Top tips on writing your personal statement
Writing your UCAS personal statement can be daunting – particularly if you’ve never had to do anything like this before. How do you sum up all your interests, experience and achievements in such a limited space, whilst making sure that your personality shines through?
It can be tricky getting it right, but with a few simple techniques you’ll be well on your way to submitting a winning application that will instantly sell you to your prospective university.
What to include...
Tell us what you want to do and why
The basic purpose of the statement is to tell universities why you want to study their course and why you’d be good at it. Cover this early; even starting with something like ‘I wish to study *** at university because…’ is fine. It’s to the point and immediately focuses your thoughts, and those of your reader. If the course titles are slightly different at your five choices, try to find a generic term to describe your course choices rather than a specific course title which would highlight to the other four universities that your first choice is elsewhere.
Show that you understand what you’re getting into
Three years of study is a long time. We want to know that you have researched the subject you want to study and know at least a little about what’s going to be involved.
Tell us about your passion for the subject, without using the word passion. At all.
We want to know why you’d fit in on the course you’re applying for. This means you need to show us why you want to do the subject, and why you’d fit right in in our classes. But don’t tell us you’ve got a ‘passion’ for it. Everyone does that. It gets dull.
Show that you have a direction
Whilst not everyone knows exactly what they want to do after their degree, it can help to provide extra focus to your statement if you have some idea about what your intended career path is. If you want to do Maths with Education because you’ve got a burning desire to be a maths teacher, then tell us this. If you have no idea, again, be honest and say something along the lines of you’re looking forward to exploring all the elements of your chosen course during your degree with the aim of finding the perfect job at the end.
Do your first draft without a word count
This might sound odd – surely you need to keep to a limit? Well yes, you do eventually, but initially you’ll benefit from just writing a load of thoughts down in some form of vague order that gives all the reasons why you’d be a fantastic fit on your chosen course. When you’ve exhausted your list, take a character count and then you’ll know how much you need to cut down. You’ll find it easier getting rid of stuff than putting stuff in.
Make it readable
Paragraphs add to your character count but make it much easier to read than a wall of text with no breaks. Universities will read hundreds of these; please make them a little easier for us to digest.
Get the technical stuff right
Spelling mistakes, grammar errors, little slip ups; these are all avoidable and show a lack of attention to detail which can make us question how much effort you’re going to put into our programme. Get the statement proof-read by someone you trust before you press ‘submit’.
Read it out loud when it’s done
And get a friend or family member to do the same. This will really highlight oddly placed sentences and strange phrases than haven’t been picked up when you’ve read the text.
What to avoid…
Don't start with a quote, random or otherwise
We want to hear your words, not someone else’s. Even worse is a random quote with no explanation: ‘We must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy!’ Lovely, but what does that say about YOU? Easiest just to avoid quotes all together.
Don’t waste space explaining things that are already elsewhere on your application
Universities reading your UCAS form will know what you’re studying at college, so don’t tell us you’re doing 3 A levels in History, English, Art etc. Apply the ‘So what?’ principle: what have you learnt from these A Levels that make you a strong university candidate?
Don’t mention a university by name
Yes, you may absolutely 100% want to go to (for example) Manchester University. However, it’s likely that you’re also applying for several other places to give you more options should you not get your first choice. Mentioning a university by name means the other four universities you’ve chosen know they’re not your first choice and a university that knows this for sure may be less tempted to make you an offer…
Don’t get too much advice
Asking several people for input can do more harm than good. If you take everyone’s advice on board and make all the changes they suggest your statement can become generic, confusing and not at all personal to you. Get the help with it that your college offers, and when it’s finished get it proof read but make sure the statement is ultimately ‘yours’.
Don’t be arrogant
Your statement is the chance to show universities why you’re great, but no-one likes a show-off. Telling us you’re the best in your class at maths is something for your referee to mention, not you. By all means tell us you thoroughly enjoy the problem solving aspects of the Maths A level and find solving difficult equations satisfying (if it’s true!), just don’t tell us you’re better than everyone else at it. That’s for us to decide.
Avoid overly ‘flowery’ language
Admittedly, there’s a limited number of ways to say you enjoy something. However, saying ‘I take great delight in partaking in after school activities and especially relish and rejoice in the thrill and stimulation of tending to my father’s multi-award winning allotment’ is a step too far. Write normally, and be confident in your own ability to hold your reader’s attention without resorting to the Thesaurus before every sentence.
Avoid ‘slang’ and abbreviations
Try to treat the personal statement as the first piece of academic writing of your university career. Write naturally, but don’t use slang terms that your reader won’t understand or may find inappropriate. We’ve seen people end a personal statement with an ‘x’ in the past which I’m assuming was a kiss. I’d definitely avoid that…
Don’t ‘bend the truth’
Yes, it might be tempting to exaggerate your achievements somewhat in an attempt to win over the reader for a place on your dream course. There’s only one letter difference between ‘county’ and ‘country’ when it comes to playing for a sports team for example. But remember that we have access to google too and may sometimes check out the more impressive achievements our applicants list to get some more information. Remember you might also be asked about the things you put in your statement at interview, so make sure it’s the truth!
And don’t copy. Ever!
Certain sentences will inevitably turn up in more than one personal statement. We expect this, and it isn’t a problem. But UCAS have a sophisticated method of checking all personal statements submitted against all others ever submitted to UCAS and on the web. If they find too many similarities they will tell all the universities you have chosen, down to the exact number of sentences they’ve detected as copied. Don’t be tempted to lift some paragraphs from the sample statements scattered around the internet then. It’s just not worth it.
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