rid of words like ‘may’, ‘mights’, ‘could’ – if it doesn’t change the meaning
9. Take out places – for example ‘I volunteered at Northampton hospital labour ward’ could just be ‘I volunteered on a labour ward’
10. All words that can be joined should be joined. For example post natal = postnatal, child bearing = child bearing, no one = no-one
11. If you are very close to 4000, but can’t think of anything else to reduce, do a search for double spaces. This is when you accidentally push the space bar twice between words.
For example: the brown dog (normal spaces). The brown dog (two spaces after ‘the’). Press control+ f to search a word document, then push the space bar twice to make two spaces. Search and delete!
Polishing your statement:
Here are some techniques and tips you can use to get the most out of your polishing stage
Consider swapping sections around, even your introduction and conclusion may need to swap. This can make a massive difference and get your statement much closer to being ready in a single sweep – something about the way you write for different sections of your statement can make it a bit forced or strained – but swap the place of the section, and all of a sudden it can become fresh and engaging.
Grammarly is a writing enhancement tool. The basic version is free to download, it’s just useful in picking up spellings or grammar issues that you haven’t seen. In the interests of full disclosure, it can be a bit irritating to use as it does accuse you of putting commas in the wrong places etc.
3. Use a different format
Another tool I use is putting my writing into a different format – a different font can help a little bit, but I often find it helpful to zoom in on word, usually to about 300%. This forces you to slow down and read every word. Once you’ve proof read with your text as big as possible, reading it back in a different format can work really well – I often turn my work into a PDF and put in on my kindle or phone, or print it out, or even just send it to myself as an email. Something about it being presented in a different format means you’re far more likely to pick up on errors.
4. Ensure you show you understand midwifery philosophy
Remember the two articles at the beginning of the prompts, on medicalisation of childbearing and advocacy?
I'd reread them now and review your statement in the context of them:
5. Be gentle with yourself
Things that sounded good when you first wrote them might not be quite right now – this doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It means you’re discovering writing is all about rewriting (honestly, I have rewritten training resources many a time). This period of identifying and swapping is powerful and can be a lot of fun as you refind your meaning.
Congratulate yourself, you have a massive advantage - perspective on your work!
And that's it! It can feel hard at times but it is totally doable!
If and when you are ready you can sign up to do some Interview personal tutoring with me.
Please have a look at this service and see if this is something you want to do ready for your interviews.