How to write a personal statement for university
Writing a personal statement for university is often the most dreaded stage of your application. So where should you start? This guide will help you write a personal statement to be proud of.
Once you've chosen your degree and shortlisted your five dream unis, you might feel like a lot of the hard work's done. But, alas, there's still the teeny tiny matter of a personal statement – every uni applicant's favourite task...
You've got 47 lines (or 4,000 characters) to 'sell' yourself to your chosen universities. And, with these tips, you'll be able to write a UCAS personal statement that impresses unis from start to finish.
What's in this guide?
How to start a personal statement
Here are a few of the best ways to start your personal statement:
- Say something surprising and memorable in the first line of your personal statement. That way, you'll immediately stand out and impress universities.
- Think about the exact moment you decided to study your chosen degree. Saying "I've always wanted to be an [insert job role here]" doesn't cut it. Admissions staff have heard it all a million times.
- Add a fact that absolutely fascinates you about the subject. Don't just say it's "what you want to do". Show it from the first line.
- Pinpoint a particular piece of research or book that attracted you to the subject.
If you're really struggling to get started, remember that it doesn't need to be perfect straight away. Many people suggest skipping the introduction and concentrating on the body of your personal statement first to get things going.
The most important thing is to write something. Whatever comes to mind about you, your education, interests, work experience or your chosen degree, write it down.
It will be much easier to work out how to structure the personal statement and improve the overall flow of the text once all your ideas are down. You can then edit the opening line until you're confident it will grab the reader's attention.
And, for tips on how to write the overall personal statement to ensure it's as strong as it can be, keep reading...
9 best ways to write a UCAS personal statement
Here are some tips on how to write a personal statement:
Be creative with your language
We're not suggesting you recite a thesaurus and write about your substantial and unremitting desideratum to meditate on your field of reference. Because really, please don't.
Instead, just be wary that some words and phrases are very overused in UCAS applications. Avoiding these terms is a subtle yet effective way to stand out.
Common words and phrases to avoid in university personal statements
- 'Passionate' – Please trust us on this one. We hope you are very passionate about your chosen subject. But, there will be a huge number of other applicants repeatedly using the same word. By providing the many reasons why you're passionate, your enthusiasm will be clear without you having to explicitly say it.
- 'Like' – Saying you'd 'like' to study a degree is like saying their course looks 'nice' (which should also be avoided). If you know from doing research and attending open days that you'd love to study your chosen subject, don't be shy in saying so.
- 'I couldn't put into words...' – We know it can be hard to explain why you chose a course. But, the whole purpose of a personal statement is for you to put all of your excitement and ideas into words. There's no point telling universities you can't. If you're struggling, have a chat with a friend or family member about your reasons for applying. This will help clarify your main points.
- 'Firstly'/'Secondly'/'Finally' – Starting each paragraph like this will make your uni personal statement sound rigid and unimaginative. They're not necessary, so we'd suggest taking out these words and using those all-important characters elsewhere.
Refer to extra reading
If you've read an academic book or essay related to your chosen degree that you were struck by, we'd recommend writing a few lines about it.
You don't need to say too much when you're writing a personal statement for university. But adding a little bit about why you found it interesting/surprising/controversial will give unis an insight into how you think.
This is a particularly effective technique if the subject you're applying for isn't one you're currently studying at sixth form/college. Doing so will show that you've done your research, care about the subject and are happy to put in extra work to learn.
Avoid quotes and clichés
4,000 characters (roughly 500 words) might sound like a lot, but each one is precious in a personal statement. Any characters spent quoting other people or using unoriginal phrases are ones that could have been used to explain why unis should offer you a place.
So, maybe forget the quotes by famous people you found on Google. It's better to say something which reflects you, not them.
Link every point you make to your chosen subject
Whatever you mention in your personal statement, back it up with reasons why it will help you in your degree.
For example, when talking about your A Levels, write about what you've learnt from each subject and how it will help you in your degree. Even if you think a subject's not relevant, it'll still be teaching you loads of new skills that are bound to come in handy.
