How to write your personal statement in three steps

29 Sep 2021
Person writing in a notepad with a pencil, pencil sharpenings on the paper

The personal statement – your opportunity to bring yourself to life for universities to showcase your talents and your potential to soar on their course.

So, no pressure then.

Personal statements can seem really daunting, but remember thousands of people successfully write one every year to get into university, and you definitely can too. If you’re at any stage of working on a personal statement here are some ideas for how to approach it when it is feeling overwhelming. There is no right or wrong way to go about writing a personal statement so go with what feels best for you.

Step One: Revisit the course information

Notepad with notes

Key to a personal statement is showing that you know what the course you really want to do is all about. To do this, take a minute to remind yourself what your prospective courses contain, what the focus is, and what study in that field could lead onto.

Open up the prospectuses or websites of the universities you want to apply to and go to the specific course pages. Go through each course’s information page and jot down a handful of phrases about the course that interest you, or seem to be the main focus.

Remember, you only write one personal statement for all of your choices, so even if you are applying for Theology at one university and Sport Coaching somewhere else, your personal statement will need to be applicable to all.

Hint:

If you are applying to lots of different courses, look for the common skills that you might need for both, such as communication, critical analysis, or open-mindedness. Also, reflect back on why you are interested in diverse courses in the first place and again look for commonalities – if you’re a sporty theologian, maybe you are interested in rituals and traditions both religious and sporting.

Step Two: It’s all about you

Notepad and paper

Set aside your list of what universities are saying about the courses you are applying to and just think about you. Your achievements, your hobbies, your work experience, volunteering you have done, your dreams for the future, what excites you about going to university.

Don’t restrict yourself, sell yourself short, or think that you haven’t done anything important. Forget about modesty for a minute and do a giant mind map of everything that is great about you.

Step Three: Match them up

Notepad and paper

Take the list of what the university courses are all about and put it side by side with what makes you amazing. Try to establish links between the 'you' mindmap and the one of what the courses have to offer, so that you have a context in which to mention your achievements.

If you’re applying for Musical Theatre and on the list about courses, you had written down ‘explore how performance impacts audiences’ and you busk with a group of friends, make the connection! Talk about how you feel when you see how your music affects your audience, or how you make your performances have the most impact for the passing crowd. You’re showing off something you do in your spare time and demonstrating an awareness of the course in one swoop.

Top tips

Work(sheet) it out

Our lovely Schools and Colleges team have made you a worksheet to help guide you through this process of a personal statement. They literally travel around the country delivering talks on this exact subject, so you know this is solid stuff. Give the Personal Statement worksheet a try.

Themes for the structural win

If you are struggling with a structure, perhaps have a look at your pairs you created above. Are there any common themes you could use to help structure your personal statement?

Just write

Get out of your own way. Don’t edit yourself as you write. Own the fact that you are not producing the best thing ever as you write it for the first time, just write. The power of the personal statement is in the editing, polishing, editing and polishing (repeat as necessary).

Remember that you are trying to get into university

You definitely want to show off your skills and your past experiences that make you a great candidate for Underwater Basket Weaving at the University of Atlantis or whatever it is. However, you want to make sure that you demonstrate that you are not a finished product. You’re keen to learn more, push yourself further and develop your skills. Grovelling is a no no but make sure you communicate how your experience at university can help you to achieve your career dreams or engage in an academic community you are passionate about. 

Type and edit on a separate document

Don’t draft your personal statement straight into the UCAS application as it times you out.

Also save often. Write something amazing? Hit save. Stuck with what to write next? Hit save. Mind wandering to which type of biscuits to eat on a tea break? Hit save.

In the editing phase read it out loud

Really. You’ll catch speling, and, grammar: errors, be able to crop those run-on sentences that just go on and on and on for no good reason at all, and see the dynamic words you keep dynamically using again and again in a dynamic way.

Nitty gritty FAQs

  • What is the word limit? Just to keep it interesting, there’s not a word limit but rather a character and lines limit. You’re looking at 4,000 characters and 47 lines to play with. This character/line limit will likely be an annoying fact as you’re working on your personal statement so forget about it in the planning and writing phase and then remember it when you edit. You can always paste your statement into UCAS to see how you’re doing. 
  • What font should I use? As much as you might think Bookman Old Style will help you look academic, or Wingdings will make you seem funny*, don’t waste your time on selecting a font. UCAS will turn it all into some generic sans serif font when you paste it in anyways.

    *For the record, it would not. 

  • I’m mature/international/part-time, etc. What do I do? Exactly the same as above. Fundamentally, you’re a student first. Please do use the bits of you in your personal statement that make you unique, whether that’s skills you gained from the workforce or the perspective you have coming from Peru.

  • Is it really a problem if I copy a personal statement or use a service to write one for me? Umm, is the sky blue? This is a problem. UCAS checks every personal statement against ever other one and a plagiarised one will be flagged. You are better than that. You can write this thing and you do have plenty to write about.

Leave it alone

Once you submit your application (hooray!) stop reading your personal statement. It is gone, you can’t change it. The exception to this ‘don’t read once you submit rule’ is if you get invited to interview or audition. Have a read of it before your interview to remind yourself what you wrote as your interviewers may well bring it up. In the same vein if you think you might be too uncomfortable talking about how your dog impressions that are renowned with the family at Christmas have inspired you to study Drama, don’t write it.

You can do it!

Cheesy but true, believe in yourself. That stands both for the content of what you are writing and the very act of writing your personal statement. You can do it and keep it in perspective; you’re doing this all for the bigger purpose of getting you onto the next amazing step of your life.

Have some questions?

Feel free to get in touch with us on Live Chat (that purple button that says ‘Ask’). It’s real people at the other end and we’re always happy to hear from you.

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