Personal statement FAQs
We've gone through some of the most commonly asked personal statement questions and put all the answers in one place
Your personal statement is a big part of your uni application. It's where you can sell yourself and show universities why they should give you a place. Read on to find out how they should be written an what sort of things to include.
When should I start writing my personal statement?
It’s never too early to start thinking about it! However, you'll need a good idea of what course you’re going to apply for before you launch into writing it. On the other hand, don’t leave it too late as it's quite a long process and you're likely to have quite a few drafts before reaching your final.
Remember, your referee will need to see your personal statement before they can write your reference. As a general guide start jotting down a few ideas during the summer and start writing it when you arrive back to school/college.
If you're applying to Oxbridge, or for medicine, dentistry or veterinary science, your application needs to be completed by the 15 October UCAS deadline.
How long can the personal statement be?
There’s no word limit, if that’s what you’re asking. Statements are limited to:
- 4000 characters (including spaces) OR,
- 47 lines of 95 characters (inc spaces) per line,
whichever is the shorter.
Be aware that software such as Microsoft Word may not give a character or line count that completely matches what the UCAS form says. The character count should be reasonably accurate, but the line limit is more difficult (because any lines longer than 95 characters including spaces are wrapped onto the next line).
The only way to be 100% sure what the character and line counts are is to copy your draft statement into your online UCAS form, but be careful not to submit it unless you're sure it's the final version.
If testing out your personal statement draft on your UCAS form feels too risky, you can get a good indication of where you're at by using the "Courier New" font, size 8, with the default margins, to estimate how many lines your PS will be. Alternatively, you can use a "Notepad" application with text-wrapping activated, and set a right margin (in "Gedit" on Linux, among others, or the window's edge, in "Notepad" on Windows) at 95 characters to display a lot more accurately how many lines are used.
If you've left a line between paragraphs (which you should, to make it much easier to read) then you will probably reach the line limit before the character limit.
Where do I start?
Most people won’t be able to just start writing the statement off the top of their head – so it’s a good idea to jot down a few notes first. The main things to think about are:
- What do I want to study? (if you can't answer this, you should probably concentrate on working this out, before writing your personal statement).
- Why do I want to study it?
- What personal qualities, interests and experience do I have which show I am suited to this subject, and to study at university.
Many people have trouble writing about themselves and their personal qualities, so if you’re having trouble with this step, pop down to a library or bookstore and get a book out on writing CVs which will go into this process in much more depth.
What sort of structure should I use?
Most people write their personal statement in an essay style, starting off with the course, and why they want to do it, then talking about their relevant work experience and skills and finishing off with extra curricular activities – though you can use any style which fits you.
As a guide, spend around two thirds of the space talking about your course and how you’re suited to it, and one third on your work experience and other activities. Exactly how you write your statement depends on your subject - generally people write more about work experience for vocational subjects like medicine and law than they would for subjects like maths or English where work experience is less important.
No formatting of any type is allowed in your personal statement (except using capital letters), so any bold, italic, or underlined words will disappear in the preview.
Tabs and multiple spaces will be condensed to a single space, so it is not possible to indent lines. Single spaces at the beginning of lines will also be removed.
You have a very limited set of special characters. Common symbols that aren't allowed are € and the special quote characters “ ‘ ’ ” which will simply be removed from your statement, so remember to replace quotes with " and '.
Backslashes (\) are also not allowed, but will be replaced with forward slashes (/) and curly brackets will be replaced with normal ones.
Accented characters such as é, à, è, ù, etc. are not accepted and are removed by the UCAS form.
What’s the most important part?
Write about your aspirations in a meaningful way. The crucial bit about a personal statement is where you talk about the subject you are applying for and why you want to do this at uni. Admissions tutors will always focus on this bit - so make this interesting and not just a book-list. Your personality should emerge within this - they should get a feeling of what is driving you to apply for this course, and your sense of energy and enthusiasm.
Should I talk about what I want to do after university?
