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TSR Wiki > University > Applying to University > Personal Statement Library > Personal Statement FAQs


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Starting ContentAfterwards
When should I start writing my personal statement?
How long can the personal statement be?
How should I write it?
Where do I start?
What sort of structure should I use?
Formatting
Where can I see some example personal statements?
What’s the most important part?
Should I talk about what I want to do after university?
Should I talk about my qualifications?
How do I write it for two different courses?
What are admissions tutors looking for?
Is it worth doing loads of extra-curricular stuff to make it sound good?
Should I lie on the personal statement?
Any last tips?
And the most important thing?
Tricks to squeeze more in
What should I do once I've written it?
What is the TSR Personal Statement Help service?

Introduction

The Personal Statement is a big part of your uni application. It's where you can sell yourself and show the Universities why they should give you a place. Read on to find out how they should be written an what sort of things to include. If you can't see your question listed here, then have a read through of the Personal Statement FAQ Thread, or post your question there and somebody will get back to you.

Starting

When should I start writing my personal statement?

It’s never too early to start thinking about it! However, you'll need a good idea of what course you’re going to apply for before you launch into writing it. On the other hand, don’t leave it too late as it's quite a long process and you're likely to have quite a few drafts before reaching your final. Remember, your referee will need to see your personal statement before (s)he can write your reference. As a general guide start jotting down a few ideas during the holidays and start writing it when you go back to school/college. If you're applying to Oxbridge, or for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science, you'll have to get your application sent off by October 15!

How long can the personal statement be?

There’s no word limit, if that’s what you’re asking. Statements are limited to:
either

  • 4000 characters (including spaces)

or

  • 47 lines of 95 characters (inc spaces) per line,

whichever is the shorter.
Be aware that software such as Microsoft Word may not give a character or line count that completely matches what the UCAS form says. The character count should be reasonably accurate, but the line limit is more difficult (because any lines longer than 95 characters including spaces are wrapped onto the next line).

The only way to be 100% sure what the character and line counts are is to copy your draft statement into your UCAS form, but be careful not to submit it unless you're sure it's the final version. However, a good indication could be to use the "Courier New" font, size 8, with the default margins, to estimate how many lines your PS will be. Alternatively, you can use a "Notepad" application with text-wrapping activated, and set a right margin (in "Gedit" on Linux, among others, or the window's edge, in "Notepad" on Windows) at 95 characters to display a lot more accurately how many lines are used.

If you've left a line between paragraphs (which you should, to make it much easier to read) then you will probably reach the line limit before the character limit.

How should I write it?

If you need more detailed suggestions, hop over to Writing Your Personal Statement

Where do I start?

Most people won’t be able to just start writing the statement off the top of their head – so it’s a good idea to jot down a few notes first. The main things to think about are:

  • what do I want to study? (if you can't answer this, you should probably concentrate on working this out, rather than writing a PS)
  • why do I want to study it?
  • what personal qualities, interests and experience do I have which show I am suited to this subject, and to study at university.

These are the main things to start with - if this still doesn’t help, you can look at a few more detailed starting points. Many people have trouble writing about themselves and their personal qualities, so if you’re having trouble with this step, pop down to a library or bookstore and get a book out on writing CVs which will go into this process in much more depth.

What sort of structure should I use?

Most people write their personal statement in an essay style, starting off with the course, and why they want to do it, then talking about their relevant work experience and skills and finishing off with extra curricular activities – though you can use any style which fits you. As a guide, spend around 2/3 of the space talking about your course and how you’re suited to it, and 1/3 on your work experience and other activities. Exactly how you write your statement depends on your subject - generally people write more about work experience for vocational subjects like medicine and law than they would for subjects like maths or English where work experience is less important.

Formatting

No formatting of any type is allowed in your personal statement (except using capital letters), so any bold, italic, or underlined words will disappear in the preview.

Tabs and multiple spaces will be condensed to a single space, so it is no longer possible to indent lines. Single spaces at the beginning of lines will also be removed.

You have a very limited set of "special characters". Common symbols that aren't allowed are € and the special quote characters “ ‘ ’ ” which will simply be removed from your statement, so remember to replace quotes with " and '.

Backslashes (\) are also not allowed, but will be replaced with forward slashes (/) and curly brackets will be replaced with normal ones.

Accented characters such as é, à, è, ù, etc. are not accepted and are removed by the UCAS form.

If you use Firefox or any alternative browser, when you preview your personal statement the formatting will be messed up. It's best to use Internet Explorer if possible to avoid this.

Where can I see some example personal statements?

If you’re just looking for general guidance, then there are Personal Statements by Subject on this very wiki. We have dozens of example personal statements which show you how to write (and how not to write) a PS and what sorts of things you can include. You can also type “xxxx personal statement” into Google, where xxxx is the subject you’re applying for – many kind people put their personal statements on the internet where you can take a look at them.

Afterwards

What should I do once I’ve written it?

Get people's opinions on it! Show it to your friends, parents, teachers, career advisors and so on and note down their comments. The most useful comments are likely to come from your teachers in the subject and the people at your school or college who handle Ucas applications. If you have enough time, leave your personal statement for a couple of weeks to a month and come back to it – if you’re not still happy with what you wrote it’s time to start redrafting.

