Five tips for writing a great university personal statement
1. Give yourself plenty of time
Crafting the perfect personal statement takes time and you’ll almost certainly do several drafts before submitting the final version. This means giving yourself plenty of time before submission so you aren’t rushing to finish.
For your first draft, it can be a good idea to write down everything suitable you can think of, even if it takes you slightly above the word count. Your second and third drafts are then your opportunity to reword anything that doesn’t flow or remove less relevant information if you’re over the character or line limit.
You’ll also need to leave enough time to thoroughly proofread your personal statement thoroughly. Ideally you could ask a tutor, friend or family member to do this for you too – a fresh pair of eyes can often pick up little mistakes that the person writing may miss.
2. Remember your character limit
Your UCAS personal statement has a strict limit of 4,000 characters or 47 lines of text - approximately 500 words. This might sound like a lot initially but once you get started, you may find yourself having to edit your statement down to keep within the character count. This is why our first tip about starting early is so important!
The 47 line limit also includes blank lines so consider this when adding in paragraphs: if you have space, a couple of paragraphs will make it easier for the admissions team to read but don’t add so many that it takes up too much of your line count.
3. Consider why and what
These are the two most important questions you should aim to answer within your personal statement as it shows the university how you’d be a good fit.
Why are you applying for the course?
When talking about why you’re applying for the course, you can cover what interests you about your chosen subject, and why you’d like to attend university on the whole. This is a great place to talk about your interests that feed into the subject you’d like to study and your ambitions for the future.
What makes you a suitable candidate?
The main part of your personal statement will be answering this question. Looking at the course description can help you to get a feel of the skills needed; you can then weave how you fit these qualities into your statement. You should also include your academic achievements, work experience and any volunteering/extra-curricular activities here, being sure to link how these experiences will set you up well for the course.
Here you can also include any personal circumstances that may have affected your previous results (for example, illness or bereavement) but we’d recommend wording this carefully. Reference them briefly but focus more on what you’re doing to bring your grades back up.
Remember that each university you apply for receives the same personal statement so avoid mentioning the exact course or university name.
4. Be enthusiastic without resorting to cliché
Universities want to fill their courses with students who are really engaged with the subject. This means that, as well as learning more about your achievements and interests, universities are looking for people who are genuinely interested in the course that they’re applying for.
As well as linking your skills to their entry requirements, don’t be worried to showcase how interested you are in a particular subject. Maybe it’s books that you’ve read around the subject or an activity you take part in for fun. Whatever it is, be specific but genuine and enthusiastic.
However, university admissions staff read thousands of applications each year so there are a few things to be wary of. It could be tempting to include a quote or clichéd phrase (for example, “ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted to study…”) but many admissions teams find these off-putting because they don’t show your uniqueness and originality. Similarly, they’re limited on time so avoid telling long rambling stories about your personal experiences; get straight to the point about how the experience is relevant to your goals or ambitions.
5. Tell the truth
It goes without saying that lying is a big no-no for writing a personal statement. If you’re worried that you may not have enough extra-curricular activities to fill your word count, remember that it is primarily to assess your suitability for the subject. Hobbies and activities can help with this, particularly if they’re relevant, but don’t be tempted to make them up if you don’t have many. Instead, you could talk more about aspects of your A-Levels or other courses you’ve enjoyed and highlight what you’re particularly looking forward to learning about in the subject you’d like to study.
Above everything else, remember that honesty and genuine enthusiasm for the course is crucial when you’re applying for university. If you find yourself really struggling to come up with reasons why you’d like to study the course, this could be an early red flag. Remember that you’re going to be studying this course for at least three years, perhaps longer, so really consider what it is about the course or university you’re interested in.
Now, it’s time to get started. Good luck – we know you can do it!