Struggling to write up a glowing personal statement for your UCAS application? We're here to show you how it's done!
So, you've chosen your uni 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 writing your UCAS personal statement!
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.
You've got 47 lines (or 4000 characters) to ‘sell' yourself to your chosen universities. This is your chance to shine! Here are some tips that will have the universities begging for you to join them.
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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 Manchester and I love Drama/Maths/Orienteering”? Too many times.
You want to stand out and impress the people who sort through these applications, and the best way to do that is to say something different.
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.
Emphasise extra curricular activities
Your personal statement for university is the only part of the application that you have complete control over. It can help give you that boost you need if your grades are perhaps not ideal, and allow universities to see more of your personality, as opposed to just your academic achievements.
Include any hobbies you may enjoy (don't say ‘socialising', you might as well say ‘eating' or ‘breathing'), and also any voluntary 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 extra curricular activities or personal interests in something, as it shows an extra bit of who you are.
Make sure you sound right for the course
Demonstrate to the uni that you're perfect for the course you've applied to and not just their institution (warning: remember not to mention the name of any universities explicitly in your personal statement! Unless you're 100% only applying for one).
Try to keep your personal statement relevant to your course at least a little, 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.
Interested to know what the average starting salary is for someone graduating with your chosen degree? Find out here!
Think about structure
This was the part I had the most difficulty with. I knew I needed an introduction and conclusion, but had no idea what to put in between the two!
I would suggest 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've done relating to your chosen university subject. Follow this with 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 finish it off with something a bit memorable!
Read personal statement examples
Credit: Kamil Porembiński – Flickr
Some of us are gifted when it comes to writing, but personally I find it helps to read lots of examples to gather what the layout for something should be, and get a feel for tone, content and style. It can be difficult to know where to even begin with a personal statement!
You can check out personal statement examples for most subjects and universities and decide yourself what makes them good and bad. I found it helped me immensely to have a loose guide of how it should be set out.
Be wary of ending up with a personal statement that's too similar to your friends' though. Universities have seen a lot of it before and can usually tell when a UCAS personal statement is not original.
Writing for multiple courses in one statement
Credit: Gabriel Rojas Hruska – Flickr
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 courses at different universities, you've given yourself a difficult challenge, but not an impossible one!
Just try to think about why it is that you want to do these different degrees – is it because you have so many interests and don't want to narrow your options too much? Chances are, this means you're an interesting and active person with lots to say! Fill them in.
Things to avoid in your personal statement
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 wouldn't normally use – they'll be able to sniff that out.
- 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. Although a bit of subtle humour can be great if done properly.
- Don't copy anything from statements you may have seen (try to change it to make it your own).
- Try not to be too formal – relax a bit and let your personality shine through!
So 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.
Best of luck! And if I have one more bit of advice for you, it's to head over to the Save the Student homepage to see what else there is in store to get you ready for starting uni!
You'll find everything in there from university clearing guides, to help with choosing your student accommodation and just about everything you'll ever need to know about student finance (including info on grants and scholarships!).
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The UCAS Personal Statement is an important part of a university application as it is the only opportunity that you have to write at length about why you want to study the course you are applying for and to set yourself apart from other applicants with the skills and experiences you have to offer. For many people this may be the first time they have had to write an important piece of prose about themselves. TSR has several resources to help you with your statement:
Where should I post?
Drafts/Content from your PS
Any content from your statement, either single sentences or complete drafts should be posted in the private Personal Statement Help forum. Personal Statement Help is a private forum visible only to a selective group of PS Helpers who have all been to university and can review and offer advice on your Personal Statement. For more information on how the forum works please read the Personal Statement Help FAQDO NOT post your drafts or PS content anywhere else on the site as there is a risk it may be plagiarised.
General questions about Personal Statements
General questions about personal statements, what they should include, style and character/line limits should be posted in this thread. However this first post will attempt to answer many of them so read this before posting.
Subject specific questions
If your query is specific to a particular course or university you are applying to, for example how important books are to a Law Personal Statement, this should go in the appropriate University and University Courses sub-forum. Regulars in these forums are more likely to be able to answer your specific questions.
Before posting your query or draft have a read of the following:
How long can my Personal Statement be?
The UCAS form you fill in using UCAS Apply has both a character and a line limit for the Personal Statement section, and your statement must conform to both:
- Maximum of 4000 characters (including spaces). Generally you probably want to be aiming for 3000-3500 characters to allow room for line breaks and still be within the 47 line limit.
- Maximum of 47 lines, as measured on the UCAS Apply form. The only way to check this is to try inputting your statement into the form and it will tell you how many lines you are using. In MS Word Times New Roman at 12 point, with 3.17cm left and right margins gives a reasonably close approximation for the line count on the UCAS form.
Generally speaking, the 47 line limit is more strict than the 4000 characters and so it is important to check when writing your draft how many lines you are using in addition to how many characters. You don't want to perfect your statement only to find it doesn't fit!
If you enter/submit a statement which is too long then the remaining lines or characters will simply be chopped off the bottom of your statement, even if that is mid sentence or mid word.
