If something is worth applying for, and is desirable, then many, many people will apply for it! If you want it, then you can be pretty sure that others want it too. Imagine also that each applicant for a given place meets the given criteria: the place requires A,B,C,D, and this is precisely what each applicant has. How, then, can you stand out? Well, one place that you can distinguish yourself is in the Personal Statement section. This is where you must introduce yourself as more than a set of grades.
We might think that a personal statement is interested in us as people, and, in a way, it is. But it is more interested in us as ‘people who like and excel at X and are applying to study X here’. This needs a very different approach. It might be helpful to think of a personal statement as a professional statement, because in it you will describe your understanding, your personal, considered understanding of the subject of your choice.
Imagine, now, thousands of people who really enjoy X, and each of whom feels that they have a personal affinity for X, and that they deserve this place at this prestigious institution to study X. How do you stand out here? You must demonstrate how your understanding at once fits within the things you would be expected to understand, and how it offers the potential to offer new insights; ‘yes’, you want to say, ‘we all know this, but I think that through knowing this we might start to understand this…’ Show promise, show independent thought.
Demonstrating a local knowledge of particular areas is essential, but understanding the wider implications of the subject within the context of academic discourse can demonstrate a rare sense of perspective; in today’s world, ‘interdisciplinary’ is the key phrase, and although you must prioritise your subject, you must demonstrate a larger view.
Standing out in the crowd, amongst the reams of application papers, is the key to having your application accepted; it takes time to say ‘hey, here I am, and this is why you should take me’, but that is time well spent. Remember, though, personal is professional. You can, of course, finish with one or two sentences about your hobbies and interests.