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10 more things NOT to put in your personal statement

Our original 10 personal statements don'ts article was so popular that we're back with a fresh set of things to avoid when writing your Ucas personal statement.

Cracking on with your personal statement? In between statement drafts, it's important to check that none of these bad habits have crept in to your application...:

1. Incorrect spelling and bad grammar

Don't forget poor punctuation, either. These are obvious and easily-avoided issues, so check and double check before you submit. Grammar and spelling crimes can result in rejection, especially if you're applying to a very competitive course. 

2. Long sentences

Keep it concise. If some of your sentences are several lines long and only separated with commas or worse, not punctuated at all try to break them up with more full stops.

Read our original '10 things not to include' guide

3. Stating the obvious

Take this sentence: 'In my work experience I learned to communicate effectively with clients, which is an important skill in accountancy.'

It’s the last part of this sentence that’s unnecessary. Admissions tutors don't need you to tell them it’s an important skill that much is obvious. Instead, explain how you learned to communicate effectively, or give them an actual example. 

4. Repeating irrelevant academic details

Your qualifications, subjects, grades and other personal details are listed elsewhere on your Ucas application, so you don’t need to list them in your statement or start by saying 'I am currently studying...'. It's a waste of those precious 4,000 characters you've got to play with.

Nor do you have to write about all the subjects or courses you are taking, unless you really want to. Statements that say 'maths has given me this, English has given me this and Spanish has given me this...' tend to come across as a bit dull and unimaginative. Besides, admissions tutors also like to know what you have read beyond the syllabus.


Personal statement builder | Which? University
 

5. Rhetorical questions and other waffle

'So why should I be considered for a place on your course?'

'Why astrophysics?'

To put it bluntly, rhetorical questions like these just sound patronising: they serve no purpose and waste space. The same applies to waffle of any kind. As a senior admissions tutor once put it, 'we have a waffle detector gland'.  

6. Talking about 'when I was young...'

This is a common complaint from admissions tutors. It can be tempting to begin your personal statement with something that first inspired you when you were six – but unis actually prefer to hear about something more recent or, better still, what it is that inspires you now.

7. Flattery

Some statements have a tendency towards flattery, with sentences like 'it would be an honour to be offered a place at your world-renowned university'.

Don't bother – it's not what an admissions tutor wants to hear. What they really want to find out is what you can offer them (or what you aspire to learn from them) - not that you're only choosing that course or university because of its prestigious reputation.

8. Names of universities

Individual university names creep into personal statements all too regularly, according to admissions tutors (even worse if combined with number 7, above). Remember that you only write one personal statement that goes to all the universities you apply to.

Avoid showing preference for any specific university unless you are applying for only one. Universities may be looking for ways to thin down the number of applicants, so don't make it easy for them.

9. Being formulaic

'Too many statements are formulaic' is a frequent comment we hear from universities.

Following a standard formula or template could mean that your statement just won’t stand out. Yes, there are guidelines and criteria you need to meet, but do be imaginative as well. 

That said, don’t be too weird or off-the-wall in your approach. But don't let anyone force you to be excessively conventional either and don't be afraid to demonstrate your individuality. Yes, it's right to get your personal statement proof-read; but, if you let other people edit it for you, the danger is that it becomes more formulaic and your own voice gets lost. 

A senior academic at Oxford summed it up well when he said 'the worst statements are polished but boring'.   

10. Avoid getting stressed about it

Stay calm.

It's difficult not to perceive your personal statement as a scary obstacle, but admissions tutors want you to view it as an opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the subject along with other experiences that really make you stand out as a prospective university student.

As one geography admissions tutor puts it, 'the reason students come here is because they’re fascinated by the subject – so we just want you to demonstrate this in your statement, along with an extra-curricular dimension that shows, for example, that you work well in a team.'

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