Personal statement secrets – universities reveal all
Want to know how to craft an amazing personal statement? Take some advice from the experts...
If you’re applying to uni this year, you’ll already know that one of the trickiest tasks is coming up with an original and interesting personal statement.
That’s why we’ve gone straight to the experts – the university admissions staff themselves – to pick their brains on what makes a stand-out personal statement.
Getting ready to write your personal statement
Before you even start writing, you need to have your motives for applying clear in your mind. Don’t rush your research.
Take the time to review uni websites, prospectuses and online student guides, as well as attending open days and checking out our university guides. You could also visit the forums for any unis you're interested in on our sister site The Student Room.
Make sure you read the detail of each course and what it has to offer. Just because they have the same name, they will still have varying requirements.
“It’s important you pick courses that you think you will enjoy wherever you end up,” say the team at the University of Cambridge. “Use your personal statement to demonstrate how you will meet the requirements.”
Keep your options open
Remember, it’s not wise to show a personal preference to one particular university, even if you have a favourite.
“You have five choices and you need to be able to succinctly sell yourself to all of them,” says Loughborough University.
No one likes a copycat!
“Your personal statement is just that – a personal statement that’s personal to you” says Newcastle University. “Resist the easy route and start with a blank document, then type what comes to mind”.
It can be tempting to Google ‘personal statement’ and take your pick. But, be warned. Ucas has resources including a Similarity Detection Service which will identify any plagiarised statements from the extensive library of archived statements.
Don’t be like the rest of them
"Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through" says Pearson College. Be sure your statement is a true reflection of you; this will give it a more authentic feel.
“Remember this is your personal statement, not that of your parents or anyone else,” says New College of Humanities. “So write from the heart about why you like your subject, and why it’s important for you to study it.”
Be a pro
Treat your personal statement like a job application, to get yourself in the right mind-set.
"Share your passion and commitment about why you want to go to university" says London School of Business and Finance.
Your statement is a “professional application and a chance to demonstrate your written skills and passion for what you want to study so it’s imperative that you communicate clearly and professionally,” says St Mary’s University Twickenham.
Watch now: University admissions experts give their top tips for writing your personal statement in this video from our sister site The Student Room.
What to put in your personal statement
That first sentence…
For many of you this will be the hardest part, thanks to writer’s block, feeling pressured and desperation to create the perfect sentence. The solution? Get into your flow and write your first sentence last.
“Write the content first,” says Cardiff University. “This is the crucial part. Once you’ve got this sorted it’s much easier to form an appropriate opening and closing sentence.”
Stay well away from clichés, not least openers such as “I have always wanted to be”, “I am passionate about” or “I have always dreamed of” to justify your choice of subject.
“Think about what specifically has spurred your interest in a subject,” says Birmingham City University. “Perhaps that’s a particular experience or an aspect of your studies, for example.”
Don’t be a bluffer
Don’t write something in your personal statement that you won’t be able to talk about in an interview.
“If you’re interviewed your statement is very likely to set the agenda for the interview discussion,” says Glyndwr University. So, unless you really do speak fluent Mandarin or are a dab hand at unicycling and this will somehow help you on the course, don’t be tempted to put them on your statement.
Emphasise your student super powers
Universities need to be convinced that you have developed your study skills enough to be able to study independently.
“By emphasising the study skills your subjects help you develop, you can create a positive impression of the sort of university student you’re likely to be,” says Swansea University. “This can include your ability to work independently, prioritising, analytical and teamwork skills.”
Getting ready to send off your personal statement
Are extra-curricular activities important?
This is always a very popular question on our sister site The Student Room. The key is relevance.
“The academic course you are applying for should always be the main focus of the statement,” says the University of Nottingham, though it adds that non-academic activities can be useful to include “to demonstrate key skills you have developed from them.”
Bradford College agrees. “If it doesn't link to your course, add value to your application or serve a purpose, leave it out.”
Don’t keep the admissions team guessing
If you don’t know why the content of your statement is important, the admissions tutor won’t either.
Make sure you justify and provide evidence for everything you include. Whether that is your interest in the subject, or clarification of your skills, “it needs to be backed up with an example, or an experience you’ve had,” says the University of Chester.
Don’t do a Houdini
Make sure you explain any gaps in your school or work record, says the University of Buckingham – iIf you have left school, what have you been doing?”
It’s not all about the money
“Don’t say that the reason you want to follow a certain career path is because the job is well paid,” says Aberystwyth University.
Your decision to apply for uni is likely to be based, at least in part, on your future career aspirations – but you need to show a passion for the subject that goes beyond making a quick buck.
It’s not just about what you have done
“Show insight into your chosen career or profession” says University Campus Suffolk. “If you have relevant work experience, show universities that you have a greater understanding of your potential future career as a result of it. Don’t just list the work that you did in your work experience, tell the universities what you learned.”
Ravensbourne adds: "Always mention your future ambitions and where you could see yourself after successfully completing the course".
Review and redraft
“Your personal statement won't get written in a week or two. You will need to keep coming back to make it as good as it can possibly be,” says the University of Southampton. “You never know who will be reading it, so it does not need to be clever, witty or funny. It should be well evidenced, have a good structure and be easy to read”.
“Check that each sentence adds something new and avoid repeating any information provided elsewhere,” says Bangor University.
Dotting the Is and crossing the Ts
Check, check and check again. "Your personal statement should be completely and utterly free of errors," says De Montfort University. "That means no spelling or grammar mistakes, as well as correct usage of capital letters and punctuation.”
Don’t be shy about asking for feedback
This is really important – when you’ve been re-drafting your application a number of times it can be hard to spot mistakes.
“Get a friend or family member to check it out with fresh eyes and provide you with a different perspective” says the University of Bedfordshire.
Team up with your teacher
The last piece of the application puzzle is your reference. Having a personal statement and reference that are in harmony is essential.
“A bit of cross-checking or a five-minute slot with your head of sixth form or careers advisor is a good idea,” says Aston University.