After finally deciding what course you want study and at which universities, you start your UCAS application. You’re almost finishing completing the UCAS application form and you see the words ‘personal statement’- what’s that? For many universities the personal statement is crucial in an admissions tutor’s decision on whether to accept or decline your application, making it a very large part of the application process. However, before I carry on, let me clarify the whole concept of the dreaded personal statement.
So what is the personal statement about and how best can you write it? Here are my top 5 points to consider in a bid to perfecting your personal statement:
1. What is a Personal Statement?
The personal statement is an aspect of all UCAS applications that gives you 4000 characters (approx. 650 words) and 47 lines to explain and justify your choice of university and course. The personal statement is your opportunity to convince an admissions tutor that you are the right person for that course at that university.
This is where you can include your journey in developing a passion for your course, your extra-curricular activities and achievements and so much more; so long as it relates to your course and your suitability for the course- there’s no need nor space for you to waffle about irrelevant information.
2. Starting to Write your Personal Statement
Before even starting to write your personal statement, go to the universities’ websites and search for the courses you want to apply for and look at what they look for in personal statements. Some universities will tell you to demonstrate specific skills which gives you a clearer idea of what you will need to include.
What is also helpful is to brainstorm everything you’ve done that is related to your course and what you’ve achieved, such as a grade 4 in piano or a Duke of Edinburgh Award. Having a list of everything you have done will make it easier for you to decide what you want to include in your personal statement.
Remember you have a limit of 4000 characters or 47 characters which may seem like a lot of writing space but don’t be deceived! Once you start writing, you quickly run out of space which is why you need to put thought into what you write about to keep everything concise and relevant.
It may be useful to start writing your personal statement in a word document or something similar so it’s easier to keep a track of how much you’re writing, instead of directly onto UCAS. When writing on UCAS, it will allow you to write over the limit but will not allow you to send off a personal statement over the limit.
3. Structure of the Personal Statement
The structure of a personal statement does vary slightly over different courses but the general format is as follows :
- Motivation– why do you want to study this course?
- Understanding of the course– what have you done to gain greater understanding of your course e.g. work experience, lectures, open day, workshops, summer schools?
- Extra-curriculum activities and achievements– what have you been doing outside of your academics?
- Conclusion– summarise why you are suited for this course.
If you’re struggling to know what write inside your personal statement, research into personal statements for that course and look at examples of other personal statements for that course. A good resource for this is: https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk which has many useful pointers.
4. Re-drafting your Personal Statement
It is always a good idea to let other people read your personal statement but take this advice with a pinch of salt. By saying this I mean family members, perhaps adults in the course or field and school teachers. Passing your personal statement around a large number of people widens the opportunity for your work to be plagiarised by others. This is especially important if you are sharing your personal statement with friends who are also applying through UCAS.
Only share your personal statement with people whom you trust to give you useful feedback and will not pass off your work as theirs. UCAS have their own plagiarism system which all personal statements go through; this system includes all personal statements that have been submitted and are on the internet so will be able to detect if two personal statements share many similarities.
Re-drafting your personal statement is important, more so if you’re applying for competitive courses or universities such as medicine at Imperial College or PPE at Oxford, as your ideas will become more fine- tuned. At my own school, the school record of the number of personal statement drafts was sixteen for a medical personal statement. This student ended up getting interviews from all the universities they applied to!
5. What Shouldn’t be in your Personal Statement
There are two gigantic nos for the personal statement – clichés and plagiarism! Plagiarism is using someone’s work as if it’s your own and clichés are expressions that have been overused to the point that they’ve lost their original meaning. If your personal statement is filled with either of these, your application is more likely to be rejected. The whole point of the personal statement is for it to be PERSONAL TO YOU.
If you have clichés you will not stand out and if you have plagiarised it will be picked up by UCAS’ plagiarism system which will also inform your universities choices of this. Whilst both should be avoided, plagiarism is the bigger of the two as if your personal statement passes the plagiarism threshold your universities choices may automatically reject your application.
This WILL have dire consequences on your applications, as your choices will be notified. There are many people applying and if you can’t make the effort to write without stealing someone else’s work, why should they bother reading your application?
Taking all of this advice on board, remember not to over-stress about your personal statement- some universities may not even look at it! It’s important to know what your universities choices want from you and you to give this to them. Just remember to keep your personal statement personal to you. Good luck!