Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy

Uni applicant diaries: the dreaded first personal statement draft

Ruby just got back the first draft of her personal statement from her teachers. Is she on the right track? What can you learn as you write yours?

I've come to the conclusion that my personal statement is the most difficult thing I've ever had to write.

How can I put across in just 4,000 characters how much of an amazing person I am? Or my 'burning passion' for English Literature, and that 'ever since I was in the womb, I’ve been hungry for books'? 
I can't pretend I have all the answers. But here are some tips I've tried to follow after receiving feedback on the first daft of my personal statement:

Learned something useful?
Get more tips for applying to uni, right when you need them most. Add yourself to our email list.
Our emails are packed with advice for getting in and getting on at uni, along with useful information about other Which? Group services that can help you make good decisions.
  • No spam and you can unsubscribe at any time - see our privacy policy.
    Close panel
    Thank you!
    You’re all signed up. Look out for your welcome email from us shortly.
    Oh, no!
    Sorry, there's been an error. If you experience persistent problems, please contact us at whichuniversity@which.co.uk
    Try again

    1. Don't write a list

    This is one of the things I've found the hardest to avoid. To quote one of my teachers: 'It is not simply the reading, or the taking part, or the enjoyment of such things; but what you have learned and how your thinking has developed in response'. 
    When talking about books you've read, make sure you're not just stating the obvious: 'It was good. I enjoyed it'. Try to make nuanced and intelligent points that link up with your reasons for studying that subject.

    It's definitely easier said than done, especially in a succinct way.

    2. Don't tack on extracurricular activities 

    While these are great at making us a well-rounded person, they can seem a bit “stuck on” to the end if not properly thought through. 
    Instead of having a separate paragraph for extracurricular activities that have no relevance to anything you’ve said up to that point, link these to why you want to apply (or how they've made you a stronger applicant).

    Having applied to Oxbridge, this is really important as their focus is more on your chosen subject than extracurricular activities. 

    3. Avoid over-using 'I'

    This is a tricky balance to get right: talking about yourself without sounding 'up yourself', as one tutor put it.
    Read through your personal statement and highlight all the times that you’ve used 'I'. Then, try to rephrase any such instances which aren’t necessary, to make your personal statement sound a little more polished and a little less egocentric.

    4. Write in your voice

    The language that you use in your personal statement should sound like you. That means no clichés, no quotes, and no language that you wouldn't normally use. That said, there are some exceptions. 
    I generally avoid using worn-out phrases that sound unoriginal (or even cringeworthy). With quotes, there's a bit more leniency. Don't use a really obvious or famous quote - as Einstein once said: 'Imagination is more important than knowledge'. Admissions officers want to hear what you think about your subject, not someone else. Choose quotes which are personal to you. 
    And make sure your statement doesn't sound like you've swallowed a thesaurus. Avoid words that you don't understand or would never use normally as admissions officers can see right through them.

    5. Be personal

    Lastly, no matter how much help you receive from teachers, parents or careers advisers, don't hand in a statement that sounds like it was written by them and not you. 
    I'll admit, I've found it hard to follow this tip. If a teacher critiques a sentence, my first urge is to get rid of it. But if I think that what I’m saying is crucial to my reasons for applying, or key to showing who I am as a person, then I'll do my best to leave it in.

    Your statement is something that needs working at, and it's likely to change quite considerably with each draft. But once it's done (and done properly), it will be a huge weight off of your shoulders. Then you can just sit back and watch the offers roll in.
    Good luck! I'm off to write draft number 23…

    About Ruby

    Ruby is a current Year 13 student, studying English literature, French, early-modern history and theatre studies. Ruby is interested in becoming a journalist when she's older. In her free time, she likes to sing, dance, act and read.

    Want to share your uni journey like Ruby and get some experience with a well known brand under your belt for that personal statement or CV? We're always looking for student contributors to write blogs, film quick videos or snap some pics. Drop us a quick message at whichuniversity@which.co.uk if you're interested.

    Search Which? University

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

    Expert tips for uni - straight to your inbox
    Free to students, teachers and parents
    Sign me up