PS Tip 79: Personal statement format

I’ve already covered personal statement structure, but in many cases the format of your personal statement can also have a large impact on its success or failure.

Unfortunately, formatting is highly personal, so there’s always a risk of submitting a personal statement that looks nice to you, but not to them. With that in mind, it’s best to be as objective as possible when formatting your statement, and focus on function over form.

It’s also worth noting that before spending hours formatting your personal statement, you should check how you’re going to be submitting it. In many cases you’ll be copy/pasting your statement into an online form, so there will be very few formatting decisions to make. If, however, you’ll be submitting a physical copy of your statement or attaching it to an email, there are at least a few decisions that need to be made.

In the first instance, I’d highly recommend that you don’t try to make your statement look ‘flashy’. It might look great to you, but the more stylish it appears, the more likely it is that somebody will take a disliking to it. You want your statement to appear inviting, tidy and professional, so a white background and black font is pretty much a necessity.

On the subject of fonts, I highly recommend you choose one that is sans serif, meaning that it doesn’t have the little projecting features/lines (serifs) at the end of each stroke. To see the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, compare Times New Roman (serif) to Arial (sans-serif). This is very much my personal opinion, however sans-serif fonts almost always look the same regardless of whether they’re viewed on-screen (high or low resolution) or in printed form, which I believe makes them a safer choice for official documents.

I personally like Verdana, however Calibri is also a strong choice – they both have the advantage of being sans serif, whilst also not being the default option in most word processors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Arial, but I would like to think that if the reader does notice your font choice, they’ll know that you didn’t simply use the default option.

You’ll also want to consider font sizes, as well as the width of your margins, as both of these factors will have a significant impact on the overall appearance of your personal statement. I typically choose to widen my margins a bit (if you do this, make sure it’s the same width on both sides), and as a rule I stick with font size nine or ten. Your choice of font size is going to depend largely on which font you choose – Verdana is quite a large font, but if you choose one that is quite small by default you may wish to choose a larger font size.

There is one further consideration when setting your font size and margins, and that is the apparent length of your personal statement. I say ‘apparent’, because as previously mentioned the number of pages your statement runs to has a larger psychological impact on your reader than the actual number of words. As such, it’s usually quite simple to use font and margin sizes to ensure your statement fits on a certain number of pages; ideally one, hopefully no more than two. Hopefully it goes without saying that if you have to choose tiny fonts or very narrow margins in order to make this work, it’s not worth it – Your statement must always be clear and legible (both in printed form and on screen), so keep that in mind when formatting your work.

Finally, there are two more simple tools available to ensure your personal statement does not appear cramped and untidy – line breaks and alignments. Your statement will be much easier and less daunting to read if you add a break between each paragraph – this can be done with formatting, or by simply leaving a blank line between the end of one paragraph and the start of the next. In combination with this, I recommend that you use the ‘Justify Text’ alignment option, which will cause each line to fill the available space between margins, rather than the default ‘Align Left’ option. Many people will disagree with me on this, and if you’re one of them please feel free to ignore this advice.

The only time I would recommend not using ‘Justify Text’ would be in cases where you have very long paragraphs – It’s generally best to avoid long paragraphs in any case, as they will tend to give your statement a cluttered appearance, but in combination with justified text the effect can be quite off-putting.

However you choose to format your statement, always bear in mind that appearance is a highly subjective aspect of writing – whatever you do, somebody won’t like it. With that in mind, it’s always best to aim for a clear, professional appearance that limits your statement to a small number of pages.

<< Tip 78 Different types of personal statement >>

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