How to write a personal statement

Our complete guide and top tips to writing an amazing personal statement.

How to write your Personal Statement

Whether you are writing your personal statement for university or a job, you will want it to reflect the best possible version of you. It really is about showcasing your skills, attributes and achievements in a way that is relevant to your future course or career.

That may sound relatively simple but year after year applicants make the same mistakes with spelling, format and more. We’ve been helping students secure their first choice at university for over 10 years and have seen it all before. 

We still get asked “how long should a personal statement be?” (answer: 4000 characters or 47 lines – whichever is shorter) or how to start a personal statement. That’s why we have split our personal statement section into two parts: General guides and our in depth Personal Statement Builder. 

Our personal statement guide and builder

There is plenty to cover so we suggest you have a quick read through our guide first before actually attempting to write anything. If you want a basic introduction to writing your personal statement take a look at our quick start guide below.

When you have the big picture in your head you can then come back to the start and have a go at the exercises we’ve included. We recommend that you know how to end your personal statement before looking at any personal statement examples, it’s always best to get your own ideas out first!

Click the links below to be taken to each section of the personal statement builder. Scroll to the bottom of the page to check out our top 20 tips on writing your personal statement.

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Personal Statement Examples & Guide

Personal Statement Course & Builder

Our personal statement course is for those who want more than just the basics available everywhere else on the internet. The following personal statement builder takes you through from concept to finished piece of work that you can be proud of.

 

1. Why is your Personal Statement Important?

2. The Best Version of You

3. Writing Tone

4. Readability

5. Balancing Language

6. Start at the Middle

7. Who do you want to become?

8. Exercises

9. Final checks

Looking for quick advice on how to write an amazing personal statement? We’ve collected our top tips to make you and your writing stand out from the crowd.

 

20 Top Tips to writing an amazing personal statement

1. Have a personal statement plan

It’s hard enough writing your personal statement without brainstorming some ideas first. Too many students try to write the perfect personal statement straight away. Trying to write within the 4000 character limit before you even have an idea of all the things you want to say is unnecessarily stressful!

Choose whatever form of brainstorming works for you, just make sure you don’t skip it! Having everything laid out in front of you makes it easier to see what you’ve left out. Later on it will also help you link different experiences and skills together.

 

2. Know your top university choices before writing

Your top choice courses and university will heavily sway the direction of your personal statement. Tailor making your essay to the main area of academia you will be focussing on is one of the most important first steps to writing a great personal statement.

Impressing the university means showing how relevant your success in and out of school is to your course and future career. Simply showing off irrelevant achievements or not linking relevant ones appropriately is a waste of character space. Still not sure the exact course or universities you want to apply for? Take a look here.

 

3. Originality, not banality

Every personal statement should include the same basics like academic interest, extracurricular activities, work experience and more. This doesn’t mean what you write needs to sound like it’s come from a cookie cutter however.

Yes you need to do research on what works and what doesn’t in your statement but don’t get too stuck looking at example after example. Try to start your personal statement brainstorming or even your first draft before looking at online example statements. This will make sure you personality comes through rather than everyone else’s.

 

4. Showcase your academics over everything else

From parents to teachers and the internet there is advice everywhere on what needs to be included in your UCAS application. You need talk about school, hobbies, your life and career goals to name but a few options. And it all has to fit into a one page form on the UCAS website.

It can be easy to get lost in all the myriad of options and your academic success can get pushed to the background. While you do need to put forwarded a well rounded impression of yourself this is university you are applying to! Universities are primarily rigorous academic institutions so your personal statement should align to this. No matter how impressive other things may be in your life, academics should be kept front and centre.

 

5. Prove your dedication

All applicants will be writing a personal statement, so merely talking about about your career goals and dreams often isn’t enough. Have you gone along to any interesting talks, open days or seminars related to your future career? Most professional careers will have their own member journal or magazine that comes out quarterly or monthly. These will give you the latest news on your chosen career and give you insight into what you’ll hopefully be reading in a few years!

Of course anything you find interesting can be included as a point of inspiration in your personal statement or used as a discussion point in any future interview.

 

6. No tongue in cheek or sarcastic comments

Your UCAS application can be intimidating at times. It’s a big decision and it’s unlikely you’ve had to do any application like this before. Don’t panic and try to make your writing style to casual or conversational. Instead of coming across and friendly and approachable you instead run the risk of appearing immature and unprofessional. Not exactly the type of person that will be top of the list when it comes to handing out university choices!

