Used by universities to compare different applicants, your UCAS personal statement showcases how your skills, experience and aspirations are well-suited to the course
What is a university personal statement?
A key part of the online application, this is your opportunity to tell course tutors in your own words why you feel that you'd be an asset to their university. However, you'll have to adhere to the UCAS guidelines as you endeavour to meet the course entry requirements.
How long should it be?
There's no maximum word count, but you'll need to remain within the 4,000 character limit (including spaces and punctuation) allowed in UCAS Apply, as well as keeping the statement to a total of 47 lines.
UCAS recommend that you write your personal statement in Microsoft Word before copying and pasting it into the online application form. This is because the application page times out after being inactive for 35 minutes. You'll need to account for how individual characters are counted differently between Microsoft Word and the online form.
What do I write about?
When considering what to include in your personal statement, take time to think about the reasons you're applying to university and what makes you a suitable candidate.
To make this work for different courses and different universities, you'll need to find some common ground by providing examples of why you'll be a success - demonstrating enthusiasm for the choices you've made and how it fits in with your career ambitions.
This can be achieved by talking about the relevant skills, experience and achievements you've gained through extra-curricular activities, work experience, placements and volunteering (as well as education), detailing what you've learned from each.
It's never too late to show you're actively preparing for higher education. Get involved with an extra-curricular club, secure a part-time job or get volunteering. You could even complete a free online course with an organisation such as FutureLearn or the Digital Business Academy.
If you're an international student, you could discuss why the UK's your preferred study destination, not forgetting to mention the English tests, courses and qualifications you've taken.
How do I write a personal statement?
By planning your personal statement, breaking it down into sections, you can ensure you've covered the most relevant points and adopted a sound plan.
Course-relevant skills and credentials should be given prominence in the overall structure. However, as you only have the one personal statement for all your choices, if you've selected a variety of subjects that aren't that similar you'll need to focus on the transferable skills and common qualities typically valued by all universities.
Adopt a simple, concise and natural style for writing your statement, while still showing enthusiasm. Allow your personality to shine through.
It can often take a number of redrafts until the statement is ready, so get used to reading your statement aloud and asking for feedback from family, teachers and advisers before redrafting to make sure your writing flows well. You'll also need to check for correct punctuation, spelling and grammar.
Keep an up-to-date copy of your statement saved somewhere so that you can refer back to it during the interview process.
How do I start a personal statement?
The best thing to do at this point is to get thinking about why you're applying for the course you're applying for, and how you became interested in it in the first place. Was it through work experience or studying the subject at A-level?
Once you've noted down your reasons for choosing the course, you can move on to your skills and what makes you stand out positively from other applicants, providing evidence of where each specific attribute has been utilised.
After you've taken time to get all this written down, condense it so it's less wordy. You can then attempt to write a punchy opening paragraph showcasing your genuine excitement at the prospect of going to university, and understanding of what you're getting yourself into.
What should I avoid?
- As you'll only have the one statement, it's important not to mention universities by name - unless you plan on applying to just a single institution.
- Remember that admissions staff may not share your sense of humour, so steer clear of anything that might get misinterpreted by admissions tutors. Refrain also from using clichés or making arrogant statements.
- Resist any temptation to use somebody else's work as your own. The UCAS Similarity Detection Service utilises the Copycatch system, which will compare your statement against those stored within a comprehensive library of statements - those sent to UCAS and elsewhere (including paper publications) - searching for any similarities.
- Be careful not to ramble. Structuring your work so you know how much space you have for each section will make sticking to your main points much easier.
Find out more
Written by Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
Prospects · July 2017
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The personal statement is a crucial part of university applications in the UK. It’s your chance to show what makes you unique, besides your birth name and UCAS ID. In just 4,000 characters you have to convince your chosen university that you are the best applicant, and that they should make you an offer immediately. These 4,000 characters are your only chance, so your personal statement needs to be good. Really good. Here are some tips on how to write a truly outstanding piece.
1. Make a draft without a character counter.
When I started writing, I thought it would be a good idea to start with the character counter turned on, so I wouldn’t go over the 4,000 limit. First mistake… After 3,500 characters I started panicking because I was only halfway through my story. So I turned off the character counter and continued writing. At the end I had 7,000 characters instead of 4,000, but I had written down everything I wanted to say, and I only had to delete some words and compress it. That’s far easier than inserting more ideas while keeping it under 4,000 characters at the same time. By the way, the final version was 3,999 characters!
2. Take your time.
Do not rush it. A superb personal statement will not be ready in a couple of hours. Or even a couple of days. It took me more than a month to complete the version I finally sent in. Sometimes it’s worth taking a break for a few days, then coming back to it afresh.
3. Find the perfect words and expressions.
It sounds more professional and elegant if you use ‘accomplish’ rather than ‘do’, or ‘presume’ rather than ‘think’. As an international applicant, it was even more difficult since English is not my native language, but there are some useful translation and synonym programs on the internet to help with this. I used Google Translate primarily, which includes a great deal of synonyms if you translate words from English to another language. But this synonym thing should be carefully performed, as using too many fancy words could make your statement sound overdone and difficult to read.
4. Concentrate on your strengths.
In these 4,000 characters you are trying to sell yourself to the university. A perfect product proposer is all about how great that thing is, and it’s the same with your personal statement. You should write about your experiences, your knowledge and your future plans. You should NOT write, “I wanted to learn Spanish but I gave it up after a week” or “I am not very good at maths, but I think this is understandable since I hate it so much.”
5. Find the perfect opening sentence.
Starting with something funny, interesting, unusual or surprising will give a good first impression. But do not try to squeeze something funny out of your brain; that is useless. The perfect opening sentence will just hit you in a random moment, when you have already worked hours and hours on your personal statement. So, just wait and do not overthink it.
6. Make it your own work, voice and ideas.
I suggest that you should not read any other personal statements before writing the first few drafts of yours. It will simply give you a false idea. You are most definitely unique, and it is worthless to follow some set rules or patterns, or someone else’s ideas. After all, this is about you, not somebody else.
7. Be honest.
Do not write that you are fluent in Spanish if you can only say “I love you” in Spanish. Do not write that you are good at problem-solving if your sole example is a trick of carrying five bottles in one hand. If you are good, you are good the way you are. There is no need to create a false image, and indeed the truth will always come out sooner or later.
8. Get someone to proofread your statement.
Your parents, your teachers, your friends, your enemies… The more people you show it to, the more feedback you will get, and the better the final version will be. Of course, some advice will be better and some less so, but it is easier to ask many people first, and differentiate later.
9. Read it out loud many times.
It helped me a lot when I read my personal statement out to my family and friends. When you are writing it sentence by sentence, you might not realize that there is no cohesion between your paragraphs. But when you read it out, all the vague parts will magically appear, so you can correct them.
10. Once you submit your university application, stop reading it!
I’d recommend not reading it for a few months once you’ve sent it in. You might feel it’s not as good as you thought previously, but this is normal. Waiting to hear from universities is the worst part of the whole process (even worse than completing the application form…). After you get the offer you wanted (which you will surely get, I know!), you will know that your application was just perfect the way you sent it.
To sum up, be yourself and write honestly about your experiences. Use your own voice, because that is who you are, and the universities are interested in you, not an ideal text based on a “how to write a personal statement” article…
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