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How to write a personal statement when you have no work experience

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Your personal statement is a key part of your UCAS application when you apply to university – this is your chance to show the admissions tutor who you are, what you’re interested in and why you deserve a place on the course you’re applying for. You’ve probably already researched how to write a personal statement and you know you need to include your skills, achievements and interests and demonstrate that you have the qualities that the admissions tutor is looking for. You’ll also know that admissions tutors like to hear about the work experience you’ve already gained, particularly for courses like Medicine, Nursing and Teacher Training. But what if you haven’t had the opportunity to gain any work experience? This may be especially relevant to you if you are applying for university during the Covid-19 pandemic, where there are many workplace restrictions in place.

Here at the University of Sunderland we know it’s not always possible to gain the necessary experience before applying to university. Read on to hear our tips for how to write a personal statement when you have no work experience:

A student taking notes while also working on a laptop in the library

1. Demonstrate your passion, motivation and understanding of the course/role you are applying for

One thing to remember is that the admissions tutor isn’t expecting you to be an expert on the subject – after all you’re applying to university so you can learn more and train for the role you want after you graduate. But what they will be expecting to hear from you is a sincere explanation for why you want to pursue the career path you’re on; some people are driven by a vocation while others may experience life events that trigger their interest. It may simply be that you enjoy particular subjects at school and can see yourself working in a related sector. Whatever your motivation, make sure you demonstrate your understanding of the role as well as your enthusiasm.

Our Teacher Training team says, “Training to become a teacher allows you to understand how children or young people learn and develop. Your personal statement should clearly show your passion to make a positive change in a child's life. Work experience within a school is not an essential requirement when applying, however for you to be able to make a decision on which sector you wish to teach in, we would recommend visiting or shadowing both Primary and Secondary sectors. There isn't one thing that we are looking for in your application, it's a mixture of passion and willingness to be the best teacher you can be after you graduate. Show us that you have been pro-active and researched the sector, this will show your enthusiasm to learn and develop.”

Your personal statement should evidence a clear understanding of the course and show an informed choice of course and career. If the course you are applying for is vocational, demonstrate an insight of the opportunities and the demands and challenges of entering your chosen profession and a realistic insight of how you may develop.

One extra tip here – if you’re applying for two different courses/roles, consider writing a second personal statement and sending it to the admissions department at the university you are applying to – make sure to include your UCAS application number and your full name so that the team can match your second personal statement to your application.

2. Reach out to practicing staff or students 

An alternative to work experience is to reach out to staff and current students working in and studying your chosen profession. Remember that you will be spending several years at university, particularly if you are planning to study a course such as medicine, so you want to be sure that this is the right path for you. Staff and students are often keen to share their advice and support and can give you real insight into a profession. They can share with you the current challenges of the sector, the realities of the role and answer any questions you may have. Forums such as The Student Room are great for connecting with current and prospective students. You could also sign up to university Open Days, where staff and students are available to chat to – sign up to the next University of Sunderland Open Day to find out more.

By reaching out to practicing staff you may also find that you make connections with people who have their own private practice and may be in a better position to offer work experience. John Stephens, Senior Lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Sunderland says, “For physiotherapy, we appreciate that observational experience will be much more challenging at the present time and impossible in some cases, for example if hospitals are placing restrictions on visiting then it is unlikely that work experience opportunities will be on offer. However, areas such as private practice or some outpatient services or remote services may be possible.”

3. Keep up to date with current affairs 

If the course you are applying for requires an interview as part of its entry requirements, it is likely you will be asked questions about current affairs in that sector, so it may be worth including some of your research in your personal statement (remembering that you only get 4000 characters!). Consider researching topics such as the key challenges being faced in the sector, how the profession you are applying for has changed and adapted over time, and policy and guideline updates. Draw inspiration from news stories and research the relevant professional body as they will often keep their websites up to date with the latest information.

If you find a way to link the course you are applying for to current affairs, discuss what you have found interesting about that topic and explain how it has inspired your career choice. By linking the course to current affairs, you will be demonstrating your critical thinking skills, a key skill you will develop at university and will be useful to you upon graduation as employers value this skill.

4. Do some further reading 

A simple way to gain more insight into the course/profession you are applying for is to do some further reading around the subject, which will help you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding when you come to write your personal statement. This will show admissions tutors that you are well informed and are passionate about learning more about the subject, which is a sign you will be a good student.

Your reading can include textbooks, newspaper websites, professional body websites, relevant forums and even subject-related content on social media. Podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular medium for sharing and consuming information in an easy-to-digest format and could inform your further reading. Try to find ones where the host or guest is an expert in the field you are applying for – many podcast platforms will bring up a list of relevant podcast episodes if you search for a certain name.

Consider getting in touch with the university you are applying for and asking for some recommended reading or speak to your teachers and careers advisors who should be able to direct you.

A student sitting on the floor of the library, reading and surrounded by books

Finally, it’s important to remember that you are applying for university during unprecedented circumstances, alongside other applicants who will have similarly restricted access to work experience opportunities. Universities will be taking into consideration the fact that you are unable to gain experience in the traditional way, as Yvonne Hindmarsh, Nursing Admissions Tutor says, “All we can do is reassure applicants that we know gaining experience will be almost impossible. We want to raise awareness of the importance of sharing personal experience as this can be invaluable.”

If you need further advice or support with your personal statement, why not join one of our personal statement clinics or get in touch to arrange a 1-2-1 meeting with a member of our friendly and knowledgeable student recruitment team: student.recruitment@sunderland.ac.uk 

Published: 3 November 2020

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