How to write an excellent personal statement in 10 steps
Stand out from the crowd: here's how to write a good personal statement that will get you noticed
Your personal statement forms a core part of your university application, and the sooner you get going, the better you can make it.
You may think that your personal statement won’t matter as much to unis as your grades and experience but a great personal statement could make all the difference between you and a candidate with the same grades.
Sure, your application might not reach that deal breaker stage. But is it something you want to leave to chance?
Here we’ll take you through the process of planning, writing and checking a good personal statement, so you end up with something you can submit with confidence.
And to make sure the advice we're giving you is sound, we’ve spoken to admissions staff at more than 20 UK universities to get their view. Look out for video interviews and advice on applying for specific subjects throughout this piece or watch our personal statement playlist on YouTube.
Personal statement deadlines
You'll need to make sure you've got your personal statement written well in advance of your application deadline. Below are the main university application deadline dates for 2022 entry.
15 October 2021: Deadline for applications to Oxford and Cambridge universities, along with most medicine, dentistry, and veterinary courses.
26 January 2022: Deadline for applications to the majority of undergraduate courses. After this date, universities will start allocating places on these courses - but you can still apply after the 26 January deadline as this article from our sister site The Student Room explains.
30 June 2022: Students who apply after this date will be entered into Clearing.
Want personal statement advice from unis? Check out this video from our sister site The Student Room.
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is a central part of your Ucas application, where you explain why you’ve chosen a particular course and why you’ll be good at it. It's your chance to stand out against other candidates and hopefully get that all-important offer.
You only write one personal statement which is then read by each university you apply to, so if you are applying for more than one subject (or it's a combined course) it's crucial that you include common themes or reference the overall skills needed for all subjects.
Personal statements are especially important if you’re trying to get on a very competitive course, where you need to do anything you can to stand out to admissions tutors.
Courteney Sheppard, senior customer experience manager at Ucas, advises that your personal statement is "the only part of the application that you have direct control over. Do lots of research to demonstrate your passion, curiosity and drive to pursue your chosen subject."
There’s a limit on how much you can write: your personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters (including spaces); whichever is shorter. This may appear generous (read: long) but once you've got going you may find yourself having to edit heavily.
Expert advice: Uni admissions experts answered members' personal statement questions in this video from our sister site The Student Room.
1. Plan what you want to cover
The first thing you need to do is make a plan. Writing a personal statement off the top of your head is difficult. Start by making some notes, answering the following questions:
- What do you want to study?
- Why do you want to study it?
- What is there about you that shows you’re suited to studying this subject at university? Think about your personality, as well as your experiences.
- What are your other interests and skills?
These few points are going to form the spine of your personal statement, so write them in a way that makes sense to you. You might want to make a simple bulleted list or you might want to get all arty and use a mindmap.
Whatever you choose, your aim is the same. You want to get it clear in your own head why a university should offer you a place on its course.
Getting those details down isn't always easy, and some people find it helpful to make notes over time. You might try carrying a notebook with you or set up a memo on your phone. Whenever you think of something useful for your personal statement, jot it down. Inspiration sometimes comes more easily when you’re thinking about something else entirely.
It might help to take a look at The Student Room for some sample personal statements by university and sample personal statements by subjects, to give you an idea of the kind of thing you want to include.
Get started: This video from Dr. Amina Yonis is a great starting point for putting your first draft together quickly.
2. Show off your experience
Some things are worth adding to your personal statement, some things are not.
Firmly in the second camp are your qualifications. You don’t need to mention these as there’s a whole other section of your personal statement where you get to detail them very precisely. Don’t waste a single character going on about how great your GCSE grades are – it’s not what the admissions tutor wants to read.
What they do want to see is: what have you done? OK, so you’ve got some good grades, but so do a lot of other applicants. What have you done that’s different, that shows you off as someone who really loves the subject you’re applying for?
Spend some time thinking about all the experience you have in that subject. If you’re lucky, this might be direct work experience. That’s going to be particularly appropriate if you’re applying for one of the more vocational subjects such as medicine or journalism.
But uni staff realise getting plum work experience placements is easier for some people than others, so cast your net wider when you’re thinking about what you’ve done. How about after-school clubs? Debating societies? Are you running a blog or vlog? What key skills and experience have you picked up elsewhere (eg from hobbies) that could be tied in with your course choice?
Remember, you’re looking for experience that shows why you want to study your chosen subject. You’re not just writing an essay about what you're doing in your A-level syllabus.
Use this checklist as a guide for what to include:
- Your interest in the course. Why do you want to spend three years studying this subject at university?
- What have you done outside school or college that demonstrates this interest? Think about things like fairs/exhibitions, public lectures or voluntary work that is relevant to your subject.
- Relevant work experience (essential for the likes of medicine, not required for non-vocational courses such as English)
- Skills and qualities required for that career if appropriate (medicine, nursing and law as obvious examples)
- Interest in your current studies – what particular topics have made an impression on you?
