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Top tips for writing an original personal statement

A student advisor offers some top tips for ensuring your personal statement and your university application stands out and avoids the common mistakes

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Hannah Morrish

July 24 2023
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A personal statement is an essay about yourself that is usually included in a university application. Writing a personal statement can seem like a daunting task, but the main thing to remember is that you should aim to show why you want to study at your chosen university, what experiences you have in the subject you have chosen and any extracurricular activities you’ve taken part in. 

Many students worry about writing their personal statement because it is the first time they will have to write something about themselves with the aim of conveying their personality and drive to a stranger. 

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is an essay that is part of the application process when applying to university in the UK. The personal statement is your opportunity to showcase why you would be a good fit for your university, why you have chosen your university and why you want to study your chosen course. 

It is an opportunity to showcase what makes you unique, what skills and experience you have and why you would be an asset to the university. 

Personal statement reforms

Personal statements will soon be scrapped in Ucas applications, and replaced by a series of questions that applicants will have to fill out. These will be introduced in 2024 for the 2025 academic year start. 

How to write a good personal statement

The main thing to remember when writing a personal statement is that it should be unique to you. It might feel strange to write down all of your achievements and ambitions, but this is your opportunity to show your university of choice why they should accept you. 

Talk about your reasons for choosing your university, why you want to study the course you have chosen, any related work experience or hobbies you might have, and what your future goals are in relation to your course. 

It’s best not to leave writing your personal statement until the last minute – a great personal statement is one that is well written and well structured and this can take some time to put together. 

There are some more detailed tips on how to put your personal statement together below. 

Here are some more detailed tips on how to write a postgraduate personal statement here

Create two lists

Write down one list detailing what you know about the course you would like to study and why you know it is the correct degree choice for you, including any career aspirations you might have or if you have plans to continue into postgraduate study. The second list should focus on why you are the ideal student for that course and university, including things such as extracurricular activities and related work placements you have done. 

Thoroughly research your subject choice

Admission tutors will read your personal statement to help them evaluate whether you are right for the course. By attending open days, reviewing the course and module content and having researched the university’s values you will have far more confidence in sharing why you want to dedicate the next three years to your chosen course.

Promote the knowledge you already have and why you would fit in 

Make it clear you have thoroughly researched the course and explain why you have made the decision to study it at university. Highlight the relevant skills and subject knowledge you already have and outline any relevant work experience that you have too, which will help to round out your personal statement. 

Show how capable you are

Your personal statement needs to convince universities that you have the study skills to motivate yourself and work hard. Give relevant examples of how you have developed your independent learning skills and what motivates you.

Be original

You know why you got excited about the degree when you read the course information or when you attended a Q&A with one of the lecturers during an open day. Use your personal statement as an opportunity to share your enthusiasm.

Outline any life experience you’ve had that relates to your course, any transferable skills, voluntary work, work experience and goals and aspirations to support your application. 

Don’t use unsupported clichés

It’s a good idea to try to stay away from clichés as a rule, but if you do think that one will work in your favour make sure it’s supported. If it is the truth that you have wanted to study something from a young age then you may want to include this kind of statement.

What is more important is that you explain how this has inspired you to study supporting subjects and dedicate time to hobbies or interests that relate directly to what you would like to study at university and how this will help you.

Some phrases and words to try to avoid include:

1. Mentioning your work experience at your “father’s company”
2. Using the phrase “quenched my thirst for…”
3. Any metaphors using fire, such as “sparked my interest” or “burning desire”
4. Starting the statement with “ever since I was a child” or “from a young age”
5. Using any of the following words:

  • passion/passionate
  • fascinated
  • always
  • ignited
  • fuelled
  • enthralled
  • aspiration
  • intrigue
  • furthermore
  • ground-breaking
  • thought-provoking
  • inspiring
  • revel

Ask for feedback

Don’t be shy about asking people to proofread for you. When you have been working on something for a while it can be hard to spot any mistakes or tweaks you should make. Ask friends, family or a teacher to proofread it and give their honest opinion.

They should feed back on whether your personal statement is well structured, do a spell check for any spelling or grammar mistakes and check whether it portrays your academic achievements and academic interests. 

How long should a personal statement be?

Your personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters long, which is around two sides of A4 paper. 

How to start a personal statement

The introduction of the personal statement is the most important part as this is what will draw the attention of the admission tutor reading it. 

Consider your main reasons for choosing your course and lead with that. There are some more tips below on how to structure your personal statement. 

And if possible try to avoid these common opening lines for your Ucas personal statement. 

How to structure a personal statement

Admissions tutors will read a lot of personal statements, so you'll want to grab their attention from the beginning. A rough structure would include an introduction of yourself, your reasons for choosing your subject, the subjects you are studying now and how they relate to your chosen degree, any experiences you’ve had that relate to your chosen subject, interests and hobbies that relate to your chosen subject, your career goals after you leave university and why you would make a good addition to the university. 

If you are writing a personal statement for a postgraduate degree, there are many more tips here. 

Can I use ChatGPT to write a personal statement?

While ChatGPT or any other kind of generative AI technology can be a useful tool to write your personal statement, it is important that they are used with the right guidance. 

Ucas does not necessarily ban the use of ChatGPT for writing a personal statement, however applications are run through anti-plagiarism software so if it does detect that whole paragraphs are plagiarised, Ucas will notify any universities that you have applied to and any offers might be revoked. 

Some universities and colleges may also consider the use of ChatGPT as cheating so it might be better to avoid using these programs in case your universities take a stricter approach. 

The main thing to remember is that admissions tutors will want to see your character and personality so using a program like this would remove any kind of personality from your personal statement. 

More information on using AI for your personal statement can be found here

This article was updated by THE Student Editor Seeta Bhardwa in July 2023. This article was originally published in December 2015. 

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