Personal statement checklist #1 Getting started

Struggling to know how to get started with your personal statement? Here are some handy tips to help you start putting it together.

When it comes to your personal statement, one of the trickiest things is knowing where to start. But help is at hand. Here are some key tips on how to start pulling what you need together before you start writing.

1. Decide what you want to study

A personal statement will be impossible to write until you know what you want to study, because it needs to focus around your chosen courses.

However, while doing your research and making your decisions (you can start comparing courses and options right here on Which? University), be mindful of your statement right from the start.

Read everything you can about the course itself, including details of the modules and what sort of thing you’ll be learning – it’ll help you to work out if it’s the right type of course for you and get you thinking about how your interests or experiences fit in with that path.

If you leave thinking about that until the end, you might then discover that you are not as well-suited to it as you first thought.

2. Select your five choices (or up to five)

In most cases it's best to make full use of all five Ucas choices. But if there is only one course that interests you and only one university you wish to attend, then it does mean you can focus your statement totally on that one choice.

3. If your five choices are the same course or similar…

If you're applying for five criminology courses or five civil engineering courses, it will make writing your personal statement much easier as you can tailor everything you put in there to your course choice.

4. If you have chosen a mixture of courses…

If you've chosen three degree courses in computer science and two in computer games technology, then things become more complicated. In this case you will need to compose or blend your statement very carefully so that all five admissions tutors will feel it is relevant to his or her specific course.

Always picture the person reading the statement at the other end – will it make sense to them, bearing in mind they won’t be able to see where else you’ve applied?

If you’re thinking of applying for totally different courses, like three degree courses in law and two in maths, or five courses that are all different, then you should definitely seek advice.

It might just be possible to write a very clever statement that somehow engages with both or all of your course choices simultaneously, or you could just be honest and explain what lies behind your choices. But this is a risky strategy. If in doubt, consult an adviser or the universities themselves for some guidance - they might warn you not to do it, but equally they might be able to suggest a way around it.

5. Top tips for medics, dentists and vets

If you are applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, for each of which you can only apply to a maximum of four courses, you can use your fifth choice for a different course if you wish. There is nothing to lose by doing this, but it's important to keep your personal statement totally focused on your main choice. However, you should also spend time researching your fifth option carefully, in case you need it.

There are no hard and fast rules about the 'fifth choice scenario'. Some courses at some unis, for example in the biomedical science field, may be happy to consider you, epecially if they can detect a subtle reference to some relevant interests within your statement.

Others might agree to consider you if you send a separate statement directly to them. But it's wise to ask them first, as some will show no mercy and will reject you.

This is especially the case if you tried to apply for another professional course as your fifth choice, like radiography or physiotherapy. They will expect total commitment to their own profession and a flat rejection is probably on the cards if you put them as a fifth choice.

In all of these cases, don’t make assumptions. Do your research, check it out or seek advice.

6. If your choices include joint or combined courses

If you are applying for joint honours or a combined degree  – such as psychology and marketing  – it’s important to engage with both subjects in your statement. In this particular case, the two subjects also have some quite strong connections with each other, so it will be even more effective if you draw some links between them.

If some of your choices are single honours and others are joint or combined, or if they are all joint but some of the combinations are different, then once again it’s more about blending your statement in a way that will appeal to everyone who reads it.

As head of admissions at Bournemouth University, Karen Pichlmann, says: 'be thoughtful of the reader.'

Next:

Search Which? University

Find further advice or search for information on a course or university