I study in the UK and university application prcoess(ucas.com) will come into being very soon, and I want to share some of my knowledge in writing a personal statement for academic purposes.
Firstly the total amount of space you are given is roughly a half of an A4 paper(in the UK), and therefore you have got to focus on quality rather than quantity of your self-description. My friends and I have worked out a set of rules which worked well for many of our fellows through the process.
Everyone is applying for a subject, and nearly 90% of reasons applying for it are more or less the same, eg 'because I’ve been fascinated by European hitory’and ‘since I was 8 I couldn’t live without computers’ so forth and so on. If you come up with same sort of sentences, fine, it only means your reason has been the same as anyone else’s which means you won’t impress the admission tutor at this stage.
Secondly when it comes to off-school hobbies, you should try to give the tutor an impression that you have a braod set of interests in everything, eg. put down you love certain sports and technology wise stuff if you are applying for Phylosophy and put down you love reading ‘The republic’ (a famous phylosophy book) if you are applying for Physics and so on. If you have not got such ‘irrelevent hobbies’ make sure you have them now (At least 2 months before the possible interview)! The worst thing you can do is, for example, you say I love to programme in C in spare time while you are applying for computer science. Another important element on your hobbies is to write down some stuff that are distinctive, in that I mean, write down all the certificates or rewards that you have received even though they sound too minor to count. (because they will differenciate you from the majority-you are not only doing it for fun but also you are good at it)
Last but not the at least, do not lie! I’ve heard so many cases of people get embarrased at interviews. Make sure you welll know everything you put down, at least in theory. There was this girl stating she likes gardening (try to give an impression she has broad knowledge) and when Cambridge interviewd her, they put a plant on the table and asked her what name it was…
Anyway I’ve not got enough to time to make a complete thread about the UK univesity process, but if you do need help or advice or just really interested to know, do let me know I will post it up when I get some time.