It’s generally not a good idea to post it on an internet forum or discussion board as anyone can steal information off a website and pass it off as their own, and with something as important as a personal statement you don’t want that to happen. You should be ok sending it to people you trust by email (emphasis on trust!)

Content

What’s the most important part?

Never ever start a PS with an overblown statement using pretentious language - 'Politics piques my interest', 'I have always been thrilled by Molecular Biology' or the plain boring 'I just want to be a Vet so badly' - it marks you out as immature, and shows that you have no idea how to write English in a meaningful way. The crucial bit about a PS is where you talk about the subject you are applying for and why you want to do this at Uni. Admissions Tutors will always focus on this bit - so make this interesting and not just a book-list. Your personality should emerge within this - they should get a feeling of what drives you, and your sense of energy and enthusiasm.

Should I talk about what I want to do after university?

You could, but only if you have a good idea of what you want to do. If you sound sure about what you want to do after uni it gives the impression that you’ve thought carefully about your course and what you want to do with it. It's also a nice way to round off your statement, rather than finishing on less important stuff like extra curricular activities. If you don’t have any future plans, then leave them out – you don’t want to be asked about them at interviews.

Should I talk about my qualifications?

No. There’s already a section on the Ucas form for this, so don’t waste the space on your personal statement. If you have something important which doesn’t go in the qualifications section, ask your referee to put it down in your reference – it will sound better if it comes from them than from you. This goes for module marks as well. Some people are (wrongly) told that they should try and link each A level/IB subject to the course they are applying for. Don't do this. It's tortuous reading and utterly pointless. Talk about the subject you are applying for - that is what matters.

How do I write it for two different courses?

There’s no easy way to write a personal statement for two totally unrelated courses. If the courses are similar you may find you can write a statement relevant to both, without mentioning either subject by name. If the courses are completely unrelated, it may be impossible to write for both subjects without your personal statement sounding vague and unfocused. Instead you will need to concentrate on just one subject and just ignore the other – it sometimes works!

What are admissions tutors looking for?

Hopefully the sorts of things you’ve written about for the part above! Obviously the things admissions tutors are looking for will differ, but in general they will be thinking things like: “Do we want this student on this course?”, and “Do we want this student at this university?” And most will be looking for an interest in the subject you are applying for that goes beyond simply your A level syllabus/reading list. Look on the Uni website : most universities and departments now publish information on applying, and writing personal statements, so surfing the subject section of their website might turn up more specific information on exactly what they’re looking for. If in doubt google the name of the university, the subject/course and 'admissions statement'.

Is it worth doing loads of extra-curricular stuff to make it sound good?

There’s no point doing extra things just to try and make yourself look good to universities – you won’t enjoy it and it probably won’t help much either. From what I’ve seen, an interest and aptitude for the course is more important to admissions tutors than lots of extra curricular activities. If you do want to do something to boost your application, read relevant books or do work experience related to the subject instead. Some Universities look for what they call 'competitive spirit' - this doesn't mean you need to do lots of team sport all of a sudden, but something like doing a charity fun run, training for it and raising money - and mentioning you were determined to get a PB on the day etc - might be worth considering.

Should I lie on the personal statement?

Just think how the fact that you are even thinking of lying reflects on you. If you aren't confident that the universities will accept you if you're completely honest, are you really suitable for a place, or do you need to rethink all your plans about 'going to Uni'? This is not to say that pretending to have gone to choir in S2 makes you unsuitable to read music at Oxbridge, but if you embellish the facts to the point at which you're submitting the PS of a fictional character, you are asking for trouble. A good rule of thumb is not to write anything which you can't back up in interview if necessary; unless you're exceptionally good at talking about books you haven't read to tutors who have studied them in depth, this generally translates to "tell the truth". Interviewers can and do bring up nearly anything in a personal statement as a basis for questions. PS. Admissions Tutors aren't stupid - if you comment that you enjoyed reading a book that even they regard as 'challenging' they will know you are a bell-end.

Any last tips?

Yeah - one, which I think helped me, is... what have you done, relevant to your subject, that is unique, and no one else is likely to put down? Many people have the same old boring interests and work experience – you need something to separate you from the crowd, and while it’s a gamble to make an individual personal statement, anything individual you do related to your chosen field can only look good. For example, everyone who applies for Economics seems to read The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Guardian. So if you put down those, don't expect them to be amazed by your reading around the subject. Have a think – what makes you so special? If you can’t think of anything then you can’t complain if you get rejected!

And the most important thing?

Finally, remember that it’s your personal statement, and you can write whatever you want on it. If everything in this guide conflicts with what you’ve got already, but you think you still have a killer personal statement, then use that. A personal statement is about you, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what to put – sticking blindly to the formula mentioned here will just stop your true personality showing through.

Tricks to squeeze more in

  • Remember it's a personal statement, cut out anything unnecessary!
  • Don't repeat yourself.
  • Cut out the waffle - be concise!
  • Get rid of pointless words e.g. the name of the hospital/doctor you worked with, exact dates (just put X months), pointless adjectives etc.
  • Ask your referee to mention some stuff that you cannot.
  • Get some structure to your statement.
  • At the end of the day if you can't get it under the lines/characters you may just have to chop whole sentences.

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