What is a Personal Statement?

The personal statement is a very important part of your university application. Admissions tutors will read it carefully and place a lot of importance on it, so it is vital you get it right. Your personal statement will take a lot of thought and redrafting. Don’t worry! Your school will give you lots of support with this.

Your personal statement is a chance for you to articulate why you would like to study a particular course, and what knowledge, skills and experience you possess that demonstrate your passion for your chosen field.

You will be restricted to a maximum of 4,000 characters (with spaces) and can only write one personal statement for each of the 5 courses you are applying for. With that in mind, avoid mentioning any universities by name and if you are applying for different courses, seek the advice of your careers or sixth form team.

What do I write about?

Follow these stages.

Once you have decided which course to apply for, ensure you read the university course webpage in detail. Look carefully at the modules you will be studying and read the entry requirements in full. Sometimes there will be hints into the type of work experience or wider reading they like to see. You could even contact the admissions tutors and ask them what they are looking for.

This is the hardest part but we have a few ideas. Try to think about what the deciding moment was for you. When did you realise you wanted to study this course? Was there a eureka moment or was it lots of little things, and what were they?

• Anecdotes: Start with a story or personal experience. Maybe a family member inspired you to be a nurse, or when you took apart your washing machine and fixed it again, it made you want to be an engineer. Maybe you visited a museum and was moved by the artwork and that inspired you to pursue Fine Art. Perhaps you took an interest in your family’s finances and helped your parents with their tax return and this led you to accounting.

• Amazing work experience: Did you find yourself some fantastic work experience that links directly to the course you are applying for. Reflect on a specific experience from that placement, such as watching a doctor treat a patient or seeing a teacher inspire a child. This personal experience can make a great opening.

Super-curricular activities: It could be you start with an activity that has interested you such as sitting in a taster lecture and hearing something fascinating, or reading/watching something that interested you. Talk about what you learnt.

Remember to be geeky and show off your knowledge. So you could even just start talking about a topic that interests you, almost as if you are writing an essay.

Always keep in mind that you are writing to admissions tutors about why you want to study their course. You are not applying for a job and so talking too much about your skills or extra-curricular achievements will not interest them. The admissions tutors are interested in your knowledge and love of learning. They want to know why you are passionate about this course and what in particular interests you about this subject. With that in mind, the first 70% (at least) should be focused purely on the course you are applying for. (NB: If you are applying to Oxbridge, then you should be aiming for 95% of your statement to be focused on the course).

Talk about what interests you about the subject and be specific. Choose roughly four topics that you find fascinating and talk about a particular aspect that has interested you in detail. Don’t talk about 12 different things vaguely. It is all about quality, not quantity.

TOP TIP: Never say you are passionate about the course, the admissions tutors hate the word passion as it used far too often. Instead, SHOW them you are passionate by talking about what fascinates you.

Although you are avoiding talking about your extra-curricular achievements until the end of the statement, you can talk about your super-curricular achievements in the top 70%. Extra-curricular achievements are ‘extra’ to your chosen course and don’t directly relate to it e.g. if you are applying for Physics, the admissions tutors won’t be that interested in your Duke of Edinburgh Award, so you should leave that until the end of your statement. However your super-curricular achievements are anything you do beyond your studies that directly relate to the course you are applying for e.g. if you are applying to physics then you should talk about the physics taster lecture you attended and what you learnt from it, or the wider reading you enjoyed.

Examples of super-curricular activities are:

  • Wider reading (nothing that can be found on your curriculum reading list; something different that will make you stand out)
  • University taster lectures (virtual lectures count too)
  • Online articles or journals
  • Ted Talks
  • MOOC Courses (This stands for ‘Massive Open Online Course’ and it is essentially a mini-course, in a topic of your choosing, that you can study online. Try www.futurelearn.com)

Remember that you should never just list the books you have read. The admissions tutors want to know specifically what you learnt from them. There isn’t a lot of space in your statement to write about lots of things you read, so pick one interesting thing and talk about it in a bit more detail.

e.g.

‘My hunger for history grew after reading Robert Harris' Fatherland, hypothetically describing the world if Axis powers had won World War Two. It led me to speculate the outcome if other historical events were changed; what if Khrushchev didn’t back down from placing missiles in Cuba? What if the stock markets didn’t collapse in 1929? The hypothetical outcomes are inconceivable but highly fascinating.’

TOP TIP: Don’t include quotes in your statement. The admissions tutors want to hear your ideas and thoughts. You can talk about something you learnt from a book, but put it in your own words, with your own reflections. As above.

A small section of the statement should be dedicated to you talking about your current studies and how they will help you with the course. This can be tricky if you can’t find an immediate link but there is usually something.

e.g.

A level Sociology to a Law Degree:
‘Studying Sociology has further stimulated my ambition to read law as by learning how aspects of society can shape individuals, it is only natural to then consider the ways in which individuals attempt to sculpt society, for example through laws.’

A level Psychology to a Midwifery Degree:
‘Psychology has helped me to develop a strong insight into the psychological aspect of pregnancy. This includes how important the attachment between a mother and child is, and how a midwife can help to reinforce this.’

Towards the end of your statement, you can start to bring in your extra-curricular achievements. For example this could be Cadets, becoming a Prefect, voluntary work, work experience, sports clubs, roles in school etc.

It is very important not to just list your achievements. You must say what you have gained from these experiences and why they will be important to your course. You can’t claim ‘I am a good communicator’ and leave it at that; you must explain how you have gained those skills and why they are important to the course. The PEER method can help with this.

Point- ‘I have good communication skills’

Evidence- ‘Debate Club’

Expand-‘Being an avid member of the school’s debate club, I have not only developed good communication skills by presenting my views in front of a large audience, but I have also listened to the opinions of others and learned how to respond thoughtfully and respectfully.’

Relevance-‘This skill will be invaluable as a nurse when interacting with patients who may be rude when feeling vulnerable.’

The Exceptions!

There is always an exception to the rule and for the personal statement if it is job-related courses.

Do's

  • DO SHOW them you are passionate.
  • DO give specific examples to back-up what you are saying.
  • DO focus on about 4 key things and talk about them in depth.
  • DO expect to produce several drafts of your personal statement before being totally happy with it. The average is about 7 drafts.
  • DO ask the Sixth Form and Careers team for feedback.

Dont's

  • DON’T tell them you are passionate.
  • DON’T try to shove all of your knowledge into 4,000 characters. Quality not quantity.
  • DON’T ask parents or friends for feedback if they do not have experience applying to university. They can proof read for you, but they may not know what is expected of a personal statement. It is very different to a CV or job application.
  • DON’T be tempted to buy or copy a personal statement or share yours. All personal statements are checked for similarity – if your personal statement is flagged as similar to other applicants, it could affect your chances of being offered a place.
  • DON’T lie or exaggerate – if you do, you may get caught out in an interview when asked to elaborate on an interesting achievement.
  • DON’T rely on a spellchecker, as it will not pick up everything – proofread as many times as possible. Your written expression is important.
  • DON’T leave it to the last minute – your statement will seem rushed, and important information could be left out.