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How to write a great personal statement

As the deadline for submitting personal statements looms it’s a busy time for students. With all the restrictions brought in to deal with Covid-19, work experience and volunteer opportunities have been harder to come by. Crafting a personal statement that stands out is more important than ever. We caught up with Student Recruitment Managers Richard Palmer and James Busson for their tips on writing a great personal statement.

Why is a personal statement important?

The personal statement is much more than just meeting the grade requirements and must tick several boxes to stand out. These statements are a top consideration for admissions tutors but don’t see it as a chore, the personal statement provides an opportunity to communicate your unique skills and strengths and to secure your place at university.

What are admissions looking for?

Students must have the appropriate qualifications and grade predictions to meet entry requirements but this needs to be elaborated on in your personal statement.  As you think of your different qualifications, accomplishments, and qualities remember to link them all together to show how this makes you suitable for your chosen course.

  • Excellent spelling, grammar and attention to detail with how the overall UCAS application is presented.
  • Illustrating your suitability for the course by linking it to different areas of life. For example, studies, extra-curricular, personal hobbies/experiences if applicable, work experience if applicable etc.
  • Your personality – not in terms of humour or sarcasm but showing that you are a responsible and hardworking student.
  • A strong reference that supports your application.

Top tips for your personal statement

1) Map out the structure. The best way to approach this is visually: create a diagram splitting the personal statement into sections. Firstly, you want a strong opening statement introducing yourself. The middle section can then be split into three sub-sections: your course choice, sixth form/college experience and your wider experiences (e.g., extracurricular). Then close it off with a concluding statement summarising the points you’ve made as concisely as possible.

2)  When discussing your suitability, discuss your current studies by talking about your transferable skills; how the content and the skills relate to your chosen course and how they will help you succeed.

Do this even for subjects that aren’t directly related to your chosen course. For example, if you’re applying for Criminology but studied A-level Geography you could talk about ‘green crimes’ etc. Alternatively, you could discuss how group or creative projects have provided you with relevant skills to succeed in a degree such as organisation skills, communication or multi-tasking.

If you are applying for slightly different courses, remember that all your university choices will see the same personal statement. Make sure to prioritise talking about your main subject for consistency.

3)  While it might be tempting to copy your friends or take inspiration from example personal statements online, avoid at all costs. Plagiarism is often unintentional but the best thing you can do to avoid it is steering away from using templates or writing similar personal statements to your peers.

UCAS puts every statement through plagiarism software. If your statement has 30% similarities to others, a report is sent to all your university choices. They decide the outcome, which could be to revoke your offer.

It’s also helpful to be aware of plagiarism and how best to avoid it, as you’ll need to have an awareness of this when submitting university assignments.

Using the Plagiarism report from UCAS in 2018 we know the following phrase was used 234 times…. "Ever since I accidentally burnt holes in my pyjamas after experimenting with a chemistry set on my 8th birthday, I have had a passion for science"

Don’t be too worried though. If you honestly write an original statement and the software still picks it up by fluke the university will know to what to do.

4)  Consider your strengths – what are you good at?  What have you done that could help demonstrate that skill?

Keep is positive - “I was a debate team captain and lead in making arguments” add positive adjectives and adverbs to build up the sentence. “I was a successful debate team captain and lead in making winning arguments”

Everybody has weaknesses, and it’s important to recognise these too. However, be sure to frame it as a positive. Be honest and recognise areas you haven’t experienced or aren’t as confident at – and consider positive ways that you can develop in that area. 

5)  Highlight any previous work experience. Even if it was short-term or voluntary, any experience is good and helps to emphasise your skills. Demonstrating that you have actively sought out work experience presents you as someone with initiative and independence.

6)  Plan ahead. Start writing it as early as possible and be aware of all important deadlines. Draw out a timeline detailing when you aim to have your first draft done, your second draft, any reviews and submission deadlines. This will help to get you in the right mindset from the outset, because nobody likes last-minute stress.

7)  Keep an eye out for typos, you don’t want this distracting from your strengths. Make sure to double and triple check your work. Sometimes when you have been working on something for a long time, it’s easy to overlook mistakes so it’s also helpful to ask someone else to proofread it for you. Getting family or friends to proofread your personal statement will also help to ensure that it sounds authentically you.

8) Aim to stand out from the crowd. While this goes without saying and of course helps to avoid plagiarism, now that we are living in a post-Covid world the landscape is more competitive than ever. Try to think outside of the box and communicate what makes you unique. For example, if you have any creative ideas on how to improve a certain area within your chosen industry/subject, put this forward. This might tie in with your hobbies and work experience and be a good way to build on it.

9) Make evidence-based points. Highlighting your experiences is a crucial part of the personal statement but must be backed up with solid evidence. For example, if you have experience as a sports captain or society member, rather than just listing what you did, explain how you got there and what you achieved. Mention actions and outcomes, this shows how you strive for self-improvement and highlights an ability to clearly define goals.

10) No excuses. The last two years have been extremely challenging especially for students seeking work experience. This means students who have utilised the available opportunities have a serious competitive edge. So, be sure to highlight what you have done rather than attempting to fill in any gaps where you were less active. You can turn the lack of opportunities into a positive by explaining how you overcame this challenge and managed to remain focused on your future profession.

The University of Law holds hundreds of events around work experience, mentoring schemes and taster events – find out more here.