Formatting in the UCAS Apply form
The Personal Statement section of the UCAS Apply form will convert any text you enter to a standard format (font size and style). You cannot get around the line limit by writing in a smaller font. You cannot use bold, italic or underline text to emphasise as this will not be retained in the final form.
The form also removes any excess spaces automatically, so if you use tabs or spaces to indent paragraphs this will not be retained in the final form. Similarly double spaces between sentences will become a single space. The only way to separate paragraphs is through a linebreak (pressing return twice) and this will be retained in the final form. Each linebreak is included in your line limit, but if space allows it is recommended that you do this as it makes your statement more readable. Remember an admissions tutor looks at hundreds of statements so you want to make their lives easy!
The formatting is unable to recognise non-conventional characters so you shouldn't use é, á and other accents in your statement. Style also dictates that you should avoid characters like & and numbers (1, 2, 3...) should be written in full (one, two, three...). Once you're happy with your statement and have pasted it into your form and previewed it, read it or print it out before you submit it to check that the formatting is as you expect!
So what's the point of a PS anyway?
The Personal Statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the admissions tutor and to tell them why you want to study the subject you are applying for and why you think you are well suited to studying it. Everything in your PS should therefore relate to:
- Why you are interested in the subject, and why you want to study it further
- What relevant experiences you have both academically and socially and how these experiences give you the necessary skills for study at degree level
- Your diversity as an individual, demonstrating a wide range of interest and experiences.
Where do I start?
The first thing to do before you begin writing your statement is to think about what it is that the statement requires (see above) and to gain an appreciation of the style/format it should be written in. Many of the resources on the TSR wiki are useful at this early stage:
Once you have familiarised yourself with the general expectation and style of a PS then you can start to plan your statement. Instead of jumping in and trying to write a first draft, brainstorm your experiences and the skills that you gained from these. Having done this you can write a more structured plan to think about what paragraphs each experience belongs in.
What is the structure of a personal statement?
There is no set structure for a PS, but the most commonly used structure is something like this:
This structure is only a guide and will be dependent both on the subject you are applying for and your own experiences. You may have lots of work experience or you may not and so the exact structure is unique to you.
How much of my statement should be extra-curricular activities and how much academic?
The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular. Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences. Extra-curricular activities show diversity and provide a good opportunity to discuss the transferable skills you have developed. However, these should still be discussed with regard to how these pursuits make you well-suited to studying the course. These hobbies should not take up more than 1-2 paragraphs in your statement.
Can I include quotes in my statement?
You can, but use them sparingly. Using a quotation doesn't make you intelligent and it's not personal to you. It's quite possible that many other applicants have used the same quotation. As a general rule, quotes should only be used where they are used to show an interest in the subject and should be discussed. Don't just put a quote in because you like it or because it sounds intelligent. You might like to look at this thread, especially post #15, for more advice on this.
How important is work experience?
The importance of work experience depends on the course you are applying for. If you are applying to a course like medicine or a vocational subject then relevant work experience is very important and should be used to highlight the skills you have shown and developed which are important on the course (bedside manner for example in the case of medicine). For a more theoretical subject like mathematics it is very hard to get relevant work experience and it is not expected.
Can I mention my module marks in my statement?
There's nothing to stop you mentioning module marks if they are particularly good, but things like this are actually better going in your reference from your school which accompanies your application and you can ask them to mention it. Other things which are better in your reference:
- Extenuating circumstances as to why you did badly in a particular module/GCSEs/AS levels
- Reasons why you didn't take particular courses (for example because your school didn't offer it.
- Background of your school - if your school wasn't the best and you were surrounded by troublesome classmates don't put it in your PS, get it mentioned in your reference.
- Virtuous qualities - avoid saying things like "I am a dedicated and committed student who will be an asset to your university." or "I was the best student in my year". These just make you sound arrogant and presumptuous and should be discussed in your reference. When discussing personality traits in your statement show rather than state, giving examples of where you have demonstrated these qualities.
How do I write a statement for joint honours or multiple subjects?
It can be hard to write a statement if you are applying for multiple subjects because you need to show dedication to both. This is a lot easier if the two are closely related in which case you can focus on the aspects that they have in common. It's less of an issue for common joint honours disciplines, as other universities will be more forgiving if you have applied for PPE and then economics elsewhere.
If you are applying to very different subjects because you can't decide which you want to do then you may be better off narrowing down your options earlier rather than later. You will have to decide sooner or later and spreading yourself thinly across many disciplines can actually harm your application to each of them. For example if you apply to Veterinary Science and History, it will be no surprise if neither the vets or the historians are particularly impressed by your lack of commitment.
What about Personal Statements for foreign universities?
These may be different to the UK style of application. American Personal Statements in particular are written in a very different style and you should seek separate advice for these kinds of application.
Refining your Personal Statement
Having written your first draft, check it over thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors. Get as many people to look over it as you can - parents, teachers, family, friends and remember you can also submit a draft to Personal Statement Help