How to write the perfect UCAS personal statement
So, you’ve chosen your course, shortlisted your five ideal universities, and now the only thing stopping you from riding your unicorn into Studentville is passing those pesky exams. Right? Wrong. Your next task is the delightful job of compiling your UCAS personal statement.
The UCAS personal statement word limit is 47 lines (or 4000 characters, which makes it sound better than it actually is) to ‘sell’ yourself to your prospective universities. This is your chance to introduce yourself and personalise your application, whilst also demonstrating your passion for the chosen course.
I waltzed into it thinking it was easy, all I had to do was make myself sound great, how hard could it be? Turns out it’s kind of difficult to big yourself up, even if you think you’re pretty awesome. Here are some tips on how to write a personal statement that will have the universities begging for you to join them.
How to write your personal statement
Open with something attention grabbing
Do you know how many times the people in that office are going to read “I’m Shaniqua, I’m from Wellington and I love Drama/Maths/Orienteering”? Too many times. You want to stand out from the rest of the applicants and impress the people who sort through these applications.
I was told in sixth form that many personal statements get thrown away if the opening line doesn’t grab them. How true this is, I don’t know, but you don’t want to run the risk when you could take the time to think of something interesting.
If possible, try to include something to do with the course you’re applying to; for example, I applied for an English and Creative Writing course, so began my statement with the line “Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been amazed by how words can paint a picture in one’s mind and launch their imagination” …Or words to that effect.
I can’t say it was necessarily true, but it worked, I got offers from every uni I had applied for. Obviously you don’t have to be quite as flowery with your language, but it makes a nice change from the run of the mill opening sentences. Also, try not to be too cliché or over do it. In 2009 some Chemistry applicants were rejected because they used the same starting line.
Emphasise extra curricular activities
Your personal statement for university is the only part of the application that you have full control over. It can help you to appeal more to universities if your grades are perhaps not ideal, and allow them to see more of your personality, as opposed to just seeing your academic achievements.
You should aim to include any hobbies you may enjoy (not stamp collecting, make it bit spicier and relevant to what you’re talking about), and also any charity work you’ve done in your time. This can be tied into having good timekeeping, organisation skills and being personable; Universities like to see an applicant with lots of extra curricular activities, and, unless you’re being interviewed, you can fabricate it slightly (they’re never going to find out).
Make sure you sound suitable for the course
Once again, you want to make yourself look appealing to the university and make them aware that you’re perfect for the course you’ve applied to and not just their institution. You need to keep your personal statement relevant to this, so whilst mentioning hobbies and charity work is all well and good, you should aim to relate most of it to your chosen course.
If you’ve chosen English, perhaps mention a love for books, Maths – any competitions you may have entered or just why you love the subject so much. If you show a genuine interest in it, there is no doubt the university will lap your application up. They want enthusiastic students who have a passion for what they are studying.
What’s more, if you are struggling to find a passion for the subject then you should ask yourself why you are applying to study it, especially with the latest rise in university costs.
Writing for multiple courses
I do a joint degree, but fortunately it’s in English and Creative Writing, so when writing my personal statement it was easy to mix the two together. However, writing for a joint degree in two completely unrelated subjects can be difficult. I’d suggest dedicating a section of your UCAS personal statement to each subject, it may not flow as nicely, but it makes it easier than trying to fit them together when it clearly isn’t going to work.
As for applying to different course at different universities, I can’t say I have much advice other than a very general statement that doesn’t specify much about any subject. This may, however, affect the offers you get – if they don’t feel you’re passionate and dedicated to the course you probably aren’t going to get any offer. Think about whether you want to risk this by spreading yourself so widely across your chosen subjects.
Read other people’s UCAS statements
I know some of us are gifted when it comes to writing, but a lot aren’t. Personally, I find it helps to look at other people’s work in order to gather what the layout for something should be. This is particularly important in personal statements, as it can be difficult to know where to begin.
You can also view a range of statements and decide yourself what makes them good and bad, and I found it helped me immensely to have a loose guide of how it should be set out. However, once again, be wary of copying your friends work. Universities have seen a lot of it before and can usually tell when a UCAS personal statement is not original.
Things to avoid in your personal statement
I decided to put these in a bullet point formation to save the article being seven pages long. Here are some things to avoid when writing your personal statement:
- Don’t start every sentence with ‘I’, spice it up a bit!
- Don’t sound pretentious, or use words you would not normally.
- Don’t repeat information you already have on your UCAS form (predicted grades etc.)
- Don’t randomly drop quotes into your statement unless you can back up why the quote has influenced you!
- Don’t try to be funny (even if you are) and litter your statement with jokes.
- Don’t copy anything from statements you may have seen (try to change it to make it your own)
You want to sound professional and serious, but also let your personality shine through. Whilst it’s perhaps fine to put some slight humour in your statement, err more on the edge of being professional than trying to show the university how much of a joker you are; you’ll have plenty of time to do that when you actually get there.
Structuring your personal statement
This is what I had the most difficulty with. I knew I needed and introduction and conclusion, but had no idea what to put in between the two. I would say that starting off with an attention grabbing opening sentence, why you’re interested in the subject and why you want to pursue it, followed by what you have done relating to your chosen university subject is a good place to begin, followed by information on any work experience or school activities you have been involved in.
Naturally the next topic to tackle is out of school activities, particularly ones that show you are reliable and organised, and that you feel are relevant. Finish with what you hope to achieve at university and style it out with a memorable quote!
There we have it! It might seem like a daunting thing to have to do, but once you get into the swing of it, you’ll be panicking about having too many words (trust me). Always ask for help if you feel you need it, from teachers or even other peers, don’t worry about it and put it off until it’s nearly too late, or you’ll find yourself stressed out for no reason.
It’s an easy activity once you know what you’re doing. Good luck!