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How to write a personal statement: 10 things to put in yours

No two personal statements should be the same (the clue's in the 'personal'). But there ARE certain rules including it needs to achieve, length and more...

Personal statements are complicated. Skip ahead to...:

Can't see your question? We may have tackled it in our frequently asked questions guide take a look.

Firstly, what is a Ucas personal statement?

A Ucas personal statement is like a short reflective essay you write about why you’re the perfect candidate for the undergraduate degree course/s you’re applying to. 

It’s a key part of your Ucas application – alongside your predicted or achieved A-level, Scottish Higher, BTEC etc. grades – and is read by admissions tutors at the universities you apply to, who’ll decide whether to offer you a place or not.

Personal statement examples  get tips and ideas from these examples

It’s important to note that you only write one personal statement, which is seen by all the universities you apply to.

Also, a university personal statement works differently to a personal statement you'd write when applying to a job – so don't confuse the two.

Watch now: How to write a Ucas personal statement
Watch our quick video to get started...

How long should a personal statement be?

You have a maximum of 4,000 characters and 47 lines to write your personal statement. 

That might seem a lot from the outset, but your perspective might change as you begin writing and have to boil down all those relevant thoughts, skills and experiences.

It’s best to draft your statement and get it finalised in a Word document, and then copy this over to Ucas's Apply system to submit it, rather than make changes afterwards.

Some admissions tutors will recommend that you leave a blank line to separate paragraphs, as any indentation or formatting will be stripped out when you copy your statement into Ucas Apply. However, from what we’ve seen, spacing will indeed count towards your character and spacing count.

Therefore, try to find a balance: rather than leave a blank line, try and finish your paragraphs midway along the line that way it looks as if it’s still a paragraph.

Because it’s stirred such fierce debate, Studential have created a Personal Statement Length Checker so you can check how your statement will look in Ucas Apply.


How do you structure a personal statement?

Your personal statement should show how you’ve made an effort to engage with your subject already, what you’ve learned, and how this relates back to the course (and possibly other future plans). This is known as the ‘ABC rule’: Action, Benefit and Course.

See our guide to personal examples for more insight into what a personal statement should look like.

Keep the above in mind as you plot out, draft and re-draft your statement so the things that do this best always take priority. 

While you can use our Personal Statement Builder to create a first rough draft, here's a summary of a solid six-point plan to structure your statement from The Student Room, that ticks off the above:

  • Introduction: why you want to study this course at university. 

    Remember, your personal statement is seen by all your Ucas choices; so don’t make references to a specific institution. Read our full guide for tips to begin your personal statement with a bang.
  • Section one: academics specifically subjects that are relevant to the course/subject you’re applying to. If you’ve taken an EPQ, this is the place to talk about it. 

    This section should make up the majority of your personal statement – around 75% according to some careers experts – but this might vary depending on where/what you’re applying to. For example, Oxbridge are more interested in your academic interests than extracurricular activities.

    Meanwhile, a law or medicine applicant may want to invest more time talking about relevant experience they've accumulated, to stand out from those applying with similarly high grades.
  • Section two: interest in and engagement with your subject beyond the classroom (thus demonstrating your deep interest). This could be through books you’ve read, events you’ve been to etc. 
  • Section three: relevant work experience (paid or unpaid) that has developed either your understanding of the subject, or the skills that applicants should have. To get an idea of what these are, read the course description for all the courses you’re applying to search for a course on Which? University to find this in one place - and see what's common across all.
  • Section four: hobbies and interests  this section should be brief, sticking to the most relevant ones only. It can help you stand out from other candidates (just be careful to stand out in the right way – read our full guide to hobbies and your personal statement for tips to do this properly).
  • Section five: conclusion this should reiterate the key points you’ve made already. If you have an idea of future aspirations post-study (eg postgraduate study, career), say how studying this course will help you reach these. Read our full guide to ending your personal statement.

Get more tips when writing your personal statement further below.

Personal statement builder


Why is your personal statement important?

While many students may apply to the same university course with the same grades as you, they aren’t you as a person, with your skills, experiences and thoughts. You need to stand out as a real person to an admissions tutor, as opposed to one of the many applicant numbers that will pass before their eyes.

Your personal statement is where you can distinguish yourself from these other candidates. It’s where you can fill in the picture a tutor has of you in their head, and where you can leave a real impression that makes them want to meet you, or offer you a place.


How is your personal statement used by universities?

At the end of the day, you still need to meet the formal entry requirements of a course, as laid out by the university. However, if the final spot on a course comes down to you and someone else with the same grades, what you write in your statement could nab it for you.

If you're invited to attend an interview, your personal statement is an opportunity to shape what you will be asked about – very useful if the thought of an interview terrifies you! At the very least, something in your statement could serve as a friendly icebreaker to ease you in.

If you fall slightly short of the grades you need on results day, it’s a distinct possibility that your personal statement could clinch your place for you. Universities will often prefer to give it to you if your statement shows the kind of commitment and enthusiasm they’re looking for, rather than offer it to someone else who didn’t apply to them first time around.  

If you do find yourself in Clearing after results day, the universities you call will be able to see your personal statement. Therefore, your statement can help you make a big impression quickly during this fast-paced, short-notice interview process. In fact, we recommend re-reading your personal statement in the lead-up to results day to remind yourself why you would make a strong candidate – this could be a real confidence boost if you don’t get the grades you need.


How do you write a good personal statement?

Before you start writing your personal statement, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

It’s not a sprint…

You’ll likely go through a few drafts before you get the polished final version that you submit as part of your Ucas application one student shares her statement-drafting experience.

