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:
- 4000 characters (including spaces)
- 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.
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.