You could, but only if you have a good idea of what you want to do. If you sound sure about what you want to do after uni it gives the impression that you’ve thought carefully about your course and what you want to do with it. It's also a nice way to round off your statement, rather than finishing on less important stuff like extra curricular activities. If you don’t have any future plans, then leave them out – you don’t want to be asked about them at interviews.
Should I talk about my qualifications?
No. There’s already a section on the Ucas form for this, so don’t waste the space on your personal statement. If you have something important which doesn’t go in the qualifications section, ask your referee to put it down in your reference – it will sound better if it comes from them than from you. This goes for module marks as well. Some people are (wrongly) told that they should try and link each A level/IB subject to the course they are applying for. Don't do this, instead talk about the subject you are applying for - that is what matters.
How do I write it for two different courses?
There’s no easy way to write a personal statement for two totally unrelated courses. If the courses are similar you may find you can write a statement relevant to both, without mentioning either subject by name. If the courses are completely unrelated, it may be impossible to write for both subjects without your personal statement sounding vague and unfocused. Instead you will need to concentrate on just one subject and just ignore the other – it sometimes works!
What are admissions tutors looking for?
Different admissions tutors are looking for different things, but in general they will be thinking things like: “Do we want this student on this course?”, and “Do we want this student at this university?” And most will be looking for an interest in the subject you are applying for that goes beyond simply your A level syllabus/reading list.
Remember ,most universities and departments now publish information on applying, and writing personal statements, so surfing the subject section of their website might list more specific information on exactly what they’re looking for. If in doubt google the name of the university, the subject/course and admissions statement.
Is it worth doing loads of extra-curricular stuff to make it sound good?
There’s no point doing extra things just to try and make yourself look good to universities – you won’t enjoy it and it probably won’t help much either. An interest and aptitude for the course is likely to be more important to admissions tutors than lots of extra curricular activities. If you do want to do something to boost your application, read relevant books or do work experience related to the subject instead.
What happens if I lie on the personal statement?
If you aren't confident that the universities will accept you based on your predicted grades or something else, you might reconsider applying.
It's best not to write anything which you can't back up in interview if necessary. Interviewers can and do bring up nearly anything in a personal statement as a basis for questions.
Any last tips?
What have you done, that is relevant to your subject, that is unique, and likely that no one else is going to write about in their personal statement? Many people have similar interests and work experience – you need something to separate you from the crowd, and while it’s a gamble to make an individual personal statement, anything individual you do related to your chosen field can only look good. For example, everyone who applies for economics seems to read The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Guardian. So if you put down those, don't expect them to be amazed by your reading around the subject. Have a think – what makes you special?
And the most important thing?
Finally, remember that it’s your personal statement, and you can write whatever you want on it. If everything in this guide conflicts with what you’ve got already, but you think you still have a killer personal statement, then use that. A personal statement is about you, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what to put – sticking blindly to the formula mentioned here will just stop your true personality showing through.
Tricks to squeeze more in
- Remember it's a personal statement, cut out anything unnecessary!
- Don't repeat yourself
- Cut out the waffle - be concise!
- Get rid of pointless words e.g. the name of the hospital/doctor you worked with, exact dates (just put X months), pointless adjectives etc
- Ask your referee to mention some stuff that you cannot
- Get some structure to your statement
- At the end of the day if you can't get it under the lines/characters you may just have to chop whole sentences
What should I do once I’ve written it?
Get people's opinions on it! Show it to your friends, parents, teachers, career advisors and so on and note down their comments. The most useful comments are likely to come from your teachers in the subject and the people at your school or college who handle Ucas applications. If you have enough time, leave your personal statement for a couple of weeks to a month and come back to it – if you’re not still happy with what you wrote it’s time to start redrafting.
It’s generally not a good idea to post it on an internet forum or discussion board as anyone can steal information off a website and pass it off as their own, and with something as important as a personal statement you don’t want that to happen.