Getting started on your personal statement can be daunting; it’s a key part of your UCAS Undergraduate application, so it’s no surprise if you’re feeling the pressure.

The personal statement is an opportunity to show your passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to your subject, as well as to highlight the attributes you can bring to university life. If this isn’t nerve wracking enough, you’re limited to just 4,000 characters.

Whether or not you have already started your personal statement, check out our ten top tips below to help you achieve success.

1. Plan, plan, plan

Before you jump straight into writing, spend some time thinking about the key points you want to include:

  • What subject have you chosen to study and why?
  • Do you have any relevant skills or experiences? How are they relevant to your course?
  • What are your ambitions and future plans?
  • Do you have any other hobbies, interests, or achievements?

It may be helpful to note down your ideas using bullet points or a mindmap, which you can refer back to or add to when inspiration comes. Perhaps rank your list of skills, experiences, and achievements from most to least relevant, so that when it comes to writing, you know what to prioritise.

2. Demonstrate your enthusiasm

Admissions Tutors are looking for students who demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, and excitement for their chosen course.

Instead of using stock phrases such as “I’ve always had a fascination for biology”, explain precisely what it is about this course that motivates you and provide relevant examples of effort and experience to support this.

For example, if you’re an aspiring biologist with a fascination for natural selection, talk about an article or book you have read and refer to the concepts or ideas that particularly resonated with you.

Show how you have gone above and beyond the curriculum to develop your interests and expand your subject knowledge. Perhaps you have undertaken work experience or volunteering, or conducted an independent project. What did you learn from this experience and how did it help you to develop the skills necessary for your course?

A female student writing her personal statement on her laptop in the school library.

3. Don’t just list experiences

Following on from the last tip, Admissions Tutors would much rather read about a few of your experiences, accomplishments, and hobbies in depth, than be presented with a long list.

Be analytical; reflect on your experiences and the insights you have gained from them. For example, what lessons did you take away from your work experience in a primary school? How did this experience shape your desire to become a teacher?

4. Be honest

Never over-exaggerate or be tempted to lie in your personal statement. For example, don’t say you’re fluent in a language if you only know a few basic phrases. Similarly, don’t claim to have read The Selfish Gene if you haven’t. The truth will come out eventually, and the last thing you’ll want to be asked in an interview is to give your rendition of the book.

But equally, don’t be self-critical and waste characters writing “I attempted to read the Selfish Gene but I found it too challenging.” You’re trying to sell yourself so remember to focus on your strengths!

5. Don’t just stick to academics

Universities want to know that you’re a well-rounded student who will positively contribute to university life. It’s therefore important to describe relevant hobbies and extracurricular activities you enjoy, as well as any non-academic accomplishments you may have, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Select an interest/experience and clearly demonstrate the impact it had on your personal development. For example “This summer I successfully applied to be a DiscoverEU ambassador, a unique opportunity affording me the chance to travel across Europe. Not only was this experience a great chance to discover new people, cultures and lifestyles, but it also enabled me to develop my interpersonal skills, self-confidence and assertiveness.

Although they may not directly relate to your subject, wider interests demonstrate your talents and highlight transferable skills key to succeeding at university.

Extracurricular activities, including sports, are great to include in your personal statement.

6. Avoid clichés and quotes

Make your personal statement your own. Admissions Tutors will be reading through scores of personal statements. Originality is key, so try to avoid using common phrases such as:

  • I have always had a passion for…
  • Since I was a child, I have always been interested in…
  • I have always dreamed about a career in…
  • Reflecting on my educational experiences…
  • I am applying for this course because…
  • Academically, I have always…

Equally, don’t use quotations unless they’re particularly relevant and can be used in a way which enhances your story. Personal statements are supposed to be ‘personal’ and by overusing quotations, you risk losing your own voice.

7. Mention personal circumstances

It’s important to briefly mention any extenuating circumstances which may impact, or have already impacted, your academic performance, for example serious illness, bereavement, caring responsibilities, or financial hardship. How did they affect you and your ability to study?

Additionally, extra information regarding your personal circumstances will be required if you are an international student, a mature student, or are applying for deferred entry. For more information, check out PMT’s Personal Statement Advice Page.

8. Draft, re-draft, and re-draft again!

You (probably) aren’t going to write a perfect personal statement the first time around − hats off to you if you can! Initially, write down everything you want to say without worrying too much about the character count. From there on, you can begin to cut-out the less important stuff.

Take your time; it could take five or more re-drafts before you reach perfection. It may be helpful to wait a few days before reading through your final version with fresh eyes.

9. Proofread

Get someone else, or a few people, to proofread the final draft of your personal statement. Perhaps ask a family member, teacher, or friend. The more feedback you receive, the better your final version is likely to be. Of course, there is a fine balance between asking enough people and asking too many − and only implement feedback you believe to be beneficial in improving your statement.

Spelling and grammar do matter. It may be helpful to use tools such as Microsoft Word’s free Read Aloud function to help you spot mistakes which are easily missed by eye.

10. Use the UCAS form 

Your personal statement is limited to either 4,000 characters or 47 lines of 95 characters, including spaces. The character or line count on programs such as Microsoft Word may not completely align with those of the online UCAS form, so don’t be tempted to leave to the last minute pasting the final version of your statement into the form.

If entering your personal statement draft into the UCAS form is too anxiety-inducing, test out Studential’s personal statement length checker − however, note that the results may differ slightly from that of the final UCAS application.

If you take anything away from reading this blog post, then remember that the personal statement is your chance to sell yourself and convince an Admissions Tutor that you are the right person for their course. Demonstrate your enthusiasm, be honest about your experiences, and highlight the skills and attributes you possess that will make you a successful student.

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Molly Wood

Molly is a recent first-class graduate from the University of St Andrews, where she studied biology. As Project Manager at PMT Education, she oversees SEO, digital content, and media management.