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
Also in this section…
You may also like…
Kathryn Abell of Edukonexion shares some tips ahead of her talk at the British Education Fair in Madrid taking place on 19-20 October 2015.
When applying to a UK university, the discovery that school grades alone are not enough to gain entry onto the programme of your choice can come as an unwelcome surprise. This is especially true for international students, many of whom see the words 'personal statement' for the first time when starting their university application.
But far from being a barrier, the personal statement is, in fact, one of the stepping stones to achieving your goal of studying at a UK university.
A personal statement can help you stand out
If you have selected your study programme well – that is to say, you have chosen something that you are truly excited about that matches your academic profile – then the personal statement is simply a way to communicate to admissions tutors why you are interested in the programme and what you can bring to it. And given the fact that many universities receive multiple applications for each available place, and that most do not offer an interview, your written statement is often the only way you can express your personality and say 'choose me!'.
The 'personal' in 'personal statement' suggests that you should be allowed to express yourself however you want, right? Well, to a certain extent that is true: admissions tutors want to get a picture of you, not your parents, your teachers or your best friend, so it has to be your work. However, the purpose of the statement is to persuade academic staff that they should offer you one of their highly sought-after university places; although there is no strict template for this, there are specific things you should include and certain things you should most certainly leave out.
The importance of the opening paragraph
The online Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) undergraduate application form allows a total of 4,000 characters (around 700 words), meaning that you need to craft the statement carefully. The most important part is unquestionably the opening paragraph, as it acts as an invitation to continue reading. If you are not able to catch the attention of the admissions tutor, who has hundreds of statements to assess, then it is highly unlikely they will read through to the end.
The best advice here is to avoid much-used opening lines and clichés such as 'I have wanted to be an engineer since I was a child'. This kind of thing is not the invitation readers are looking for. Instead, try using an anecdote, experience or inspirational moment: 'Although tinkering with engines had always been a childhood hobby, it was the vision of the fastest car on earth, the Bloodhound, at an exhibition in London, that roused my desire to learn everything I could about automotive engineering'. Really? Tell me more!
Of course, your opening paragraph could start in a variety of ways, but the fundamental purpose is to grab the reader’s interest.
Provide evidence of your commitment and skills
Following on from that, you have to provide evidence of your passion and commitment to your chosen programme, and highlight the specific and transferable skills you possess to study it successfully. You can do this by following the ABC rule.
Action: Include examples of what you have done, experienced or even read that have helped you in your choice of degree and boosted your knowledge of the subject area.
Benefit: By doing these things, explain what you learned or gained; in the case of a book or article, put forward an opinion.
Course: The most successful applicants ensure that the information they include is relevant to their course in order to highlight their suitability. Flower-arranging may allow you to realise your creative potential, but will it help you study astrophysics?
It is perfectly acceptable to base this ABC rule on school-based activities, as not all students have opportunities outside the classroom. However, if you can link extra-curricular pursuits to your desired programme of study, you are further highlighting your commitment. As a general rule of thumb, the information you include here should be around 80 per cent academic and 20 per cent non-academic. So, for example, as a member of the school science club – a non-curricular, academic activity – you may have developed the ability to analyse data and tackle problems logically. Taking part in a work placement falls into the same category and could have helped you develop your communication, time-management and computer skills. You get the idea.
Non-academic accomplishments may involve music, sport, travel or clubs and can lead to a variety of competencies such as team-working, leadership, language or presentation skills. A word of warning here: it is vital that you sell yourself, but arrogance or lies will result in your personal statement landing in the 'rejected' pile. Keep it honest and down-to-earth.
Provide a memorable conclusion
Once you have emphasised your keen interest and relevant qualities, you should round off the statement with a conclusion that will be remembered. There is little point putting all your effort to generate interest in the opening paragraph only for your statement to gradually fade away at the end. A good conclusion will create lasting impact and may express how studying your chosen course will allow you to pursue a particular career or achieve any other plans. It can also underline your motivation and determination.
Use a formal tone, stay relevant and be positive
As you have to pack all this information into a relatively short statement, it is essential to avoid the superfluous or, as I like to call it, the 'fluff'. If a sentence sounds pretty but doesn’t give the reader information, remove it. In addition, the tone should be formal and you should not use contractions, slang or jokes; remember, the statement will be read by academics – often leaders in their field.
Referring to books is fine but don’t resort to using famous quotes as they are overused and do not reflect your own ideas. Also, while it's good to avoid repetition, don't overdo it with the thesaurus.
Negativity has no place in a personal statement, so if you need to mention a difficult situation you have overcome, ensure you present it as a learning experience rather than giving the reader an opportunity to notice any shortcomings. Also, bear in mind that your personal statement will probably go to several universities as part of a single application, so specifically naming one university is not going to win you any favours with the others.
Get some help but never copy someone else's work
Checking grammar, spelling and flow is essential and it is perfectly OK to ask someone to do this for you. A fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective always help, and, as long as the third party does not write the content for you, their input could be of vital importance. And while you may get away with not sticking to all of the above advice, there is one thing that you absolutely must not do: copy someone else’s work. Most applications are made through UCAS, which uses sophisticated software to detect plagiarism. If you are found to have copied content from the internet, or a previous statement, your application will be cancelled immediately. Remember, it is a personal statement.
Get your ideas down in a mind-map first
Finally, I will leave you with my top tip. If you understand all the theory behind the personal statement and have an abundance of ideas floating in your head, but are staring blankly at your computer screen, take a pen and paper and make a simple mind map. Jot down all your experiences, activities, skills, attributes and perhaps even include books you have read or even current items that interest you in the news. Then look for how these link to your course and highlight the most significant elements using arrows, colours and even doodles. Capturing thoughts on paper and making logical deductions from an image can give structure to your ideas.
Register for our British Education Fair in Madrid, taking place on 19-20 October 2015, for a chance to talk directly to staff from 40 UK universities, vocational colleges and English language schools.
Get more advice from our Education UK site on your UCAS application and writing your statement.
You might also be interested in:
Read more articles