It can be understandably daunting writing a personal statement. Chances are, this will be your first time writing this kind of application, so it can be difficult knowing where to start!
Thankfully, UCAS provides lots of useful info about the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of personal statement writing, including some helpful tips on structure, style and how each application is processed.
Perhaps, though, you just want some general advice. I’m no UCAS administrator, but I do have some knowledge on personal statements, seeing as I had to write one to get into Bath! Without it, I probably wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now, writing a whole blog post about them!!
Of course, my advice is based on my own experience, so I want to stress that it is not intended as a definitive guide! There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all, ‘perfect’ personal statement. Ultimately, what to include will vary from person to person across different subjects. Nevertheless, I hope that this mini-guide will at least get you thinking about your personal statement, and help to relieve any doubts you may have 😊
1) Be passionate
I’ve included this one first because, in my opinion, it’s the most important!! Personal statements aren’t like exams – you don’t have to list EVERYTHING you have learned and experienced in your academic life. It’s far better to be selective in what you write about, not only because there’s a word limit, but also because this helps you to showcase your most relevant strengths and overall enthusiasm for the subject you wish to study.
My slightly unorthodox tip (!) is to approach things like a toddler would. What I mean by that, is keep asking ‘WHY’? Why do you want to study this course? Why is this experience a good example of a specific ability/strength you possess? Why do you feel that university will help you achieve your goals? Why, why, why?! Do you feel like you’re 3 years old again? Good!! Actively asking yourself these kinds of questions will help you throughout the planning, writing, and editing of your personal statement. This brings me to my next point…
2) Don’t be surprised if you have to edit. A lot.
Like most things in life, personal statements will take a few attempts to get right. Don’t expect to bang out your final version in half an hour! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making changes – in fact, this is great preparation for university, where you are likely to be constantly revising your ideas and being asked to 'think critically’.
Note that critical thinking isn’t about being overly harsh on yourself and your work. That you’re even considering applying for university is an amazing achievement in itself! Critical thinking is basically a sophisticated version of the previously mentioned toddler who never stops asking questions – by doing this with your personal statement, you’ll be able to spot areas that may be less strong than others, and perhaps require further elaboration which leads me to point number 3…
3) Examples are your friend
When stating that you’re good at something, it’s always a good idea to provide some further context. Consider these (unrelated, but amusing!) examples:
I am especially skilled at Oreo-eating.
I am especially skilled at Oreo-eating, as evidenced by my success at the 2021 Oreo-lympics, where I ate a total of 50 Oreos in 2 minutes. *
* DISCLAIMER – Probably best not to mention Oreos in your personal statement. Might not go down too well with the admissions team…
Which statement do you find more compelling? The first one, or the second? The difference between the two is, simply, that the latter elaborates on their skill by highlighting previous experiences where they demonstrated it. This makes the account more interesting and believable to the reader. Oh, and speaking of readers…
4) Get other people involved
Before you get too excited, I’m not suggesting you get someone else to write your personal statement for you!! That being said, asking other people for their opinion on your work can be a helpful exercise in flagging up areas that you may have overlooked. This can be something as simple as identifying typos and grammatical errors, or some more constructive advice on the strengths and weaknesses of your written content.
Family and friends are a great starting point if you want a second opinion, which I definitely made the most of (much to my parents’ joy, I’m sure!). I would also strongly recommend talking to your subject teacher, or school careers advisor, to cast a professional eye over your personal statement. However you choose to interpret their advice, the main thing is…
5) Don’t stress!
Easier said than done, but it’s so important to remember that your personal statement doesn’t ‘define’ you. Even though it’s focused on your achievements and goals, it is only one tiny aspect of you as a person.
Also, universities don’t place the whole weight of their decision on your personal statement. They will look at all aspects of your application during the process, so don’t panic if you’re finding it a struggle. You’re only human, and so are the admissions team who are reading it, so don’t think that they are scrutinizing every single comma and semi-colon!!
They want to see you be reflective and to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the course you have applied for, plus the UCAS deadline for equal consideration on all on-time applications should allow you plenty of time to draft and revisit your personal statement before you come to finally push that button and submit!
Because I love a food analogy, try thinking of it this way – a university application is a lot like a cake. You need ALL the ingredients for it to taste good, not just the odd one thrown in here and there. Your personal statement is one ingredient out of many, so don’t lose sight of the bigger picture or get too daunted. Have confidence in yourself; you can do this (and eating cake and being nice to yourself may actually help you along the way too!).
I hope you have found this whistle-stop tour of personal statement writing useful! One more thing I’d like to note – see how I linked each of my tips together? That was intentional! Having your points ‘flow’ together in a clear way can really strengthen the quality of your writing, making your life much easier when planning out what you want to say, whilst also appealing to whoever is reading it. Yay!
Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your personal statements! 😊