Most people find starting their statement to be the most difficult, and a blank piece of paper or computer screen can be horribly intimidating. 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, rather than writing a PS)
- Why do I want to study it?
- What personal qualities, interests and experience do I have which show I am suited to study this subject at university?
- What are my other interests and skills?
These are the main things to start with. If this still doesn’t help, you can look at a few more detailed starting points. 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 bookshop and get a book out on writing CVs, which will go into this process in much more depth.
Something that has helped others is to put these headings down on a piece of paper, in a rough table, and to carry that piece of paper around. Every time you think of something, you can write it down before you forget about it. I always found that inspiration struck me as I was walking to sixth form. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to write it down, I'd forgotten it! Carry paper with you wherever you go!
Turning Your Notes Into A Personal Statement
By this point, you've hopefully worked out what it is you want to study, and you've made some basic notes on what you want to include. Hopefully, it should get progressively easier from this point onwards. When writing a personal statement, there are certain things you want to include/leave out, and lots of important things to think about.
Things to consider
- You've got 47 lines and 4000 characters (including spaces). If you leave lines between paragraphs - which you should - then 3500 characters is a more realistic limit.
- Get your personal statement typed up on a word-processor, for example Microsoft Word. Then copy and paste it onto your form on the UCAS website - this allows you to 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.)
- Have a backup of the file containing your personal statement in a different place from your original statement file, for example on a disc.
- Bear in mind that extra spaces (e.g. at the beginnings of paragraphs as indentation) are removed on UCAS.
What should you include?
A basic list, which is by no means conclusive is:
- Interest in the course: Why do you want to spend three years studying this subject at University level
- What you've done outside your A-level syllabus or outside school that demonstrates this interest : fairs/exhibitions, public lectures, voluntary work that is relevant to your subject and shows you are thinking beyond the A level syllabus
- Relevant work experience (non-vocational courses like English won't require this)
- 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 interest/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 have made to you
- Plans for a gap year if deferring entry.
What’s the most important part?
Why do I want to study this subject at University? If your PS doesn't answer this simple question above all else, then start again.
Many universities now publish their admissions criteria for each subject online. Here are the admission statements for one leading university by subject
What sort of structure should I use?
It isn't an essay. Start with the course/subject, and why you want to do it, then mention what else you do outside school - relevant work experience and extra curricular activities. Keep the paragraphs (and ideas) simple and to the point.
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, and 30% on your work experience and any other activities that are relevant to your subject and 10% on any obvious career aspirations/gap year plans.
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. Remember that it should be about why you want to study your chosen subject. It should not simply be an essay about what you are doing in your A-level syllabus.
Do not write your personal statement in the form of a letter. Lines such as "Dear sir/madam" or "Thank you for reading".
Avoid jokes. These can often be misinterpreted.
Never, ever, criticise you current school or college or try to 'blame' any other individual such as a teacher for any previous poor exam performance etc.
You must write in grammatically correct, and coherent, English.
Should I talk about my qualifications?
Yes and No.
There’s already a section on the UCAS form for this, so don’t waste the space on your personal statement listing your A-level topics or UMS scores. 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.
If, however, you've done a major piece of coursework on something relevant to your degree subject, you're currently studying the subject at A level that you hope to take at university or have studied topics related to your proposed degree subject then do mention these things. Explain in detail which part of your current studies you enjoy, what you've learnt, how it has increased your enthusiasm for the subject, and any extra reading you've done as a result of this.
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 (i.e. business studies and economics) 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 ignore the other – it sometimes works!
How do I prioritise my ideas?
A simplistic approach is to include anything about the course towards the beginning of the statement, and anything that’s less relevant towards the end.
A very simple structure might be:
- Introduction: Why do you want to do the course, how did you make your decision, show your enthusiasm for the subject - why do you want to spend three/four years at Uni studying this subject in depth?
- Relevant work experience [for vocational degrees only - for non vocational courses relevant work experience isn't necessary so can be left out of a PS if you haven't done any] and subject relevant extra-curriculars : anything that you've done which is relevant to the subject can go here. Also briefly mention any career aspirations.
- Enthusiasm for current studies and specific examples of current work that your enjoyed.
- Skills and qualities: What skills and qualities have you demonstrated that will you need to do this course. Do NOT just list skills though, give examples of circumstances when you've displayed or used those skills - in fact you don't even have to mention the "skill" at all.
- Anything else: This paragraph usually contains brief details of what else you do with your life besides studying. Try to link it with the course oe subject you are applying for, or to having the required maturity to 'going to University'. If you're deferring entry, an explanation of your gap year plans can go here.
- Conclusion: Sum up why you think the university would want to make you an Offer.
Things that will make little or no difference to a UCAS application
- Positions of Responsibility like Prefect or Head Girl. Universities aren't impressed by this as they will have no idea how or why you got the job - and it tells them nothing about your intellect or academic potential
- Expensive voluntary work overseas. If its obvious that you were able to do this only because of your parental income it won't impress an Admissions Tutor at all. They know that you'd get the same experience of 'life' working in your local charity shop once a week.
- Work experience that you only got because of your parent's job or social status. Work experience at one leading Law firm might be excusable, anything more than that looks suspicious.
- Clever remarks about leading academics in that subject. You'll just look immature.
After You've Written It
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of checking your PS, especially when it comes to spelling, punctuation and grammar. No matter how good the content of your PS, if it reads like it was written by a 10-year old, it won't reflect very well on your ability to cope with a degree.
It's also important to check the balance of your personal statement. A common mistake is to write too much about your extra curricular activities or about your current subjects and not to explain clearly what you like about the subject you plan to study for the next 3+ years of your life.
Compare what you've produced against your notes and/or plan (you did do these, didn't you?). If it's deviated significantly, is this for the better, or has it made your statement worse than it could have been? Did you miss anything out that you wanted to include?
If you can't find a willing victim to proofread your statement, don't forget that TSR offers the PS Help service where you can post your statement for confidential checking and advice.
Anything else that should be added to the list? Let us know in the comments. We hope you find this article useful. If you've got any comments on how we can make it even better, please add them to our articles feedback thread.
All personal statement articles
Article by TSR User on Thursday 15 February 2018
Writing the Personal Statement
This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
Contributors:Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 02:18:40
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:
1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:
This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
2. The response to very specific questions:
Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don't include some subjects
- There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast.