1. Don’t do any research
The last thing you want is to spend the next three years in a place where you are unhappy. This is why researching your subject and the courses you are going to apply for is so important.
Think about what you have decided to study at university and whether it’s definitely the right subject for you. Do you know why you want to apply for it? Can you think of good examples to show the tutors you are a superb candidate?
Once you’re sure you have picked the right subject, look at each individual course you are applying for in detail. What does each one cover? Do they include everything you want to learn more about? How are they taught? Can you choose any of the modules or is it all set in stone?
Knowing this is definitely the right option for you will result in a much more positive statement, which will reflect your genuine enthusiasm for your chosen course.
2. Sound unenthusiastic
Tutors want students on their course who are passionate about the subject. This is what will carry you through the next three or four years of your life, so enthusiasm to learn more is a must.
Try to convey this in your personal statement by talking about one or two aspects of your subject you find particularly fascinating, and why. You could also mention ways in which you have tried to widen your knowledge of the subject, and how you explore topics you’re keen to learn more about.
3. Tell lies
Being dishonest about your skills, experience or anything else on your personal statement is a recipe for disaster, especially if you are applying for a subject where you are likely to be invited to interview.
Admissions tutors could easily catch you out if they choose to bring up something in your personal statement that you’ve lied about. This will lead to an awkward conversation! And as soon as they realise you aren’t being truthful, you can be certain they won’t be offering you a place on their course.
The idea of a personal statement is to talk about YOU, and should therefore only include information on what YOU have actually done. If you aren’t painting an accurate picture of yourself to try and get on this course, should you really be taking it in the first place?
4. Copy someone else’s statement
This is a sure-fire way to get your university application rejected. For some years now, UCAS have been using plagiarism detection software to catch those who have cheated on their personal statement.
Lifting phrases, sentences or whole paragraphs and using them in your own statement is against the rules, and will be picked up by UCAS. If this happens, your application will be thrown out, and you will not be able to apply to university that year.
5. Fail to check spelling, grammar and punctuation
A poorly edited personal statement is certain to catch the eye of the admissions tutors, although not in the best way!
While using your word processor's spell checker may be the beginning and end of this process for many students, your personal statement needs more attention than this if it is going to be a success.
Once you’ve finished the final draft, read it through at least three or four times and make any necessary corrections. When you’re happy with it, ask your friends and family members to read it, and note any amendments.
Incorporate their suggestions if you have made obvious mistakes, or think their suggestions improve the content and overall flow of the statement.
You are convincing tutors that you are a great candidate for their course, and will be an asset to their department - showing them you can’t even use the English language correctly won’t lead to a good first impression!
6. Don’t back it up with examples
The personal statement shouldn’t read like a laundry list of facts about you.
Saying “I’m a great communicator” or “I have brilliant analytical skills” isn’t going to cut the mustard. As well as avoiding the use of generic phrases such as these to describe yourself, you need to back up your claims with evidence.
Anyone can say they have good problem-solving skills, but as an individual, how can you show the tutors this? And how can you demonstrate this better than all the other candidates? Try to come up with the best examples you can to support any claims you make.
This is what will help you make your application stand out from the crowd, but remember that any examples you use must be relevant to the point you are making.
7. Omit hobbies and extracurricular activities
These are one of the best ways to provide evidence of your skills, knowledge and personal traits.
Although you may think being a member of your school’s chess club sounds extremely boring, and not something worthy of including in your statement, think about why you enjoy taking part in it and what you have learnt during your time there.
For example, you might mention how it has improved your problem-solving skills, or how you organised a chess tournament.
Make notes of any hobbies, interests or activities you participate in both inside and outside of school or college, and think about how you can relate your experiences in them to the requirements of your university course.
8. Don’t include relevant work experience
This is not something that should just be limited to those undertaking degrees in Medicine, Veterinary Science, Law, Nursing, etc.
If you have completed ANY period of work experience in the past, or have placement(s) planned in the future, be sure to talk about what you have (or will have) gained from it. Again, think about any skills, knowledge or personal development that is a direct result of your placement.
9. Try to be funny
You may think of yourself as the next Spike Milligan, but this isn’t the time to try and show the admissions tutors what a wit you are (maybe leave this until you actually start term!).
It might be tempting to work some humour into your statement, but realise that not everyone might see the funny side.
Keep everything focused on you and why you will be a great student on the course.
10. No evidence of reading around your subject
As mentioned earlier, demonstrating how you’ve expanded your knowledge of the subject is important to conveying your interest in it. Tutors don’t want students on their course who aren’t going to listen in lectures, take part in seminars, etc.
Remember there are a number of mediums through which you can gain knowledge, and not just books, or publications such as New Scientist or The Economist.
Think about the internet, videos, DVDs, documentaries, radio programmes, and anything else you’ve seen or listened to that has helped you grasp a better understanding of your subject.
Try to include at least a couple of examples in your personal statement, and what you learned from this additional exploration.
While writing a good personal statement is a lengthy task, hopefully these points are a starter for how to avoid going wrong.
Don’t forget to also check out our other blog posts and articles related to personal statements, including:
- What Not To Write In Your UCAS Personal Statement
- Writing A Personal Statement: Why You Should Do It Yourself
- How To Write A Personal Statement For Medicine
- What To Include In Your Personal Statement: 4 Top Tips
- How To Write A Law Personal Statement
- UCAS Personal Statement FAQs
- Analysis of a Personal Statement Example
- Personal Statement Tips
- A Teacher's Personal Statement Advice
- How To Write A Personal Statement Guide
- Personal Statement Examples Library
as well as my eBook guides, available to download on Amazon Kindle:
- How To Write A Brilliant UCAS Personal Statement
- How To Write Your UCAS Engineering Personal Statement
- How To Write Yor UCAS Nursing Personal Statement
If you have any comments, questions or feedback on my post, please leave your reply below.
Editors' note: The post was originally published in September 2013. It has been completely revamped to reflect updates in accuracy and the information provided.