So don’t expect to thrash it out in a weekend.  

Also, check when your school wants your statement finished by, and work backwards from there. This will give you enough time to ask teachers or careers advisers for any help – they become pretty busy around that time of the year!


Start with your subject

It’s pretty much impossible to start your personal statement without a degree subject in mind (e.g. English or biology). It would be like applying to an unknown job by simply stating your general strengths or interests as a person – these won’t all necessarily correlate to those demanded by the subject. 


It’s easier with a few courses in mind

While you could pull together a rough draft while you’re researching, it’s much easier to write your statement with a solid idea of your five Ucas choices (or at least most of them).

Again, remember that your one personal statement goes to all the universities you apply to; so making specific references might not be the best idea. 

You can search for courses for the subject you’re interested in, to get a sense of what a course would involve (ie modules you'll study).


The key word is ‘personal’ 

This doesn’t mean pouring your heart out or emotionally blackmailing an admissions tutor.

But it does mean your personal statement should reflect why you’re the right candidate for the courses you’re applying to, based on your experiences, skills and understanding; after all, these makes you unique. 

Can you guess what the magic word is?

So while you can ask a friend for their advice or look at statement templates, what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.

Any personal statements that show signs of plagiarism (ie copying from another statement) will be flagged by Ucas’ system. The universities you’ve applied to will be notified too. Obviously that won’t impress them and it may affect your chances of being accepted. 


Oxbridge vs non-Oxbridge

Things vary a little when it comes to writing a personal statement for Oxford or Cambridge, compared to other universities (and not just when you need to get your application in by). 

Oxbridge personal statements tend to be more academic-centric and are a platform for you to discuss your understanding and thoughts on material that you’ve been exposed to, within your subject ie theories, works, topics, issues.  

Watch now:
Five biggest personal statement struggles


What should you write in your personal statement?

OK, so you're in the right mindset to start writing your personal statement but what do you write? Here's a checklist of ten things you might want to include:

1. Explain why you want to study the course

What motivates you to take this course further, at a university level? Talk about how your interest developed, what you’ve done to pursue it or how you’ve drawn inspiration from your current studies. Try to avoid overusing the word ‘passion’ when doing so. 

If you want to get something specific out of the course, provided it's reasonable, say so.

Be specific from line one. English Admissions Tutor

2. Explain how you're right for the course

Provide evidence to show that not only do 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. Also, show that you're prepared for this by giving examples, such as having worked as part of a diverse group.

Keep on topic and show that you’ve really done your research and know why you want to do the course. Sport Admissions Tutor


3. Say what you’ve done outside the classroom

Outline how you’ve pursued your interest in your chosen subject beyond your current syllabus and developed your understanding as a result. But don’t just give a long list of things you’ve done; it’s important that you give your critical views or reflections too, so admissions tutors can see how you think.

Here, you could talk about specific books, quality newspapers, websites, blogs, periodicals or scientific journals you’ve read. Or you could discuss films, documentaries, blogs, radio programmes, podcasts and public lectures you’ve watched or listened to.

Also, try to avoid the things everyone else will mention so you stand out.

If I have to read about Freakonomics once more, I’ll scream! Economics Admissions Tutor


4. Why it’s relevant to your course...

Reflect on your experiences, explaining what you’ve learnt 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’s not about quantity and it doesn’t have to be particularly special. The key thing is showing what you took away from it.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy!  Archaeology Admissions Tutor

5. … And relevant to your chosen career

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

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
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


6. Can you demonstrate transferable skills?

Yes, you can – and admissions tutors will want to hear about them! 

It could be your ability to work independently, teamwork, good time management, problem-solving, leadership, listening or organisational skills. Often universities will set these out in the description for a course. You just need to look for them.


7. Expand on the most relevant ones

But don’t simply rattle off all the skills you think you have. Think about which ones relate most readily to the course you’re applying to – another reason to search for your course and read up about it, as you write your statement. Then demonstrate how you’ve developed, used and continued to strengthen these.

Again, admissions tutors want to hear about specific examples, like:
  • positions of responsibility (what did you achieve, how has it improved your self-confidence?)
  • 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 already working in such a way is a big plus point.

Briefly explaining how one of your A-level subjects, a BTEC assignment, 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. If you do, then try to 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 they will want to know, briefly, how you plan to spend it.


10. Keep it positive

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

Try our personal statement builder to get your ideas down on paper, and take it from there.

Meanwhile, our light-hearted video below might help relax some of those nerves…


Personal statement dos and don’ts: summary

  • Do tailor it to your subject, showing your understanding and interest so far (and even what you want to learn more about).
  • Don’t make a long list of things you’ve done/read/watched without explaining how these developed this understanding.
  • Do research what skills and qualities the courses you’re applying to, demand and show how you already have these.
  • Don’t mention irrelevant or general hobbies; you want to stand out but not in the wrong way.
  • Do mention any career or post-uni paths you’re considering; but on the other hand, if you prefer to keep your future options open, then it’s OK to leave this out.
  • Don’t leave your statement to the last minute; give yourself time to draft and re-draft, plus share with others for feedback.


Need more personal statement help? 

Read about more personal statement must-haves to help your chances of impressing an admissions tutor.

Alternatively, you might want to consider what shouldn’t go into your personal statement.

Finally, if you’re still stuck for what to write or how to get a broad structure together, our personal statement builder tool can help get the ideas flowing.

Watch now: Which? staff read their old personal statements

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