Don’t let all your hard work come undone simply by using the wrong tone.

 

7. No copying

This should be apparent to everyone but seeing as issues arise every year here it is repeated: No copying, no plagiarism, no stealing. This goes beyond submitting a personal statement someone else has written. Cherry picking your favourite parts from example personal statements and then knitting them together with some editing is the same thing. Aside from the fact it will read badly UCAS software will pick up on copying very quickly.

This is another reason why you need to write your own ideas down before looking at online information. You might subconsciously pick up on a sentence here and then regurgitate them when it comes to doing your application. Too many similarities with online sources could concern universities and cause them to pause or even reject your application. Make sure you double check your work on sites like copyscape to avoid being flagged up by the plagiarism detection system.

 

8. No posting online

What’s the easiest way to be caught plagiarising work and have your application rejected? By making the same mistake plenty of honest applicants have made before you. Plenty of sites, including our own have sections to discuss and share ideas regarding your application and more. If you post even part of your personal statement on the internet then you may as well wave goodbye to your application dreams.

Remember point 7, no copying? Well not everyone is that bright and plenty will want to copy your own hard work if you give it away for free. Posting your work online makes it very likely someone will submit their application to university using your words. They will have no problem passing through software like copyscape.

Now guess what happens when you come to submit your own personal statement? Everyone and their friend has already submitted some version of what you posted online and now you look like the thief. Don’t try to help others only to find your application blocked by your own words!

 

9. Ask everyone

No one knows you as well as you do. Friends and family may not know the intricacies of the career you are aiming towards. A fresh look at what you have written is always invaluable however confident you may be. The majority of teachers, parents and older family will have experience in writing about themselves in applications.

Generic advice about essay and sentence structure is as important as the fine detail you want to include. A third party will be your best bet when asking how your essay reads and flows. Only with fresh eyes can someone give you honest and reliable feedback about your personal statement’s first impression.

 

10. Match what the university is looking for

Just writing a personal statement aiming at a particular course of subject area isn’t enough. Universities pride themselves on the courses they run which are crafted over years of consideration and deliberation. By doing proper research you may find that courses at different universities fall into broad categories.

Maybe your favourite universities have more coursework, more trips abroad in the industry etc or focus in the final year on a niche that piques your interest. If you have this knowledge when writing your personal statement you can use it to your advantage. It also means you get to make a real choice about which course would be most fulfilling for you.

 

11. Get the rough version done first

Starting with a blank piece of paper or screen in front of you is a scary place to start for anyone. If writing or English in general isn’t your forte this is especially true. One trick that creative writers use when starting a new novel or idea is to just start writing! Even if it is a muddle of flowing thoughts it is better than nothing. As long as you get some ideas down it at least gives you some structure and groundwork to build upon. Once you get started we guarantee you will find it easier to keep going.

 

12. Don’t leave it until after Christmas!

You already have enough pressure on you with impending revision, exams and holidays. Don’t add your UCAS application to the list. You only get one chance (this year anyway!) to get things right and get a place on the course you want. A January deadline is probably the worst time in the year apart from perhaps mid-August. The silver lining is that you already know what the coming weeks are bringing!

You will likely want to put a line through days on the calendar when minimal to no work will get done. Either way you look at it from the 24th of December until the 1st of January you will be busy and distracted. You want to have the main bulk of the work done and a proper draft to look over by December 23rd! This gives you plenty of time to relax during Christmas before doing your final revisions and drafts.

 

13. Don’t forget transferable skills

This is the key to unlocking the potential in your personal statement and writing a strong essay rather than one that is forgettable. It’s great if you were team captain, a school prefect and have just completed your Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. But what if you haven’t managed to achieve these dizzying heights?

Within every activity and experience you have done there will be a transferable skill within it. Worked a Saturday job stacking shelves at Tesco for the last 6 months? That shows dedication, timekeeping and an ability to balance school life with earning money. Don’t discount something immediately because it seems boring or irrelevant on the surface.

 

14. What’s the long term plan?

You may be applying for a particular course and university but they don’t really want you, they want the future you, excelling at university and looking forward. If you restrict your writing to only cover what you hope to be doing at university you will come across as short sighted and immature. It may only be a line or two in your personal statement but it is topics such as your career aspirations that separate promising students from the masses.

