The UCAS personal statement strikes fear into most sixth formers. Sculpting the perfect personal statement is an arduous an unavoidable process. With approximately 600,000 people applying to university each year, admissions officers need a way to filter stronger candidates from the rest of the pool.
As daunting as this task may seem, it’s also your only real opportunity to share your personality and suitability for your chosen degree program. Follow our top tips, and you can make a success of your personal statement.
Understand the UCAS personal statement guidelines
There are specific requirements for your personal statement which you absolutely cannot ignore. You cannot exceed 4,000 characters, or 47 lines of text (including blank lines) – whichever is reached first. If you do, universities won’t receive your entire statement.
Because of this, make sure your personal statement has a strong, definitive conclusion. It will look poor if you’ve obviously cut it off mid-sentence after realizing you’d surpassed the text limit. Instead, plan your piece thoroughly and give each section adequate attention, time and characters.
Plan your time and write it well in advance
Given how important it is, the UCAS personal statement can take a while to perfect, so give yourself time to work on it. Most schools probably won’t let you leave it until the night before – but try to even be slightly ahead of your internal deadline. The more time you allow yourself, the longer you can take to edit your ideas and strengthen your application.
Choose which universities you’re applying to before you start
The academic level of the university and course you’re applying to will have an impact on the tone and content of your personal statement. If you’re not sure of the kind of universities you should be aspiring to, you can use the UK University Search Tool, which will generate a list of universities based on your UCAS Tariff points. If you are unsure what your qualifications equate to, you can just pop them into our UCAS Tariff Points Generator.
Once you have made an informed decision about where to apply to, you’ll be able to cater your statement appropriately. As a general rule, the more traditional and academically acclaimed the university, the less time you should spend in your statement talking about non-academic activities.
Find out what admissions tutors are looking for
Speaking to university representatives can be a really great way to discern what faculties may want to see from applicants. Remember, universities are looking for the right students just like you’re looking for the right university. This information won’t be written in their prospectuses, but if you attend higher education events, like the upcoming UK University Fairs in Autumn 2017, you’ll find that representatives love engaging with students and speaking to them frankly about the application process. Click here for more information about the Autumn fairs hosted by UK University Search.
Draw on your enthusiasm
You need to saturate your UCAS personal statement with your desire to embark upon this course. Obviously, don’t allow your interest to descend into a cheesy mockery – you need to convey sincerity. Three years (minimum) is a long time, and the independence of university means that those who aren’t really invested in their course may struggle. Admissions tutors are searching for students who have a genuine interest and who will relish three years of education. Show that you’re one of these people.
Carefully select your extra- curricular activities
Knowing how much of your well-rounded self to present can be mystifying, especially if you’re worried that everyone will have the same things to say. If you’re not sure what to mention, a good idea is to focus on extra-curricular activities that tie into the course you’re applying to. So, if you’re interested in studying hospitality, mention any events you’ve worked or volunteered at. This might seem trickier for more traditional subjects, but you should be able to think of something. A math student could share their enthusiasm for chess, a budding geographer might describe physical landmarks and features they’ve seen when travelling, and a humanities student may be able to give examples of writing they’ve had published.
Avoid rambling and vacuous statements
You only have 4,000 characters to persuade admissions tutors why you are the perfect candidate for their course. Don’t waste any of them. Leave out any rambling stories about why you’re interested in a particular course. If something is particularly interesting, a brief overview may be relevant. Avoid clichés too. Saying you’re a “committed and hard-working individual” has no weight and detracts from any personality you’re trying to express.
This might seem obvious, but don’t lie
There is a very fine line between presenting yourself in a better light and simply lying. You should never lie – not only is it immoral, but, if caught, your application could be reconsidered and come back to bite you. This is particularly true if you are called to interview. There are many horror stories of applicants being interrogated about their favorite book, only for it to become apparent they never read it.
