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This may be a sensitive issue and it’s probably best not to dwell too much on in your personal statement; you don’t want to look as though you are angling for the ‘sympathy vote’.However, genuinely extenuating circumstances that explain a bad grade should be mentioned in passing, along with an explanation of what you’re doing to make up for it and, ideally, evidence to back up your claim that you’re trying to do better.
Don’t fall into the trap of stating your enthusiasm for studying a particular module if it’s not provided at all your university choices, because it will look odd to the universities who don’t cover it (and may be enough to lose you a potential offer).
Avoid specifically naming any course in particular, as this is another dead giveaway to admissions tutors that another university may be your first choice.
It’s little wonder that it’s the part of the UCAS form that every student dreads: the personal statement is your chance to explain – in a precious few hundred words – why a university should make you an offer.
The pressure is on, and it’s not helped by the fact that there are a few common problems making things more difficult for some students.
Acknowledge – briefly – that your grade(s) aren’t as good as you’d like, but tell them what you’re going to improve your forthcoming grades, and prove to them with your intelligent remarks in your personal statement that you are academically gifted.
Explain that you’re taking on extra classes to bring your grades up to scratch, or that you’re reading around the subject even more in an effort to improve.For example, you might say something like: “Although my GCSE English grade was lower than I’d been aiming for due to my falling ill for several weeks during the term before exams, I’ve worked hard to make up for this at A-level, as you can see from my strong AS and predicted grades in this subject.” If you do have extenuating circumstances, your teachers will almost certainly mention them in your references, so you’ll have those to back up what you say.If you’re concerned about how your grades may look, talk to your teachers about it and remind them of the circumstances – this should jog their memory so that they remember to mention it in their references.Without this kind of evidence, you may find that it’s more difficult to win them over; but if the rest of your application is strong, you may just be able to do it.This is the hardest reason to account for poor grades, because there isn’t really much you can do about it.If you’re writing with your first choice university in mind, be careful that you don’t let slip any information that may reveal this; for example, if you know that the English course at your first-choice university places great emphasis on early English, but your other choices have less of a focus on this aspect, they may be able to tell that your heart lies elsewhere!Whether it’s a below-par GCSE grade, or many, or a less-than-brilliant predicted A-level grade, or many, the ease with which you’ll be able to explain this shortfall on your personal statement depends very much on the circumstances surrounding it.Evidence of original thinking in your personal statement – for example, in your comments about what you’ve been reading – may be enough to counter the detrimental effect of a poor grade or grades.If you can provide some evidence that you’ve improved, even better; for instance, if your GCSE grade in Physics wasn’t as good as you were hoping for, but you’re predicted an A in A-level Physics, this is evidence that you are capable of doing better.To write an effective personal statement, you’ll need to make sure that you’re applying for the same combination of subjects at all your university choices.Your personal statement might sound great if you’re applying for Computer Science and Philosophy at University A, but it will make no sense to University B if you’re applying only for Philosophy.