10 Top Personal Statement Writing Tips
If it’s news to you that successfully applying to university is all about standing out from the crowd, then you really shouldn’t be applying to university.
The aim of the game is to get those offers, and to get offers you need to make your UCAS application memorable.
But with admissions tutors endlessly divulging advice, almost everyone is becoming an expert at writing the 'perfect personal statement'.
A quick browse through our personal statement writing guide will reveal those tried and tested steps for constructing a perfectly acceptable personal statement.
In fact, if those steps were followed 5 years ago, then your personal statement would be one that stands out in the endless pile that tutors sieve through.
However, these days, that brilliant personal statement isn’t looking so shiny.
As the standard of personal statements improve, a better form of statement needs to be developed to get those sought after places – it’s all about staying ahead of the game.
Your personal statement is there to distinguish you from the rest - it’s your time to shine! Follow our tips, and your statement will make sure you do just that.
1. “Personal” doesn’t always mean “You”
We find this is the mistake so many people make: when they see the words "Personal statement", they think "hmmm…personal…I’ll talk about me".
Unfortunately, they are not interested in you.
They don’t work at the university to be admissions tutors, they work there because they love their subject. So if you want to appeal to them, stop talking about you and start speaking their language - talk about their subject.
Now this can sound a bit radical, and we agree. But you need to make your personal statement unique, and so we're suggesting a new way to make your personal statement stand out.
If you can think of a better way to make your statement unusual, then go ahead.
However, be careful. People have made the mistake of trying fancy things with layout and presentation – don’t go that way! It makes your statement look unique yes, but interesting? No.
Admissions officers will not take kindly to people who write their personal statement in spirals or other strange patterns (we have seen examples of this being done, and it’s not pretty).
Paragraphs are all you need, and a series of well constructed ones will flow together, giving your statement structure.
So don't underestimate the power of the paragraph - use it well!
2. Start as you mean to go on
Don't waste time talking about how you're "devoted to study, motivated, organised".
If you're applying to a top university, the admissions tutors will expect that as a given. So how do you start your personal statement? Well, let’s look at an example.
For a Physics degree, you don’t start with a paragraph talking about how much you love Physics, and that you read loads of books on it etc., because once again, that's talking about you.
What you need to do is pick something very specific in your subject, but something advanced - not covered in your syllabus - that you will be studying on the degree course.
You could pick a topic called Quantum electrodynamics (QED) - you don't need to know what it is, but we can assure you that you don’t cover it at Sixth Form.
It needs to be a reasonably wide area of your subject, not something too specific.
By starting your personal statement talking about a complex area within your chosen subject, you instantly show that:
1. You like your subject
2. You read around your subject
3. You want to learn more about your subject and university is where you want to do it.
What’s more, an admissions officer will be interested in what you have to say.
They, no doubt, will have their own opinion regarding your chosen area, and will be interested to see whether or not they agree with what you think.
However, you can’t just jump into an advanced area of your subject without something to back your opinions up – you need a reference point.
So, with our example, you could choose a well-known book on QED and include one or two quotes.
Devote about a third (or up to a half) of your whole personal statement talking about this one chosen area, which should be 1 or 2 paragraphs.
But it is important to show that you've thought about what you've read about in your reference point - this is perfectly done by leaving a few open questions.
Getting the admissions officer to think how they would answer your question is a big help. If you get them thinking, you get them remembering.
Whatever you do, don't sound menacing or challenging - you don’t want to get the tutor all worked up and angry at your controversial views.
Just make it sound like you are hugely interested in your subject, but can not understand it without their expert help, and you would like to spend the next 3 years discussing these matters and others like it with similar minded individuals.
3. Include a great opening sentence
Starting with something funny, interesting, unusual or surprising will give a good first impression, but make sure you don't overthink it.
The perfect opening sentence will come to you eventually, even if you have already worked hours and hours on your personal statement. So try to give it time, and let the right words come to you.
If you need some inspiration, take a look at our personal statement examples to see how previous UCAS applicants chose to open theirs.
4. Showcase your strengths
You are trying to sell yourself to the university in a very small amount of space. A perfect product proposer is all about how great that thing is, and it’s the same with your personal statement.
You should write about your experiences, your knowledge and your future plans.
Don't write, “I wanted to learn Latin but gave up after a few weeks” or “I am not very good at Chemistry, but I hate it anyway.”
5. Think about your future
Mention what your longer term goals are if you can do it in an interesting way and you’ve got a specific path in mind. If you do, then try to show a spark of individuality or imagination.
Just saying that you want to be an accountant won't make your application stand out from the crowd.
If you’re not sure yet, just talk about what you’re looking forward to at uni and what you want to gain from your course or from university life.
If you’re applying for deferred entry, do mention your gap year plans if you’ve made a firm decision to take a year out. Most courses are happy for you to take a gap year – but they will want to know, briefly, how you plan to spend it.
6. Round off with a memorable conclusion
Now you're either a third or halfway through and if all’s well you've got the officer sitting there, interested - they can connect with you because you are asking the questions that they probably asked at your age - you are talking their language.
It's then time to show yourself off: at this stage it's time to drop in a few book titles that you've read, maybe touch on other areas of your course that interest you.
Here you can actually briefly mention how you want to continue your learning, and university is the ideal environment to get your queries answered and to feed your desire to understand their subject.
You can now have a paragraph (a short one, mind you) to sell the rest of yourself. Talk about your interests other than your subject - try and think of the unique and unusual.
For example, if you did Fencing every week for 6 months, you could say "I enjoy experiencing the arts, and have even tried my hand at the martial art of Fencing".
So not only have you told them you have done Fencing, you have shown you enjoy other arts such as Music, Art and Drama.
Then you're left with 2 or 3 lines, and all there is left to do is think of something memorable (but not arrogant), that sums up why you should be given a place.
As mentioned in the point above, you could use it to talk about your plans for the future and your career.
7. Don't lie
Do not write that you are fluent in Spanish if you can only say “Hello” in Spanish.
Do not write that you are good at problem-solving if your only example is a trick of carrying five bottles in one hand.
There is no need to create a false image, and indeed the truth will always come out sooner or later. So only say you are good at something if you really are!
8. Complete a first draft
With all the above advice in mind, put together a rough first draft. Our personal statement template will help you with this, which you can save and come back to later.
Remember - it doesn't need to be perfect yet. You'll have plenty of time to redraft it later.
The important thing is just to have something written down to start with. You can then read through it and see what you've missed.
Don't worry about word count at this stage. While you only have 4,000 characters to work with, it's better that you've got too much material at this stage, than not enough.
After all, it's much easier to remove content than add more to bulk it out.
Our personal statement length checker will help you cut your statement down so you're within the character limit.
9. Proofread your statement
Show your statement to your parents, teachers, friends, and anyone else you think might be able to help.
The more people you show it to, the more feedback you will get, and the better the final version will be.
Of course, some advice will be better than others, but it is easier to ask many people first, and differentiate later.
Incorporate each piece of feedback into your statement (if you think it improves it), before doing a final read through and polish. Remember - don't just rely on spellchecker to do this job for you!
10. Give it your own voice
While it's helpful to look at some personal statement examples for inspiration, make sure your personal statement sounds like you (and not somebody else!).
Your statement should be original and unique, as this is the only way you can hope to stand out from all the other applicants.
For more information and advice, please see:
- Personal Statement FAQs
- Analysis Of A Personal Statement Example
- Personal Statement Editing Services
- Personal Statement Timeline
- Writing Tips From A Teacher
Best of luck with your personal statement!