Like most worthwhile endeavours, personal statements can often be difficult to start but it’s worth putting pen to paper as soon as possible. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect straight away, you can keep tweaking it over the next few months until you’re ready to send off your application.
Personal statements form a crucial part of the university application process and you should dedicate time to making sure yours is perfect, to give you the best possible chance at getting an offer. Let’s not forget that an excellent personal statement can give you the edge over a candidate with exactly the same grades.
We’ve rounded up some of our top tips to help guide you through the process of writing a personal statement of which you can be proud.
So, what are you waiting for!
A few things to know before you start
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is a written document which is submitted as part of your university application. A personal statement must be no longer than 4,000 characters (including spaces) or a maximum of 47 lines (whichever comes first). It should outline your interest in the course, your skills and your extracurricular and supercurricular activities to demonstrate that you are the best candidate.
It’s important to remember that you only write one personal statement that is read by every university you apply for, so – even if you have a definite favourite university, you should ensure you haven’t made it too specific to one university in particular, otherwise you are going to limit your chances of an offer from the others. If you are applying for more than one course at different universities, it is essential that you mention common themes that are applicable to all of your chosen courses
Application deadlines are easy to miss. You might think you’re on top of things now, but fast-forward to January when you’re deep into A-level work and suddenly the deadline date is at the back of your mind. It’s a good idea to write down your application deadline wherever you can see it: on the fridge, post-it notes stuck on the wall in your bedroom or in your phone calendar.
15th October 2021: Deadlines for applications to Oxford and Cambridge universities, along with the majority of medicine, veterinary and dentistry courses at other universities.
26th January 2022: UCAS deadline for applications for the majority of undergraduate degree courses.
30th January 2022: UCAS deadline for international applications for undergraduate degree courses.
Plan plan plan!
The secret to writing a winning personal statement lies in the preparation. As a result, the first thing you should do is make a plan. Start by writing down all your ideas in a mindmap or bullet point form – remember, at this point no idea is a bad one. Getting all your thoughts down on paper can help you sort through the ones you might actually want to include and start planning a coherent structure.
If you’re struggling for ideas try thinking about the below questions:
- Why do you want to study the course?
- What are you enthusiastic about?
- Are there any particular areas from your current course that you’d like to study further?
- Why does the chosen course interest you?
- What do you feel you will gain from studying this course?
- How do your current or previous studies relate to your chosen subject?
- What skills or experience do you think will make you suited for studying this course at university?
- Have you taken part in any other activities that demonstrate your interest in the course?
If you’re worried you have no experience to put forward, then don’t panic. Admissions tutors know that not everyone will have had the same opportunities, instead let your personality shine through. Ask yourself, what qualities do you have that would make them want you as a student? What aspects of your personality can you bring to the table?
Once you’ve got the ball rolling, it gets easier and easier to think of reasons why they should choose you.
Don’t be afraid to show off
As humans, we are constantly taught not to boast, to be humble about our achievements and not show off to others. Well, when it comes to a personal statement, forget everything you have ever learned about being modest and include achievements that make you feel proud.
Admissions tutors are looking for things you have done that are different; what sets you apart from the crowd? Think about work experience, after-school clubs, whether you’re a club captain, a prefect, part of the student leadership team, a member of a society, a writer for the school newspaper, the list is endless. If you think it has some relevance to the subject you’re applying for then put it in, and don’t be afraid to talk about what you’ve achieved in the process. Also make sure to include any super-curricular activities that might relate to the course. These are activities that take your academic interests further, eg. podcasts, Model UN, lectures, wider reading, Ted talks, essay competitions.
Don’t mention your grades!
Remember you’re writing about why you want to study your chosen subject, so if your experience isn’t directly related, get creative and think about the skills it’s given you that link to the course.
Whilst your grades and the hard work you’ve put in to achieve them is definitely something to be proud of, it’s important to leave them out of this part of your university application. These will be detailed in a separate part of your UCAS application so mentioning them a second time won’t be impressive, instead it’s just a waste of the character limit.
Make sure you have a clear structure
Admissions tutors typically sort through hundreds of applications for many different courses so if they’re struggling to follow your personal statement from point to execution, then it’s going to be an easy “no” on their part. Even simply splitting your written application into a few different paragraphs will allow for a much easier read and will ensure the admissions tutor spends more time mulling over your application.
Similarly, make sure to always explain your points; admissions tutors don’t want to search for why your point relates to your application. It doesn’t have to be long – a simple one sentence explanation is perfectly fine in most instances.
Use the following as a guide on how to structure your personal statement, but remember if yours don’t quite fit this structure then it’s okay – everyone’s personal statement should look slightly different anyway.
Paragraph 1: An introduction to you and why you want to study your chosen course.
Paragraph 2: Any relevant work experience, skills or qualities that make you the ideal student for the course.
Paragraph 3: Any hobbies/interests/volunteering that relate to the course. If you’re struggling to think of any (or even if you aren’t) you can always refer to topics in your current studies you’ve found particularly interesting, any further reading you’ve done outside your current studies or any productions, documentaries or even trips you’ve been on that are relevant to your chosen course.
Paragraph 4: A concluding statement bringing all your points together and highlighting your desire to study your chosen course.
Where you can, it’s a good idea to use specific examples; these give evidence to back up your points and make it easier for admissions tutors to make you an offer.
The last thing you want, after you’ve written an amazing personal statement, is for it to be littered with spelling and punctuation errors. With this in mind, proofread over it a few times, use spell check on word or google docs or get your parents and even your teachers to look over it a few times before you send it off to ensure it is absolutely perfect.
Another thing to watch out for is over-complicated language. Admissions tutors don’t want to have to google every other word to find out what you meant to say – keep it simple and concise.
A few extra tips
- Don’t begin with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, it’s not necessary and you don’t have the line count for it.
- Start by getting everything down on the page; don’t worry about the character limit, you can edit it later.
- Check, check and then check again (if your eyes are getting tired from reading it too many times, get a family member, teacher or friend to have a look through)
- Make sure everything you’re writing relates to why you want to study your chosen course and highlight how it relates as much as you can.
- Be as specific as possible about why you want to study the course, your experience, skills and interests.
- Include more super-curricular activities than extra-curricular as it is easier to relate to the course you wish to study.
Overall, writing a personal statement doesn’t come naturally to most people so don’t panic if you’re finding it difficult. Follow our top tips and you’ll be on your way to a perfect personal statement in no time!