Beware not to go too far however! Typing that you want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon may sound impressive but you are unlikely to be able to back this claim up. Stating desires without any evidence of personal research again comes across as immature or worse arrogant. It might be best to express your interest rather than claiming that you are definitely set on a particular career.

 

15. Avoid negatives

It can be easy to forget that the reader of your application knows absolutely nothing about you. While you should always be honest in your work don’t highlight negatives for no reason. In fact you should never highlight weaknesses for any reason. As you know there is limited space, why would you use it to talk about something negative when it can be a positive? Make sure you reread anything you have already written for hidden or half negatives.

“Despite not being a great reader or writer in primary, I am now the captain of my school debating society”

This is how negatives creep into personal statements. People often want to show how far they come by showing the lows they have risen from. Whilst you may be proud it is simply a waste of space. The second half of the sentence is as impressive on it’s own as it is in contrast. Remove negatives from your essay and start putting in more reasons why you are the best pick for your course!

 

16. Watch your language

Catchphrases, abbreviations and slang are off the table from the beginning. Anything except good English with proper grammar will stand out a mile. This is one reason why you will want others to review your work. Certain words and phrases can slip into your everyday speech to the point where you no longer recognise it as slang or poor speech.

Take a word like kid or kids. Saying “the other kids at my work experience…” is wrong and a poor use of English. Kid is technically the word for a baby goat, not a young human like the writer means in this sentence. Instead the word “children” should always be used in formal writing.

 

17. Honest is always the best policy

First and foremost, you would be surprised the systems in place that aid in processing your application. University staff have many, many more years experience looking at a personal statements than you do. They have seen every trick, read every exaggeration and have a whole stack of personal statements to compare yours to.

All this means that the people who read your application have become very adept at noticing parts of your writing that don’t seem quite right. This is very important to every university as it is a red flag for future issues. They certainly will not want to be bothered with your lack of probity if they can sort it out at the admissions stage and simply block your entry.

 

18. Take a break and come back to it

Even if you know how to write a personal statement to do it properly will take several iterations. This will mean several hours staring at a slowly changing collection of paragraphs and words. Once your mind gets used to phrases and sets of words it becomes easier for your eyes to scan over errors and mistakes.

You may know the difference between know and no or their, there and they’re when asked but it can be a different story when looking at it for the thousandth time. Giving your brain time to relax will also allow you to see alternative ways to structure paragraphs and get your message across in a more clear and engaging fashion.

 

19. Don’t be a cliche

Are you passionate about your future career? That’s great, so is every other applicant. Everything from set phrases, opening sentences and conclusions are repeated across the board to a surprisingly high degree.

According to a UCAS study back in 2015 the following starting sentence was used by 1,779 applicants.

“From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…”

Check out the official list here for a collection of the most common sentences used by applicants. Although these sentences will trigger the plagiarism software they are unlikely to automatically mean your application is rejected. Instead they are more likely to be completely uninspiring to the reader who has heard it all before. Remember your application will be in a pile of hundreds read by one person. They really are looking for the personal statement that stands out. Any familiar or recurring sentences will mean that your hard work will be forgotten.

 

20. Remember it’s supposed to be personal!

Now you have a better idea of how to write a personal statement it’s time to go back to the start and jot down your initial idea. When you come to write your first draft of your personal statement you will hopefully be working from these brainstorming notes.

Faced with the large amount of detail that needs to be compressed into one side of writing it can be easy to go into overload. Some applicants strip away any emotion or description from their personal statement in an effort to fit in even more information.

This is the absolute worst thing you can do. Emotionless information turns your statement into one big, boring list. Aside from the fact it will not stand out from other candidates applications you remove the personal from personal statement. Without giving any reason why you are interested in your future course and career, and without any reason why you will be a good addition to the university you will be unlikely to be chosen for a place. Personal statements in any sort of list format will come across as rushed, like you have simply converted bullet points into a paragraph.

Aside from your grades there is nothing else for universities to look at when deciding on admissions. Writing a strong personal statement can help boost you above the competition, even if your grades aren’t quite what you were hoping for. Make sure you start with plenty of time ahead and follow the tips and advice given above. If you feel like you need any extra help consider sending in your rough draft for a review.

Good luck with your application!

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