Crafting a personal statement that stands out is an important part of the UCAS process. However, it can be hard to know exactly what to include, how to write it, and how to stand out. With this in mind, we caught up with Student Recruitment Manager Richard Palmer for his tips on writing a great personal statement.
By Cara Fielder. Published 13 October 2021. Last updated 12 January 2024.
Why is a personal statement important?
Your personal statement is about much more than just meeting the grade requirements and needs to tick a few boxes to stand out. These statements are a top factor when it comes to consideration for admissions experts – but don’t see it as a chore, your personal statement provides an opportunity to communicate your unique skills and strengths 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 will need 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.
- Illustrate your suitability for the course by linking it to different areas of life. For example, earlier studies, extra-curricular activities, personal hobbies/experiences and work experience (if applicable).
- Your personality – not in terms of humour or sarcasm but show that you are a responsible and hardworking student.
- A strong reference that supports your application.
Our nine tips for writing your personal statement
Map out the structure
A great way to approach this is visually: create a diagram splitting the personal statement into sections. Firstly, you want a strong opening introducing yourself. The middle section can then be split into three sub-sections: your course choice, education experience and your wider experiences (e.g. extracurricular activities and work). Then conclude with a concise summary of the points you’ve made.
Whilst the whole statement needs a good deal of work, a robust opening can hook the reader and make all the difference to an application. It’s an opportunity to briefly cover everything you’ll discuss in greater detail throughout your statement. Consider why you want to study the course, your passion for the subject, where you hope it leads and why it’s right for you.
Similarly, a strong closing paragraph can leave a positive and lasting impression. Try and consolidate what you’ve covered in your statement and reinforce why you would make a great candidate for the course.
When discussing your suitability, share how the content and skills learned from your current or previous study relate to your chosen course, and how they will help you succeed. For instance, if you studied A Level Business and apply to study accounting and finance try and highlight how your current learning will influence your degree choice.
Of course, there are many degrees where it might not be possible to study the subject before university, so you’ll need to be a little more creative and think outside of the box. For those subjects which aren’t directly related to your chosen course consider any crossover and highlight those links. For example, if you’ve chosen to study criminology and studied A Level Geography you could discuss globalisation, green crimes, or illegal pollution.
You should also discuss the wider skills you’ve developed. Consider how a variety of teaching environments, coursework, and creative projects have provided you with relevant skills to succeed in a degree such as organisation skills, time management, communication, and 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.
While it might be tempting to copy your friends or take inspiration from example personal statements online, avoid it 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 (for example) 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. Don’t let this worry – if you honestly write an original statement and the software still picks it up by fluke the university will know what to do.
Consider your strengths
Follow this simple framework:
- What are you good at?
- How can you demonstrate that skill?
- Keep it positive
For example - “I was a debate team captain and lead in making arguments” is good, but it could have something added to it to make it pop. A great way to do this is to 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.
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.
Start writing it as early as possible and be aware of all the 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.
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. Double and triple check your work, keeping an eye out for typos. Getting family or friends to proofread your personal statement will also help to ensure that it sounds authentically you.
Stand out from the crowd
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.
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.