10 things to put in your personal statement

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 to see in your personal statement at all costs - plus, don't miss out latest round-up of 10 MORE personal statement must-haves.

Personal statements - 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 involve, 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

Reflecting on relevant experience or observation will be essential for some professional courses where, in effect, you’re applying for the career as well as the course:

'Whatever environment you’ve been in, what did you spot or learn from what happens there, or what have you observed about how the qualities exhibited by professional staff helped them engage effectively with patients or service-users?' (Medicine admissions tutor)

'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, like:

  • projects and assignments (what role did you play, what went well?)
  • positions of responsibility (what did you achieve, how has it improved your self-confidence?)
  • sport, music or drama (what did you learn from your role, how did you work as a team?)
  • Young Enterprise, Duke of Edinburgh's Award (what was the biggest challenge, how did you overcome it?)
  • volunteering or a part-time job (what have you observed, what extra responsibilities have you taken on, what skills have you demonstrated yourself?).

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 your course or from university life.

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 courses 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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