Personal statements & applying to uni

10 things to put in your personal statement

By Alan Bullock (Careers Adviser) - 22 September 2014

Student reading on grass outside the University of Birmingham

No two personal statements should be the same (the clue is in the personal!), but there are certain additions that will get the attention of the admissions tutor reading it whatever subject you want to study. Remember: what you write could end up being the decider between you and another candidate.

Avoid the 10 things admissions tutors don’t want see on your personal statement at all costs and take a closer look at these top tips - plus, don't miss our latest round-up of 10 MORE things to include in your personal statement.

Personal statement tips from universities 

We asked admissions tutors for their personal statement dos and don'ts - here's what they said...


 

1. Explain your reasons for wanting to study the course

What motivates you to take this course at a university-level? Mention how your interest developed, what you have done to pursue it or how you’ve drawn inspiration from your current studies. Or, just demonstrate your enthusiasm for it.

“Be specific from line one” (English admissions tutor)

More useful advice:

2. Explain how you’re right for the course

Provide evidence that you fit the bill – not only that you meet the selection criteria but also that you’ve researched the course or profession and understand what studying the subject at university level will imply, and that you are prepared for this.

“Keep on topic and show that you’ve really done your research and know why you want to do the course.” (Sport admissions tutor)

More useful advice:

3. Say what you’ve done outside the classroom…

If possible, outline how you’ve pursued your interest in your chosen subject beyond your current syllabus.

For example, talk about any further reading you’ve done around the subject and give your critical views or reflective opinions about it. This could be from books, quality newspapers, websites, periodicals or scientific journals or from films, documentaries, blogs, radio programmes, podcasts, attending public lectures and so on.

But try to avoid mentioning the wider reading that everyone else is doing.

“If I have to read about Freakonomics once more, I’ll scream!” (Economics admissions tutor)

More useful advice:

4. …Why it’s relevant to your course

Reflect on your experiences, explaining what you’ve learned from them or how they’ve helped develop your interest in the subject – it could be work experience, volunteering, a university taster session or outreach programme, summer schools, museum,  gallery or theatre visits, archaeological digs, visits to the local courts, travel, competitions or a maths challenge.

“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy!” (Archaeology admissions tutor)
 

5. …And relevant to your chosen career

If you’re applying for a vocational course that leads directly to a specific profession, it’s really important to reflect on what you’ve gained from your experience and how it relates to your chosen career path.

For example, what skills did you observe or pick up during your work experience and what did you learn from this? How has it increased your understanding of the profession or your enthusiasm for going into it?

“Reflect on your experience, don’t just describe it. Talk about the skills the profession needs, how you’ve noticed this and how you’ve developed those skills yourself.” (Occupational Therapy admissions tutor)

More useful advice:

6. Can you demonstrate transferable skills..?

Yes you can – and admissions tutors will want to hear about them. It could be your ability for working independently, teamwork, good time management, problem-solving, leadership, listening or organisational skills.
 

7. Expand on the most relevant ones

But don’t simply list off the skills you think you have – think about which ones relate most readily to the course you’re applying to, then demonstrate how you’ve developed, used and improved these. Again, admissions tutors want to hear about specific examples:

  • projects and assignments (what role did you play, what went well, what did you learn?)
  • positions of responsibility (what did it entail, what did you organise?)
  • sport, music or drama (what did you learn from your role, how did you work as a team?)
  • Young Enterprise, Duke of Edinburgh award (what were the biggest challenges and why, how did you overcome them?)
  • Volunteering or your Saturday job (what do you do, what have you observed, what extra responsibilities have you taken on?)

More useful advice:

8. Show that you’re a critical thinker

University is all about being able to think independently and analytically so being able to demonstrate that you’re working like this already is a big plus point. Briefly explaining how one of your A-level subjects, a BTEC assignment or placement, or additional studies such as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) has made you think more critically could be a way of doing this.

“If you’re taking the EPQ, do talk about it, as it’s the kind of studying you’ll be doing at uni” (Modern languages admissions tutor)
 

9. What’s the long term plan?

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 but, if you do, then try and show a spark of individuality or imagination.

“Just saying you want to be a journalist isn’t exactly going to stand you out from the crowd.” (History admissions tutor)

If you’re not sure yet, just talk about what you’re looking forward to at uni and what you want to gain from it.

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 universities are happy for you to take a gap year – but will want to know how you plan to spend it.
 

10. Keep it positive

It can be difficult to get going with your personal statement, but don’t panic. Start with your strengths, focus on your enthusiasm for the course and talk positively about yourself.
 

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