Tips for Personal Statement for University

Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for the University

Your personal statement is the only real chance you have to tell the universities to which you are applying all about your love of your chosen subject and what marks you out as a strong candidate.

Personal Statement Tips

When you consider that you only have 4000 characters or 47 lines of text to do this, the personal statement for university can prove a rather daunting challenge for many applicants. 

The first thing to say is: don’t be afraid to ask for help from teachers, parents or other sources. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so seek advice from those who have been there before! There’s no need to go it alone.

With that in mind, here are the most important tips for writing a personal statement for the university, and to get you started:

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Write More Than One Draft

Many people don’t leave themselves enough time to write multiple drafts of their personal statements, hoping that they will simply ‘come good on the day. 

Your personal statement for the university plays a large part in determining your academic future, so make sure you give it the attention it deserves.

When writing your first draft, don’t worry too much about style or length. Simply write down everything you think may be relevant and you can shape and edit it later. 

Once you have a basic version that you’re happy with it’s time to seek out some advice.

Your first port of call should be your teachers. They read university personal statements from their pupils every year and have a clear sense of ‘what works. 

There may be time or professional limitations on the help they can give you, however. 

They are only allowed to give general advice and won’t be able to point out specific mistakes or problems, for example, so don’t push them for more details than they are allowed to give. Do take any helpful and insightful advice they can offer on board, however.

Your parents may also prove useful readers at this stage. They are the people who probably know you the best and can give you the most honest appraisal of whether the statement accurately reflects you. 

They will probably have gone to university years ago, however, or maybe not gone at all; so make sure you take anything specific they may say about ‘what universities are looking for with a pinch of salt and try and combine their feedback with more up-to-date advice if you can.

Some writing companies can also offer personal statement tips and editing services; which utilise the skills and talents of top graduates to help you shape a top-quality personal statement for the university. If you do decide to use a professional company rather than providing ‘one size fits all’ templates for their customers. 

UCAS uses sophisticated plagiarism software that will be able to detect these ‘cut and paste’ statements.

Learn how to write a personal statement.

Focus On Your Subject

Your personal statement for the university should be like a ‘love letter’ to your subject, making it clear why you are so committed to it. It may also help to think of your statement as a mini-essay, the essence of which should be your enthusiasm and suitability for studying your subject. 

While there is certainly scope for including extra-curricular activities and other supporting evidence that shows that you are a ‘well-rounded’ candidate. The fact is that you are more likely to impress universities with a dedication to, and knowledge of, your chosen subject rather than other achievements.

There are three main points you should think about when writing about your subject:

  • What do you enjoy about studying the subject?
  • Why the subject is important and relevant.
  • Which skills, insights or ways of thinking make you a good student of the subject?

You can deal with each of these elements individually or, ideally, you can integrate each of them into an overall argument about why the subject matters and what you have done to pursue it.

Try and convince them that you don’t simply want to study your subject ‘because you are good at it and certainly not ‘because it is easy! 

Instead, try and focus on what makes your subject important, both to you and to the world in general, and how this drives your passion for study. It is a good idea too to indicate your career ambitions and how they relate to your chosen course.

Know What Are You Talking About

To let universities know that you are a good student, you might be tempted to turn to obscure facts or quotations to demonstrate the grasp of your subject. This approach must be handled carefully, however. 

Remember that you are talking to established academics; you will not be able to tell them anything new about their subject so don’t worry too much about trying to sound clever. Instead, try and sound passionate and intellectually curious!

If you do decide to include a quotation or fact, make sure that you discuss it in further detail. 

Don’t simply think that quoting Karl Marx or Albert Einstein demonstrates that you have a complete grasp of Political Philosophy or Physics. 

Admissions tutors will want to see what you do with the quotation, so only include it if you have something specific to say.

For all subjects, but particularly for those with a heavy language bias such as English, your statement will also be a demonstration of your ability to structure an argument. 

While it is not a test, and the main point of it is to allow universities to get a better idea of who you are, it is worth considering all the supporting material you include in detail as you would in any essay.

Again, while it may sound obvious, it might be worth pointing out that you also should NEVER include material that you haven’t read, or with which you are unfamiliar. Claiming expertise that you don’t have can seriously backfire on you if you are called to an interview and they ask you about it.

Don’t Be Too Distracted By Extra-Curricular Activities

Alongside your love of your subject, you may wish to include some detail about sports and hobbies, volunteering and charity/community work or your work experience and career aspirations.

You should always be careful not to distract from the main point of your statement (your love of your subject and your suitability for studying it) when it comes to including these elements, however. While it is great to show that you are a ‘well-rounded’ candidate with a range of interests, most courses will be more impressed by your enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, your subject.

That said; you may have work experience or hobbies that are directly relevant to your course, particularly if you are studying something more practical, such as Business Studies, Medicine, Law or Sports Science. 

In this case, you should definitely mention each of your extra-curricular activities as they will have a direct impact on your knowledge of your subject.

It’s also possible to mention non-related work and hobbies but, as with quotations and facts, make sure you point out how they have helped to prepare you for study or how they link to your subject. 

Did you learn skills that might be transferable to university studies, such as teamwork and leadership, through the sport of creative pastimes? Or did employment or volunteer work give you a different perspective on Sociology, Psychology, Politics or Business from a practical perspective? 

By all means, mention your achievements and experience, but never forget the primary purpose of the UCAS personal statement: to demonstrate why you should be studying your chosen subject.

Remember These Crucial Personal Statement Tips

  1. Avoid Humour – Because prospective students are so often told that they have to ‘catch admissions tutors’ attention,’ they sometimes think that humour will be a good way to make the tutor remember them. This might be true if the tutor has the same sense of humour as you do – but in all likelihood, he or she probably won’t. A joke or pun also uses up valuable space! (Always remember the critical 4000 character limit)
  2. Don’t Use Self-Help Speak To Talk About Your Aspirations – Although admissions tutors want people who feel they will benefit from the course, they don’t want you to be more focused on your personal growth than your intellectual development. Saying things like ‘the course will be the next step in my path towards discovery,’ sounds vague as well as un-academic.
  3. Check Word Count Again And Again – The Word Count feature doesn’t work in the UCAS ‘Apply’ box, so make sure that your statement is perfect in Word before you cut and paste it into Track. Make sure that you have the option ‘included spaces’ ticked in the options for character count, and if you decide to change anything – even if it’s only a few words – once it’s in the ‘Apply’ box, cut and paste it back into Word to do a final character check before you hit ‘Send.’