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For teachers

Helping your students write their personal statement

How can you support your students to write the perfect personal statement? We've rounded up the best personal statement techniques, tools and resources...

There isn’t a formula to pen the ‘perfect’ personal statement. Assisting dozens of students to write theirs, all of whom are applying to different subjects and universities, can be an uphill struggle.

To save you some time and help tease out a personal statement that’s concise, tailored and one-of-a-kind, we’ve pulled together some easy-to-execute classroom activities, useful tools and expert-endorsed techniques to help.

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Writing a personal statement: tips, activities and resources

Killer opening: the necklace approach

To help with: Beginning and concluding a personal statement.

The first consideration is structure. This tip is an easy way to neatly book-end a personal statement and give it purpose.

Career advisor Alan Bullock explains in our guide to beginning a personal statement:
One technique that can be effective is the 'necklace approach'. This is when you make a link between your opening sentence and closing paragraph, reinforcing and adding an extra dimension at the end to what you said at the start. 

For example, if you started with an interesting line about what's currently motivating to study your chosen degree course, you could link back to it in your closing paragraph, perhaps with something about why you would love to study this further at uni.

How to use it: Bring in a cheap necklace, bracelet or even an elastic band as a physical prop. Get students to read their first and last paragraph to the class (or in pairs) and discuss. Should they be awarded a necklace? If not, encourage their peers to offer advice on how to get one by linking their first and last lines together more closely.

Personal statement builder tool

To help with: Their first draft.

Our personal statement builder tool helps students create that tricky first draft. 

Don’t worry – it’s not a template to copy from. The tool is tailored to the subject they’re applying for, with some quick hints along the way if they’re not sure what to write and to help them stand out with their own experiences, skills and interests.

For example, when prospective economics applicants are answering why they want to study the subject, our builder prompts:
You'll need more than a subscription to the FT to impress. Explain what's inspired your interest and what especially appeals about the subject.
Or for those interested in sports science?
Don't bother with quotes by famous sports figures. Admissions tutors want to hear your personality come through.
This is a great exercise for students to gauge what areas need to be covered, get some thoughts down on paper and a rough structure in place. 

Plus, it’s completely free!

How to use it: Introduce your students to our tool and talk briefly about what they might include in each section, then let them go ahead and try building a first draft. The ‘help’ buttons under each question offer prompts to guide them along.

They can then come back to you with their first draft to tidy up together. They can even opt in to get further tips from us to help refine this down to the final thing.

In fact, we’d recommend getting them to use it for the first time a few months before they start the statement-writing process properly. That way they can identify gaps and fill these in the meantime through work experience, volunteering, personal projects and similar activities.

If lots of students are struggling on one question – talking about relevant experience, for example – you could cover that in further lessons, whether that’s making the most of what they’ve done or how to get work experience.

Show don't tell



To help with:
Selling themselves and talking about their skills, experiences and interests in the right way.

If your students learn just one thing about writing their personal statement, it should be this: don’t tell admissions tutors that you’re a great candidate, show them why.

Career advisor Alan Bullock advises in our guide to what not to include in a personal statement:
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.

More phrases to avoid: 'I genuinely believe I’m a highly motivated person' or 'my achievements are vast'. Instead give specific examples that provide concrete evidence. Show, don’t tell!

How to use it: Ask your class to contribute ideas about what they think the university admissions tutor is looking for in a prospective student. Hardworking? Committed? Motivated?

Then, get them to write an example of how they demonstrate this attribute and to share it with the class. If they get stuck, they might pick up ideas from their classmates and realise that they do have a concrete example.

Look at personal statement examples



To help with: Giving the right sort of practical examples, plus nailing the language of a statement.

Having examples of personal statements, such as this one for philosophy and maths by careers expert Cerys Evans, can be really powerful in understanding what a strong personal statement actually looks like.
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.

More phrases to avoid: 'I genuinely believe I’m a highly motivated person' or 'my achievements are vast'. Instead give specific examples that provide concrete evidence. Show, don’t tell!

