How to Write a Personal Statement
Amy studied at the University of Bristol and is our revision blog guru. She only graduated recently so understands the pressures of being a student better than most, and is here to share her wisdom so that you revise effectively, smash your exams, succeed at school and write cracking university and job applications.
In our first blog post about Personal Statements, we encouraged you to think about why you want to study your chosen university course, why you’re perfect for it, and any extra activities and reading you could be doing right now to demonstrate your passion for the subject.
It’s time to refresh your memory, because this post is all about turning the above information into a cracking personal statement!
With only 4000 characters to play with, you may be wondering how best to format your personal statement to make it resonate with admissions tutors. And if you’re exceeding the character count, how do you work out what information to keep and what to do away with? Read on to find out.
How to structure your Personal Statement
As a rule, 75% of your statement should be about your studies and why you’ve chosen this particular degree subject and 25% should be about extracurricular activities and interests not directly related to the course.
A good personal statement has three key elements which translate into this basic structure:
- Why do you want to study the course?
- Where does your interest stem from?
- What have you done that makes you suitable?
- Why are you a good candidate?
- Hint: This is where you drop in your extra reading and any relevant experiences you’ve had at events/at work/at talks or lectures that demonstrate your passion
Final paragraph (the shortest one)
- What else have you done that makes you somebody who’ll work well at university and be a valued member of the community?
- Hint: This is where you talk about any extracurricular interests like sports, music, and other hobbies, that show you’re a well-rounded and engaged student
How to work out what to include
You really don’t have the character count to waffle in your personal statement. Every sentence is valuable, and every word should be chosen carefully to help you illustrate why you’re perfect for your course. Economy of words is absolutely essential.
With this in mind, you need to be pretty ruthless when it comes to cutting your statement down and editing things out. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re thinking about whether a point you’ve made is worth including (or not):
What is the point of this sentence?
Is it adding something valuable to your statement, or is it just a filler? If the point you’re making isn’t clear, or you’ve already said it elsewhere, either reword the sentence to make it relevant or get rid.
Have I already made this point in different words elsewhere in my statement, or am I saying something new?
As above – if you’re repeating yourself, cut it out!
Could I say this in a more concise way?
If you’re getting close to the character limit, write a sentence in a few different ways to see whether you can reword it and trim down your character count.
Could I use a better word here?
Do the words you’ve chosen say exactly what you want them to, or could your point be better illustrated with some slightly different vocab? Look at an online thesaurus if you think you could be expressing something better.
Just because I care about this, will the admissions team?
This sounds ruthless, but experiences and achievements you might feel attached to might not be the most relevant thing to tell admissions tutors about. It’s all about prioritising information, and selecting a few examples from your studies and personal experiences that will really help you stand out. Try to remove yourself slightly from the process, and look at your statement objectively.
Think about the points you want to make, and select the most relevant anecdotes to back them up. Unfortunately some of the amazing things you’ve achieved, experienced, learnt and read will have to go unmentioned this time around – but your personal statement will benefit from strict discipline when it comes to making strong points and leaving out the waffle!
If you need help working out which bits to cut, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or teacher for a second opinion.
7 really important things to remember when writing your Personal Statement
1. Your personal statement is what will set you apart from other candidates who’ve also got great grades
No matter which university you’re applying to, you can pretty much guarantee that the other applicants to your course will have a similar academic profile to you – otherwise they wouldn’t be eligible to apply!
Therefore it’s important to remember that your personal statement is the thing that will set you apart: it’s your chance to show admissions tutors the real you, and win them over with the passion that grades alone can’t show.
Think about what genuinely interests you and the areas you want to explore further through your degree. Also, what have you done that other applicants might not? What are you particularly proud of? Include your key points.
2. Substantiate every claim you make
For example, if you’re claiming to love a particular area of Biology or a particular author, you need to back this up with evidence of something you’ve seen, read or explored that exemplifies your interest.
Similarly, if you’re talking about something cool you’ve done, explain what you learnt, why it’s important to you, and what skills you gained.
In this respect, writing your personal statement isn’t too different from writing any other kind of essay! Make a point, give some evidence to back it up, and explain why it’s important.
Example: ‘As editor of the school magazine this year I have gained experience writing informative and engaging prose, editing the work of others and meeting tight deadlines. This level of involvement will greatly benefit me when reading English at degree level, and demonstrates dedication, commitment and my ability to work both in a team and independently.’
3. A short, snappy, attention grabbing opening sentence or two is key…
…but try not to make it too cheesy (i.e try to avoid famous quotes and cliches). However, do make you’ve got a succinct and engaging lead into your discussion of why you want to study the course, and how your passion has developed.
Example: ‘My love of literature began at a young age, when the perusal of books rather than toys filled my time. Since those early encounters with the written word, my passion for reading has grown with my exposure to brilliant works from the canon and beyond.’
4. Let your personality shine through in your personal statement
It’s a fairly short and formal piece of writing, but it is a ‘personal’ statement after all, so the reader should get a sense of who you are and what you’re interested in after reading it. Universities want to know about you both as a student and an individual, so make sure your statement shows this.
5. Be ruthless
Delete anything that doesn’t feel relevant. If you have to question whether something should be included, that probably means it shouldn’t. Every time you make edits to your statement, save it as a new document. This way you can always go back through previous drafts to see what you’ve deleted, and add things back in if you decide they’re relevant.
6. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion
Ask teachers and parents to proof read your personal statement, even if it isn’t quite finished. A second opinion always helps, and they’ll also be able to check for any spelling mistakes or typos. Definitely have your final version read by somebody else before submitting it to UCAS.
7. Give yourself plenty of time to research, write and edit your personal statement
Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the amount of time and work that goes into writing a really cracking personal statement. The fact that it’s only 4000 characters might make you think you can leave it until the last minute; but the best personal statements take thought, care, and time to put together.
Start early so you’ve got plenty of time to read, re-read and edit your statement, and give it to somebody else to proof read. It’s too important a document to rush a week before the deadline!
Crucially, don’t forget that your school is there to help. You might have a UCAS tutor, or even just a favourite teacher, who can help guide you through every step of your UCAS application – so make the most of them!
They can help you decide what to include and how to order your points if you’re struggling. Stress and worry is never helpful, especially when you’re trying to study in preparation for your final A Level exams next year – so do seek help if you’re finding the process tricky.