- Any other interests/hobbies/experiences you wish to mention that are relevant either to the subject or 'going to uni'. Don't just list your hobbies, you need to be very selective and state clearly what difference doing these things has made to you.
- Plans for a gap year if you’re deferring entry.
3. Be bold about your achievements
Don't be bashful about your achievements; that’s not going to help you get into uni. It's time to unleash your inner Muhammed Ali and get all “I am the greatest” with your writing.
Do keep it focused and accurate. Do keep your language professional. But don’t hide your qualities beneath a layer of false modesty. Your personal statement is a sell – you are selling yourself as a brilliant student and you need to show the reader why that is true.
This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and if you’re finding it difficult to write about how great you are it’s time to enlist some help. Round up a friend or two, a family member, a teacher, whoever and get them to write down your qualities. Getting someone else’s view here can help you get some perspective.
Don’t be shy. You are selling your skills, your experience and your enthusiasm – make sure they all leap off the screen with the way you have described them.
4. How to start your personal statement
Type your personal statement in a cloud-based word processing program, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word and don’t copy and paste it into your form on the Ucas website until it’s finished.
One of the benefits of doing it this way is that you can run spell check easily. (Please note, though, that Word adds "curly" quotation marks and other characters (like é or ü) that won't show up on your Ucas form, so do proofread it on Ucas before submitting it to ensure it is how you typed it.)
Another big benefit is that you'll always have a backup of what you've written. If you're being super careful, you could always save your statement in another place as well.
Bear in mind that extra spaces (eg adding spaces to the beginnings of paragraphs as indentation) are removed on Ucas.
In your first sentence, cut to the chase. Why do you want to do the course? Don’t waste any time rambling on about the daydreams you had when you were five.
Just be clear and concise – describe in one line why this course is so important to you. Then, in the rest of your intro, go into more detail in demonstrating your enthusiasm for the course and explaining how you decided this is what you want to do for the next three or more years.
However you choose to start your statement, just avoid the following hoary old chestnuts. These were the most-used opening lines in personal statements for 2018 entry – they are beyond cliche, so don’t even think about it.
- From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…
- For as long as I can remember, I have…
- I am applying for this course because…
- I have always been interested in…
- Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…
- Reflecting on my educational experiences…
- [Subject] is a very challenging and demanding [career/profession/course]…
- Academically, I have always been…
- I have always wanted to pursue a career in…
- I have always been passionate about…
Why might your personal statement get rejected? This video from The Student Room has more advice.
5. Focus your writing on why you've chosen that subject
So you’ve got your intro done – time to nail the rest of it. Bear in mind that you’ve got to be a little bit careful when following a personal statement template. It’s easy to fall into the trap of copying someone else’s style, and in the process lose all of your own voice and personality from your writing.
But there is a rough order that you can follow, which should help keep you in your flow.
After your opening paragraph or two, get into any work experience (if you’ve got it). Talk about extracurriculars: anything you've done which is relevant to the subject can go here – hobbies, interests, volunteering. Touch on your career aspirations – where do you want this course to take you?
Next, show your enthusiasm for your current studies. Cite some specific examples of current work that you enjoyed. Show off your relevant skills and qualities by explaining how you’ve used these in the past. Make sure you’re giving real-world examples here, not just vague assertions like “I’m really organised and motivated”. Try to use examples that are relevant.
Follow this up with something about you as a person. Talk about non-academic stuff that you like to do, but link it in some way with the course, or with how it shows your maturity for dealing with uni life.
Round it all off by bringing your main points together, including a final emphasis of your commitment to studying this particular course.
6. How long should a personal statement be?
You've got to work to a very specific limit when writing your personal statement. In theory you could use up to 4,000 characters – but you’re probably more likely to be limited by the line count. That's because it's a good idea to put line breaks in between your paragraphs (to make it more readable) and you only get a maximum of 47 lines. With this in mind, 3,500 characters is a more realistic limit.
But when you’re getting started you should ignore these limits completely. At first, you just want to get down everything that you feel is important. You'll probably end up with something that is far too long, but that's fine. This is where you get to do some polishing and pruning.
Keep the focus of your piece on the course you’re applying for, why you want to do it and why you’re perfectly suited to it. Look through what you’ve written so far – have you got the balance right? Chop out anything that goes on a bit, as you want each point to be snappy and succinct.
7. Keep it simple
Editing your statement isn’t just about hitting a character count. You need to also make sure your writing is doing its job: explaining why you want to do the course and why you’re right for it.
Simplicity is the key here. Aim for short, punchy sentences that get your point across. Keep reminding yourself that you are not writing an essay. What matters are the facts – get these across clearly and avoid the temptation to embroider your writing with flowery language.
