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How to write a personal statement that will get you noticed

If you’d like to attend university next year, then you’ll know that a personal statement is a key aspect of your UCAS application.

With such weight attached to just one document, we decided to dedicate this article to it — explaining what a UCAS personal statement is and how to write one that draws on all of your best qualities and helps you stand out from the crowd.

As you can imagine, UCAS receives many applications each year — almost three million from 700,000 individuals, to be precise — and last year, a record 40.5 per cent of all UK 18-year-olds had applied for a place at university by 9 July.

Such figures highlight the importance of spending the time to hone your application and wow the recipient.

Let’s begin with the basics.

What is a UCAS personal statement?

A personal statement is submitted with your university application(s) and is your opportunity to explain to the admissions staff at your chosen university (or universities) why you would love to study a particular subject and why you think you would excel in it.

In a situation where there is one study place remaining on a course, and your grades and experience match those of the other shortlisted applicants, it could be your personal statement that lands you that place.

Please note that, even if you apply to three universities, you will only submit one personal statement, so it is crucial not to subjectivise it by university or location.

Don’t make the mistake of writing hundreds of words on why you’d love to study in Leeds if you’ve also applied to universities in London and Chester!

If you are applying for similar courses at each university, you can safely concentrate on your chosen subject.

If you are applying for a wide range of courses, place your emphasis instead on the skills you’ll require for all of them — for example, logical, creative or critical thinking.

International students should also include why they wish to study in the UK, alongside details of any English language qualifications and experience.

What is the UCAS personal statement word count?

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You have just 4,000 characters and 47 lines to convince the admissions staff that you are an excellent choice for the course.

While 4,000 characters might sound like a lot, it isn’t; once you start writing your personal statement for university, you’ll find that you have plenty to say.

Most applicants find they have to edit and edit again to squeeze in everything they wish to include.

How to write a personal statement for university

Here we have six tips for you, which should result in a compelling personal statement.

  1. Start writing your personal statement as early as possible. By doing so, you are gifting yourself extra time to perfect it.
  2. Draft your statement in a word processor until you are 100 per cent happy with it. When you copy and paste it into your UCAS application, ensure to click save as the website times out after just 35 minutes of inactivity. This is particularly important if you make any last-minute changes.
  3. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Spelling and grammar are critical when writing a personal statement. When you proofread it yourself, print it out and read it out loud off the paper — this is a technique some professional editors swear by. Once you are happy with the personal statement, make sure you ask at least two other people to read through it and offer feedback. Ideally, a tutor at sixth form or college would be one of those people.
  4. Read through the course descriptions and make sure you mention the skills and experience that are listed. You can plan out your entire personal statement around highlighting your compatibility in this manner.
  5. Don’t try too hard — ditch the flowery language and focus instead on writing a concise statement that ticks all the boxes.
  6. You must stand out from the crowd but, instead of doing this through humour (which might not sit well with the person who reads your application), aim to shine through your skills and experience and how you talk about both.

What to include in your UCAS personal statement

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Mention any teams you are a member of

You need to tell the admissions staff why you want to study your chosen subject at their institution while also highlighting why they should offer you a place on the course.

Include why you wish to study the subject at a higher level, what interests you about it, and what your ambitions are.

For example, if you wish to study nutrition at university, you may already have aspirations for a career as a dietician, a nutritional researcher, or a public health promoter. If you have your plan mapped out, share this in your personal statement — it shows ambition, determination and clarity around why you want to study nutrition.

Alternatively, you may have a passion for a subject but not have a career plan in place yet. Continuing with the example of an undergraduate degree in nutrition, you may have a close family member with food allergies, IBS or diabetes and have a deep interest in the subject because of this.

Include any relevant skills and experiences — for a nutrition degree, these might include examples of your problem-solving skills and a part-time job in a commercial kitchen or a volunteer position. If you studied Food Studies or Food Technology in sixth form or college, you might have some extra examples to include from your studies and related experiences.

In addition, make sure to mention any extra-curricular activities you are involved in — for example, you might be a Brownies leader or a member of a sports team.

You might think having played the violin since year three is irrelevant to the degree you are applying for, but it is an excellent example of how you commit yourself fully to the things you love.

How to begin your personal statement

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Much like writing a story, you need to capture the reader’s attention in your opening sentences.

For this reason, don’t be tempted to begin with “I want to study this subject because…” or “I have a passion for science and would, therefore, love to study it at an undergraduate level”.

Instead, start boldly. This is how you can stand out from the rest without relying on humour, which is too subjective.

Here are a couple of examples for you:

  • “I first became interested in nutrition when my brother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes five years ago. Before that, I’d never given much serious thought to how diet relates to health, but suddenly I was aware that certain foods could cause a spike in my sibling’s blood sugar levels.”
  • “My mum loves watching reruns of You Are What You Eat, and, perhaps bizarrely, Gillian McKeith first sparked my interest in nutrition in 2017. The programme was newsworthy in its day due to McKeith analysing the stool samples of participants and making huge decisions on their health based on the results. The show was called into question when it was found that McKeith had no nutrition qualifications, which made me want to learn more about nutrition and genuinely help people based on real knowledge.”

Final thoughts

As a final note, dedicate lots of time to creating your personal statement for university and edit it until you are 100 per cent happy with what you have written.

Good luck with your UCAS application!

Have you been offered a place at university? Congratulations! Here are five helpful tips for starting university.

If you have completed your undergraduate education and are considering a Master’s course, take a look at our blog post on the pros and cons of postgraduate education.

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