Personal statements & applying to uni

10 things NOT to put in your personal statement

By Alan Bullock (Careers Adviser) - 05 September 2014

Students walking on university campus

University admissions tutors read hundreds of personal statements from students each year – so what is it that they really don’t want to see in there?

Well, a bunch of them have told us their pet hates - if you’re serious about going to uni, read 10 things you should put in your personal statement, and steer well clear of these…

Plus, don't miss our latest round-up of 10 MORE personal statement don'ts and our checklists to help you get started and get you writing your personal statement
 

Personal statement don'ts from universities 

We headed to uni campuses to ask tutors themselves what their top personal statement pitfalls are (as well as what they DO want to see)... 

1. Quotes from other people

It’s your voice they want to hear - not Shakespeare, Einstein, Paul Britton, Martin Luther King, David Attenborough, Descartes or Napoleon’s. So don’t put a quote in unless it’s really necessary to make a critical point. It’s a waste of your word count.

'So many people use the same quotes and the worst scenario is when it comes right at the start of the statement with no explanation.'

'I don’t care what Locke thinks, I want to know what YOU think!'

Or as a sport admissions tutor said: 'I’m totally fed up of Muhammad Ali quotes!'

2. Random lists

Avoid giving a list of all the books you’ve read, countries you’ve visited, work experience placements you’ve done, positions you’ve held. For starters, it’s boring to read. It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you think about it or learned from it that matters. See our guide to writing about experience in your personal statement to make it really count. 

A dentistry admissions tutor sums it up: 'I would much rather read about what you learned from observing one filling than a list of all the procedures you observed.'

3. Over-used clichés

Avoid 'from a young age', 'since I was a child', 'I’ve always been fascinated by', 'I have a thirst for knowledge', 'the world we live in today'… You get the idea. They constantly recur in hundreds of personal statements and don’t really say an awful lot. 

4. Bigging yourself up with sweeping statements or unproven claims

More phrases to avoid: 'I genuinely believe I’m a highly motivated person' or 'My achievements are vast'. Instead give specific examples that provide concrete evidence. Show, don’t tell!

5. Limit your use of the word ‘passion’

 'The word ‘passion’ (or ‘passionate’) is incredibly over-used.'

'Show it, don’t say it.'

6. Stilted vocabulary

Frequent use of words or phrases like 'fuelled my desire', 'I was enthralled by' or 'that world-renowned author Jane Austen' make you sound, well, a bit fake (or like you’ve been over-using the thesaurus).

If you wouldn’t say something in a day-to-day discussion, don’t say it in your statement. It’s even worse if you get it slightly wrong, like 'I was encapsulated by the bibliography of Tony Blair' or 'it was in Year 10 that my love for chemistry came forth'.

7. Plagiarism, lies or exaggeration

UCAS uses stringent similarity and plagiarism software and your universities will be told if you copy anything from another source.

And as for exaggeration, don’t say you’ve read a book when you’ve only read a chapter – you never know when it might catch you out at a university interview.

'If you didn’t do it, read it or see it, don’t claim it.'

8. Trying to be funny

Humour, informality or quirkiness can be effective in the right setting but it’s a big risk, so be careful.

'It can be spectacularly good – or spectacularly bad.'

'An admissions tutor is not guaranteed to have your sense of humour.'

'Weird is not a selling point.'

9. Negative comments or excuses

It can be difficult to ‘sell yourself’ in your personal statement, but don’t talk about why you haven’t done something, or why you dropped an AS level. Focus on the positives!

10. Irrelevant personal facts

Before you write about playing badminton or a school trip you went on in year nine, apply the 'so what?' rule. Does it make a useful contribution and help explain why you should be given a place on the course? If not, scrap it.
 

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