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Writing a personal statement

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Often the most challenging part of applying to university is writing the personal statement in the UCAS form. It's your opportunity to stand out from the other thousands of applicants that we receive applications from.

We want the statement to tell us about you, and what you want to study and why. The question is, how do you do this successfully and without sounding like everyone else?

We’ve put together some information on this page for those people that are struggling with their personal statement.

What is it?

The personal statement is 47 lines, or 4,000 characters (whichever greater), where you tell us why you want to study what you want to study, and why the universities you have applied to should make you an offer.

Who reads it?

The personal statement is read by someone that is making a decision on whether to:

    1. Make you a conditional/unconditional offer of a place of study
    2. Invite you to an interview
    3. Decline to offer you a place of study

Most statements are read by academics with a role called the 'Admissions Tutor'. These academics are specialists in their subject area. They have normally completed their first degree, masters degree and their PhD (doctorate) in the subject area; they probably research the subject too.

The Admissions Tutor normally will teach, mark, research and do all the associated work of someone teaching. They have to make hundreds of decisions about who to offer a small number of places to. Making your statement stand out from the pile is really important!

Remember, most universities don’t interview applicants and those that do base the interview questions, in part, on what you’ve said in the personal statement.

What should it contain?

        • As a rule of thumb the personal statement should be exactly what it says – personal to you.
        • It should be roughly 75% focused on the subject that you want to study, and 25% about your other skills and experiences.
        • It should detail why you're applying to study the course you’re applying for.
        • It should demonstrate understanding of the subject applied for and the skills that you’ll need to be able to bring with you, eg analytical skills or communication skills.
        • 25% of it can be about you. What do you do outside of the classroom? What do you enjoy? How does this link to the subject that you want to study, or show your readiness for university?
        • The Admissions Tutor will be looking for your potential to succeed. They don't expect you to know everything already but want someone that is prepared to work hard and learn.

What do the people who read it say?

We’ve gathered some quotes from some of our Admissions Tutors who spend a lot of time reading statements.

"I like information in the statement that shows that students understands the subject that they have applied for and what using the degree professionally might entail after university."

"I like to know why the student has got to where they are now. If they have an interesting life story then they should tell it. However, if this has no relevance to the subject then it can put me off."

"I really like a well-structured personal statement; one that's easy to read and understand."

"The best personal statements get to the point quickly and demonstrate real enthusiasm. I look forward to teaching these students."

Top tips for completing a personal statement

Do

        • Make it snappy and easy to read - Admissions Tutors have many applications to read through.
        • Use line breaks in between paragraphs. While you may lose characters doing this, it will make the statement much easier to read.
        • Reveal your niche; tell us if you have a specific interest area within the subject area that you'd like to develop as part of your studies.
        • Present your academic reading. Quote or tell us about a favourite author, researcher or academic who shares your interests or inspires you.
        • Back up your statements with examples and evaluation. How and when have you been organised, motivated, inspired and how did this help you achieve results?
        • Discuss your current studies and demonstrate how they are relevant to the degree you're applying, for subject by subject.
        • Talk about any extra-curricular activities that are related to your chosen subject area. For example, visiting galleries for those applying to history of art.
        • Check spelling and grammar. A well-presented and grammatically-correct statement indicates that you can write for academic purposes.

Don't

        • Embellish the truth. You may get caught out if you're invited to an interview and asked about your statement.
        • Write lists, unless you’re listing technical specifications of programming languages or equipment that you have to use to complete the course avoid lists.
        • Dedicate too much space to non-subject related content. We're interested in your extra-curricular activities that are relevant and because they demonstrate your broader skills.
        • Tell us you 'like reading' or 'like music' – if you’re not careful you can begin to sound like everyone else. It's better to tell us what you like reading and why, and how this relates to the subject that you’d like to study.

Content last modified: 30 Oct 2012

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