A personal statement is like a short reflective essay you write about why you’re the perfect candidate for the undergraduate degree course/s you are applying to.
It is important to note that you only write one personal statement, which is seen by all the universities you apply to. Also, a university personal statement works differently to a personal statement when applying for a job.
Why is your personal statement important?
Your personal statement is where you can distinguish yourself from other candidates. It is where you can fill in the picture a tutor has of you in their head, and where you can leave a real impression that makes them want to meet you, or offer you a place.
How is your personal statement used by universities?
At the end of the day, you still need to meet the formal entry requirements of a course, as laid out by the university. However, if the final spot on a course comes down to you and someone else with the same grades, what you write in your statement could nab it for you.
If you are invited to attend an interview, your personal statement is an opportunity to shape what you will be asked about. At the very least, something in your statement could serve as a friendly icebreaker to ease you in.
If you fall slightly short of the grades you need on results day, it is a distinct possibility that your personal statement could clinch your place for you. Universities will prefer to give it to you if your statement shows the kind of commitment and enthusiasm they are looking for.
Your statement can help you make a big impression quickly during this fast-paced, short-notice interview process. In fact, we recommend re-reading your personal statement in the lead-up to results day to remind yourself why you would make a strong candidate – this could be a real confidence boost if you don’t get the grades you need.
How do you write a personal statement?
There is no definitive one-method-fits-all approach to writing your personal statement. But here are some pointers to guide you:
It’s not a sprint…
You’ll likely go through a few drafts before you get the polished final version that you submit as part of your application. So do not expect to thrash it out in a weekend.
Start with your subject
It is pretty much impossible to start your personal statement without a degree subject in mind (e.g. English or Biology). It would be like applying for an unknown job by simply stating your general strengths or interests as a person.
It is easier with a few courses in mind
While you could pull together a rough draft while you’re researching, it is much easier to write your statement with a good idea of your five choices.
Remember that your one personal statement goes to all the universities you apply to, so making specific references might not be the best idea.
You can search for courses for the subject you are interested and learn about the courses offered, to get a sense of what a course would involve.
The key word is ‘personal’
This does not mean pouring your heart out or emotionally blackmailing an admissions tutor.
But it does mean your personal statement should reflect why you’re the right candidate for the courses you’re applying to, based on your experiences, skills, and understanding; after all, these make you unique.
Can you guess what the magic word is?
So while you can ask a friend for their advice or look at statement templates online, what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Make sure you tie any feedback back to you and the courses you’re applying to.
Plus, any personal statements that show signs of plagiarism (i.e. copying from another statement) will be detected. The universities you’ve applied to will be notified too. Obviously, that won’t impress them and it may affect your chances of being accepted.
How long does a personal statement have to be?
You have a maximum of 4,000 characters to write your personal statement.
That might seem a lot (or maybe not enough) from the outset, but your perspective might change as you begin writing and have to boil down all those relevant thoughts, skills and experiences.
It is best to draft your statement and get it finalized in a Word document, and then copy this over to a system to submit it, rather than make changes afterward.
Some admissions tutors will recommend that you leave a blank line to separate paragraphs, as any indentation or formatting will be stripped out. Others will argue that each blank line will count as one of your 47 lines to play with. Rather than leave a blank line, try and finish your paragraphs midway along the line. That way it looks as if it’s still a paragraph.
Ten must-haves for your personal statement
1. Explain why you want to study the course
What motivates you to take this course further, at a university level? Talk about how your interest developed, what you’ve done to pursue it or how you’ve drawn inspiration from your current studies. Try to avoid overusing the word ‘passion’ when doing so.
If you want to get something specific out of the course, provided it's reasonable, say so.
2. Explain how you're right for the course
Provide evidence to show that not only do you meet the selection criteria but also that you’ve researched the course (or profession) and understand what studying the subject at university-level will involve. Also, show that you're prepared for this by giving examples, such as having worked as part of a diverse group.
3. Say what you have done outside the classroom
Outline how you’ve pursued your interest in your chosen subject beyond your current syllabus and developed your understanding as a result. But don’t just give a long list of things you’ve done; it’s important that you give your critical views or reflections too, so admissions tutors can see how you think.
Here, you could talk about specific books, quality newspapers, websites, blogs, periodicals or scientific journals you’ve read. Or you could discuss films, documentaries, blogs, radio programmes, podcasts and public lectures you’ve watched or listened to.
Also, try to avoid the things everyone else will mention so you stand out.
4. Why it is relevant to your course...
Reflect on your experiences, explaining what you’ve learnt from them or how they’ve helped develop your interest in the subject.
It could be work experience, volunteering, a university taster session or outreach programme, summer schools, museum, gallery or theatre visits, archaeological digs, visits to the local courts, travel, competitions or a maths challenge. It’s not about quantity and it doesn’t have to be particularly special. The key thing is showing what you took away from it.
5. … And relevant to your chosen career
Reflecting on relevant experience or observations will be essential for some professional courses where, in effect, you’re applying for the career as well as the course:
Reflect on your experience, don’t just describe it. Talk about the skills the profession needs, how you’ve noticed this and how you’ve developed those skills yourself.
Occupational Therapy Admissions Tutor
Whatever environment you’ve been in, what did you spot or learn from what happens there, or what have you observed about how the qualities exhibited by professional staff helped them engage effectively with patients or service-users?
6. Can you demonstrate transferable skills?
Yes, you can – and admissions tutors will want to hear about them!
It could be your ability to work independently, teamwork, good time management, problem-solving, leadership, listening or organisational skills. Often universities will set these out in the description for a course. You just need to look for them.
7. Expand on the most relevant ones
But don’t simply rattle off all the skills you think you have. Think about which ones relate most readily to the course you’re applying to – another reason to search for your course and read up about it, as you write your statement. Then demonstrate how you’ve developed, used and continued to strengthen these.
Again, admissions tutors want to hear about specific examples, like:
positions of responsibility (what you achieved)
volunteering or a part-time job (what have you observed, what extra responsibilities have you taken on, what skills have you demonstrated yourself?)
8. Show that you are a critical thinker
University is all about being able to think independently and analytically, so being able to demonstrate that you’re already working in such a way is a big plus point.
9. What is the long-term plan?
Mention what your long-term goals are if you can do it in an interesting way and you’ve got a specific path in mind. If you do, then try to show a spark of individuality or imagination.
If you’re not sure yet, just talk about what you’re looking forward to at uni and what you want to gain from your course or from university life.
10. Keep it positive
It can be difficult to get started with your personal statement but don’t panic. Start with your strengths, focus on your enthusiasm for the course and talk positively about yourself.
Personal statement dos and don’ts: summary
Do tailor it to your subject, showing your understanding and interest so far (and even what you want to learn more about).
Don’t make a long list of things you’ve done/read/watched without explaining how these developed this understanding.
Do research what skills and qualities the courses you’re applying to, demand and show how you already have these.
Don’t mention irrelevant or general hobbies; you want to stand out but not in the wrong way.
Do mention any career or post-uni paths you’re considering; but on the other hand, if you prefer to keep your future options open, then it’s OK to leave this out.
Don’t leave your statement to the last minute; give yourself time to draft and re-draft, plus share with others for feedback.
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