Emphasise the 'personal' in their personal statement and that examples like these are for inspiration and guidance, not copying and pasting.

How to use it: Share the personal statement examples in the link below with your students. In a class discussion, ask: which one do they like best? Why? What is strong about each one? What inspiration might they take away to use in their own personal statement?

Alternatively, show them some bad examples (or even ask them to write their own and explain why they’re not quite right).

Apply the 'so what?' rule

To help with: Cutting out unnecessary information (to meet the word limit in Ucas Apply) and talking about their skills, experiences and interests in the right way.

This is one that students will surely love. As Alan Bullock suggests in our personal statement guide for finance applicants:
Apply the 'so what?' test: if you play flute or basketball, can you make that relevant to your future success at university or should other factors take priority in your 47 lines?

This isn’t just about Year 9 school trips or spending a term playing badminton every Monday. It applies to work experience too. Students should explain how this makes them a great candidate for the course. Otherwise, so what?

How to use it: Get students to write down personal experiences that they think would support their university application. Then, in pairs, one student can go through their list of experiences, while the other says ‘so what?’ until the first student can explain why its a useful contribution.

Alternatively, encourage students to read out one of their items on the list, and as a class, decide, ‘so what?’. How can this be made into a crucial ingredient for their statement?

The waffle detector

To help with: Cutting out unnecessary information (to meet the word limit).

For the purposes of a university application, waffle includes, but is not limited to, stilted vocabulary, overuse of the word ‘passion’ and, the big one: rhetorical questions.

Alan Bullock explains in our guide to things not to bother with in a personal statement:
'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.'

How to use it: Create some waffley personal statements (or find them on the web). Get students to draw a waffle on a piece of paper. Read out the statement, and get students to raise their paper waffle in the air when their ‘waffle detector gland’ is set off. Then discuss the waffle, and how it could be improved.

Also, put a waffley statement on the board and challenge them to cut things down to be more precise (especially if they’re using 10 words to say something when they only need five).

Talking about hobbies and writing the conclusion are prime breeding grounds for waffle  check out our respective guides for more advice.
 

Subject-specific personal statement advice

To help with: Tailoring statements to a subject.

Ticking off the essentials is key, but so is tailoring statements to the subject that your students are applying for.

We’ve got specific statement advice for 40+ subjects, including the competitive subjects such as medicine (plus some additional medicine statement dos and don’ts), dentistry and veterinary medicine. Remember, that these subjects have an earlier deadline (mid-October).

It might also be a good way for students to share with each other the different ways they’ve engaged further with their subject, such as events or exhibitions they’ve been to, documentaries they’ve watched, work experience they’ve done. 

This can make them feel a little less alone when writing their statement, but remind them that their statement does need to be unique to them, so no copying.

How to use it: If lots of students are applying for the same subject, it could be worth delving into this in class. It could also be a useful homework exercise to complement the broader principles of personal statement writing that you cover together in lessons.  

Watch: graduates read their personal statements

To help with: Getting a graduate perspective and introducing some light relief to the statement process.

Want more examples of personal statements? We asked our colleagues to dust off their own Ucas personal statements that they tried to woo universities with (back in the day) and read them aloud for the internet to enjoy.



This is a great learning opportunity for prospective students to learn from our colleagues' embarrassments. What would they have done differently now they have the knowledge of what their degree involved? What tips do they have at the end? Watch the video to find out.

This activity may appeal to students who prefer engaging with auditory and visual props over reading (and quite like a laugh, too). 

How to use it: Show the video to your students as an introduction or a break. In pairs, ask them to discuss whether it makes them think about their own personal statement any differently? Do they have similar experiences they can talk about in theirs? What advice would they offer those in the video?

And if you still have it, can you dig out your personal statement perhaps?

Once your students have finished their personal statements, it may be over to you to write their Ucas reference  one that supports what they’ve said in their statement. Here’s how to write a positive and tailored reference, courtesy of our expert careers adviser.

Explore our full personal statement advice, including our free personal statement builder.