Finally, don’t copy
Reading personal statements used by older siblings or friends can be a really useful exercise, but don’t be tempted to re-use somebody else’s words. Aside from the fact it doesn’t demonstrate your uniqueness and personal drive, there are also programs used by UCAS to prevent plagiarism. Copycatch reports suspicious activity to universities, so don’t risk your application being rejected. Your personal statement needs to be your own.
Lead image: Jisc.ac.uk
It’s completely normal to have lots of questions about personal statements. Is your personal statement the be all and end all? How long will it take to write? When should you begin writing it? Who should you turn to for help with your personal statement? And what should you do if you’re applying for several different subjects?
We’ve got the answers to your burning questions – including top tips from Emma-Marie Fry and Jonathan Hardwick at Inspiring Futures, a provider of careers information, advice and guidance to young people.
Q. How important is my personal statement in getting me an offer from a university?
A. How much weight an admissions tutor will give to your personal statement depends on the university and the course you’re applying to. ‘Some tutors might use the personal statement to shortlist candidates to interview while others will use it to decide who to give offers to without any interviews. For the latter, the personal statement is likely to be a major deciding factor,’ says Emma, an area director for Inspiring Futures. Emma manages the careers guidance team in London and the south-east and goes into schools to deliver support to students.
But that doesn’t mean your personal statement isn’t important for admissions tutors that hold interviews; your statement will need to make them want to meet you face to face.
Q. When should I start writing my personal statement?
A. ‘Start early – ideally in your summer term of year 12,’ says Jonathan. ‘Admissions tutors are only human and they can spend more time on somebody who applies early on in the cycle than if they wait until the rush at the end.’
‘Procrastination can be tempting but it will make things difficult for you in the long run,’ says Emma. ‘Face it head on and get on with it because you might end up enjoying writing your personal statement after all.’
Q. How long will my personal statement take to write?
A. There is no set amount of time that your personal statement should take to write but it will definitely take several sittings. ‘It can take anything up to eight drafts,’ says Jonathan, a former head of sixth form and now a professional development manager at Inspiring Futures. ‘It’s not going to be something you knock out first time around.’
‘Don’t agonise over it for too long though because, actually, the most important thing is getting your grades,’ he warns.
Q. What research should I do before writing my personal statement?
A. Writing a strong personal statement doesn’t start with writing straight away. You’ll need to take some time to collect your ideas, look into the courses and universities you’re applying to and plan what you want to write about.
‘You need to look into the course you’re applying to. What is it all about? What will you do on the course? What will you get out of it? What do you need to be good at to do well on the course?,’ says Emma. ‘Then there is the planning stage, which involves thinking about what you could write about.’
Take a look at our degree subject guides to kick off your research into the course. Then move on to look at the course descriptions on the websites of the universities you’re applying to.
Q. Where can I get help with my personal statement?
A. If you need help with your personal statement, there are several places you can turn to. These include:
- a subject teacher who is relevant to the course you’re applying to
- university websites, which have a lot of information such as useful further reading
- admissions tutors – you could go to a university open day and speak to them about what they want to see in a personal statement.
Your parents and friends can also be useful people to bounce ideas off and to help you think about what you’ve achieved. Just make sure that your personal statement is in your own voice.
Be sure to make the most of any help offered to you by your school. If your school offers access to independent careers advisors, such as Inspiring Futures, you could speak to them about your personal statement. Or if your school arranges any talks by schools outreach officers from universities, go along and you might even have the chance to ask them a question or two.
Q. How can I write a personal statement if I’m applying to different courses?
A. If you’re applying to different courses, be careful not to trip yourself up in your personal statement by referring specifically to one of the courses and neglecting to mention the others. Jonathan says: ‘Talk in general terms. So if you’re applying to a few different engineering courses, talk generally about wanting to know how things work, solve problems and be analytical rather than how you’ve always wanted to design aircraft wings.’
However, Jonathan advises: ‘Don’t apply for courses that are very different or have conflicting entry requirements.’ Emma agrees: ‘Applying to two courses driven by different values like accountancy and medicine will look indecisive.’
Use our course search to find the courses you want to apply to.