As a guide, spend around 60% of the space talking about your course, why you want to do it and how you’re suited to it, 30% on your work experience and any other activities that are relevant to your subject and 10% on your career aspirations.
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.
Want more help? Manisha talks personal statements in this video from The Student Room.
8. Smart ways to end your personal statement
Writing a closing line that you’re happy with can feel as tricky as coming up with your opener. What you’re looking for here is a sign-off that is bold and memorable. The final couple of sentences in your statement give you the opportunity to emphasise all the good stuff you’ve already covered.
Use this space to leave the reader in no doubt as to what an excellent addition you would be to their university. Pull together all your key points and – most importantly – address the central question that your personal statement should answer: why should you get a place on the course?
9. Make sure your personal statement has no mistakes
Now you’ve got a personal statement you’re happy with, you need to make sure there are no mistakes.
Check it, check it a second time, then check it again.
Once you’ve done that, get someone else to check it, too.
You will be doing yourself a massive disservice if you send through a personal statement with spelling and/or grammatical errors. You’ve got months to put this together so there really is no excuse for sending through something that looks like a rush job.
Ask your teachers to look at it, and be prepared to accept their feedback without getting defensive. They will have seen many personal statements before; use what they tell you to make yours even better. You’ve also got another chance here to look through the content of your personal statement, so you can make sure the balance is right. Make sure your focus is very clearly on the subject you are applying for and why you want to study it.
Don’t post your personal statement on the internet or social media where anyone can see it. You will get picked up by the Ucas plagiarism checker. Similarly, don't copy any that you find online.
Instead, now is a good time to make your parents feel useful. Read your personal statement out to them and get them to give you feedback.
Or try printing it out and mixing it up with a few others (you can find sample personal statements on The Student Room). Get them to read them all and then try to pick yours out. If they can't, perhaps there's not enough of your personality in there.
10. Don't think about your personal statement for a whole week
If you followed the advice at the very start of this guide, you’ve started your personal statement early. Good job! There are months before you need to submit it. Use one of these weeks to forget about your personal statement completely.
Get on with other things – anything you like. Just don’t go near your statement. Give it a whole week and then open up the document again and read through it with fresh eyes. You’ll gain a whole new perspective on what you’ve written and will be well placed to make more changes, if needed.
10 steps to your ideal personal statement
In summary, here are the ten steps you should follow to create the perfect personal statement.
Personal statement dos and don'ts
- Remember that your personal statement is your personal statement, not an article written about your intended field of study. It should tell the reader about you, not about the subject.
- Only put in things that you’re prepared to talk about at the interviews.
- Give convincing reasons for why you want to study the course – more than just "enjoying the subject" (this should be a given).
- For very competitive courses, find out as much as you can about the nature of the course and try to make your personal statement relevant to this.
- Be reflective. If you make a point like 'I like reading', 'I travelled abroad', say what you got from it.
- Go through the whole thing checking your grammar and your spelling. Do this at least twice. It doesn’t matter if you’re not applying to an essay-based course – a personal statement riddled with spelling mistakes is just going to irritate the reader, which is the last thing you want to do. If this is something you find difficult then have someone look over it for you.
- Leave blank lines between your paragraphs. It’s easier for the reader to get through your personal statement when it’s broken into easily digestible chunks. Remember that they’re going to be reading a lot of these! Make yours easy to get through.
- Get someone else's opinion on your statement. Read it out to family or friends. Share it with your teacher. Look for feedback wherever you can find it, then act upon it.
- Don’t write it like a letter. Kicking off with a greeting such as "Dear Sir/Madam" not only looks weird, it also wastes precious space.
- Don’t make jokes. This is simply not the time – save them for your first night in the union.
- Don’t criticise your current school or college or try to blame teachers for any disappointing grades you might have got.
- Be afraid of details – if you want your PS to be personal to you that means explaining exactly which bits of work or topics or activities you've taken part in/enjoyed. It's much more compelling to read about one or two detailed examples than a paragraph that brushes over five or six.
- Just list what you're doing now. You should pull out the experiences that are relevant to the courses which you're applying to.
- Mention skills and activities without giving examples of when they have been demonstrated by you or what you learnt from them. Anyone can write "I have great leadership skills" in a PS, actually using a sentence to explain when you demonstrated good leadership skills is much rarer and more valuable.
- Refer to experiences that took place before your GCSEs (or equivalent).
- Give explanations about medical or mental health problems. These should be explained in your reference, not your PS.
- Apply for too many different courses, making it difficult to write a convincing personal statement which supports the application.
- Write a statement specific to just one institution, unless you're only applying to that one choice.
- Copy and paste the statement from somewhere else! This means do not plagiarise. All statements are automatically checked for plagiarism by Ucas. Those that are highlighted by the computer system are checked manually by Ucas staff. If you’re found to have plagiarised parts of your statement, the universities you apply to will be informed and it could jeopardise your applications.