Or, if you have a relevant hobby, explain how it's helped you develop as a student. Consider whether you're more determined from competing in sports, you've got great concentration from learning musical instruments, or you burst with confidence when performing on stage. Unis will want to know.
If you start waffling to fill out the 4,000 characters, unis will notice. Your personal statement should be filled with interesting points that present you as a well-rounded and capable applicant. The best way to do this is to write concisely.
Again, back up every point and explain why it's relevant. But, do so in as few words as possible to leave room for all of the other reasons universities must offer you a place.
This is especially important if you feel like 4,000 characters aren't enough for you to effectively describe yourself. It can be done. You just need to work on your wording.
Write a confident ending to your personal statement
Just as you need a good personal statement introduction, make an impact with your ending.
You should aim to make a lasting impression and finish it on a positive note. One of the best ways to do this is by rounding off your application with a confident (but not arrogant) assertion that, based on everything you've told them, you're sure your chosen degree is perfect for you.
Carefully plan your personal statement's structure
If you have many things you want to include in your personal statement, it's vital that your points flow seamlessly from one to the next.
When first thinking about the structure, you could draft a list of all the reasons why you're choosing this degree. You can then rank each point from most significant to least. The higher the ranking, the sooner it should be mentioned in the personal statement.
If you're struggling to decide on the best structure for your uni personal statement, try following these general guidelines:
- Beginning – Start by focussing on your personal reasons for choosing the degree. Give an overview of why it's perfect for you based on your experience, interests and skills.
- Middle – Explain how your A Levels will help you with your chosen degree and discuss any important school achievements (e.g. leadership positions, contributions to clubs, campaigns you've been involved in, and so on).
- End – Discuss your hobbies towards the end to show you're well-rounded with lots of interests and talents. Just keep in mind that, even if these points feel less relevant, you'll still need to explain how they will help you as a uni student by developing particular skills and qualities.
Write several drafts of your personal statement
You'll need to be prepared for a pretty long cycle of reading, editing and re-reading your personal statement until you're ready to submit it. But it's so, so worth it. The more time and effort you put into it, the better it will be.
As we mentioned earlier, don't worry too much about making the first draft perfect. Focus on writing the bulk of the content initially. Afterwards, you can start tweaking, developing and refining it until you've written the best possible UCAS personal statement.
Ask others to read through your UCAS application
After spending hours writing up the first draft of your personal statement, it can be hard when others suggest ways to change it. But this kind of feedback is incredibly important.
Remember that your friends, parents and teachers are looking at it through fresh eyes, like admissions staff will too. That's why you should ask for honest feedback and try to take their suggested changes on board.
How to write a personal statement for multiple courses
It's possible that you're writing a personal statement for two subjects that have a lot in common (e.g. English Literature and Creative Writing, or Medicine and Biomedicine). If that's the case, it should be quite easy to talk generally about them both. As long as you focus on the overlapping parts of each subject, you're on the right track.
But, it can be a bit more tricky to apply for two completely unrelated subjects, either as a joint degree or at different unis.
In this case, it's worth dedicating parts of your UCAS personal statement to each subject.
Try to refer to skills and work experience throughout the application which would be useful for either degree. This way, you can make sure unis will be reading relevant info the whole time, even when you're writing about a different subject.
What to avoid in a university personal statement
To write the best possible personal statement for university, avoid these mistakes:
- Bunched up paragraphs – You should aim to add a line space between each paragraph so that it's easier to read and looks neater. Each line space will use up a character, but it'll be worth it.
- Starting every sentence with 'I' – Try to add a bit of variety to the application. Most sentences starting with 'I' can usually be reordered in some way.
- Changing your writing style – It's important to avoid grammatical/spelling errors and come across positively. However, you don't want to sound pretentious or write in a tone that doesn't feel natural to you.
- Repeating yourself – There's no need to go over the information that's already on your UCAS form, like predicted grades. All this does is eat up some valuable characters and leave you less space to explain how great you are.
- Overdoing jokes – Some subtle wit can be effective if done well, but don't try too hard to make your personal statement funny. That's not what universities are looking for.
- Plagiarism – This should really go without saying, but never copy anything from other examples you've seen online or at school. Your personal statement has to be original, or else unis will see through it.
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