Personal Statement Questions ThreadWatch
Where should I post?
Drafts/content from your personal statement
Any content from your statement, either single sentences or complete drafts should be posted in the private Personal Statement Help forum. Personal Statement Help is a private forum visible only to a selective group of PS Helpers who have all been to university and can review and offer advice on your Personal Statement. For more information on how the forum works please read the Personal Statement Help FAQ.
DO NOT post your drafts or PS content anywhere else on the site as there is a risk it may be plagiarised.
General questions about personal statements
General questions about personal statements, what they should include, style and character/line limits should be posted in this thread. However this first post will attempt to answer many of them so read this before posting.
Subject specific questions
If your query is specific to a particular course or university you are applying to, for example how important books are to a Law Personal Statement, this should go in the appropriate University and University Courses sub-forum. Regulars in these forums are more likely to be able to answer your specific questions.
Before posting your query or draft have a read of the following:
How long can my personal statement be?
The UCAS form you fill in using UCAS Apply has both a character and a line limit for the Personal Statement section, and your statement must conform to both:
- Maximum of 4000 characters (including spaces). Generally you probably want to be aiming for 3000-3500 characters to allow room for line breaks and still be within the 47 line limit.
- Maximum of 47 lines, as measured on the UCAS Apply form. The only way to check this is to try inputting your statement into the form and it will tell you how many lines you are using. In MS Word Times New Roman at 12 point, with 3.17cm left and right margins gives a reasonably close approximation for the line count on the UCAS form.
Generally speaking, the 47 line limit is more important and relevant than the 4000 characters and so it is important to check when writing your draft how many lines you are using in addition to how many characters. You don't want to perfect your statement only to find it doesn't fit!
If you enter/submit a statement which is too long then the remaining lines or characters will simply be chopped off the bottom of your statement, even if that is mid sentence or mid word.
Formatting in the UCAS Apply form
The Personal Statement section of the UCAS Apply form will convert any text you enter to a standard format (font size and style). You cannot get around the line limit by writing in a smaller font. You cannot use bold, italic or underline text to emphasise as this will not be retained in the final form.
The form also removes any excess spaces automatically, so if you use tabs or spaces to indent paragraphs this will not be retained in the final form. Similarly double spaces between sentences will become a single space. The only way to separate paragraphs is through a linebreak (pressing return twice) and this will be retained in the final form. Each linebreak is included in your line limit, but if space allows it is recommended that you do this as it makes your statement more readable. Remember an admissions tutor looks at hundreds of statements so you want to make their lives easy!
The formatting is unable to recognise non-conventional characters so you shouldn't use é, á and other accents in your statement. Style also dictates that you should avoid characters like & and numbers (1, 2, 3...) should be written in full (one, two, three...). Once you're happy with your statement and have pasted it into your form and previewed it, read it or print it out before you submit it to check that the formatting is as you expect!
So what's the point of a personal statement anyway?
The Personal Statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the admissions tutor and to tell them why you want to study the subject you are applying for and why you think you are well suited to studying it. Everything in your PS should therefore relate to:
- Why you are interested in the subject, and why you want to study it further
- What relevant experiences you have both academically and socially and how these experiences give you the necessary skills for study at degree level
- Your diversity as an individual, demonstrating a wide range of interest and experiences.
Where do I start?
The first thing to do before you begin writing your statement is to think about what it is that the statement requires (see above) and to gain an appreciation of the style/format it should be written in. Many of the resources on the TSR wiki are useful at this early stage:
- Personal Statement Frequently Asked Questions
- Guide to Writing a PS
- Subject specific guides to writing a PS (still a work in progress)
- Example Personal Statements - Old statements submitted by site users to provide a guide to the style and content of a Personal Statement. Don't plagiarise - the statements are referenced by UCAS Copycatch software.
- Reviewed Personal Statements - Example statements reviewed by the PS Helpers to demonstrate good and bad practice in a PS.
Once you have familiarised yourself with the general expectation and style of a PS then you can start to plan your statement. Instead of jumping in and trying to write a first draft, brainstorm your experiences and the skills that you gained from these. Having done this you can write a more structured plan to think about what paragraphs each experience belongs in.
What is the structure of a personal statement?
There is no set structure for a PS, but the most commonly used structure is something like this:
This structure is only a guide and will be dependent both on the subject you are applying for and your own experiences. You may have lots of work experience or you may not and so the exact structure is unique to you.
How much of my statement should be extra-curricular activities and how much academic?
The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular. Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences. Extra-curricular activities show diversity and provide a good opportunity to discuss the transferable skills you have developed. However, these should still be discussed with regard to how these pursuits make you well-suited to studying the course. These hobbies should not take up more than 1-2 paragraphs in your statement.
Can I include quotes in my statement?
You can, but use them sparingly. Using a quotation doesn't make you intelligent and it's not personal to you. It's quite possible that many other applicants have used the same quotation. As a general rule, quotes should only be used where they are used to show an interest in the subject and should be discussed. Don't just put a quote in because you like it or because it sounds intelligent. You might like to look at this thread, especially post #15, for more advice on this.
How important is work experience?
The importance of work experience depends on the course you are applying for. If you are applying to a course like medicine or a vocational subject then relevant work experience is very important and should be used to highlight the skills you have shown and developed which are important on the course (bedside manner for example in the case of medicine). For a more theoretical subject like mathematics it is very hard to get relevant work experience and it is not expected.
Can I mention my module marks in my statement?
There's nothing to stop you mentioning module marks if they are particularly good, but things like this are actually better going in your reference from your school which accompanies your application and you can ask them to mention it. Other things which are better in your reference:
- Extenuating circumstances as to why you did badly in a particular module/GCSEs/AS levels
- Reasons why you didn't take particular courses (for example because your school didn't offer it).
- Background of your school - if your school wasn't the best and you were surrounded by troublesome classmates don't put it in your PS, get it mentioned in your reference.
- Virtuous qualities - avoid saying things like "I am a dedicated and committed student who will be an asset to your university." or "I was the best student in my year". These just make you sound arrogant and presumptuous and should be discussed in your reference. When discussing personality traits in your statement show rather than state, giving examples of where you have demonstrated these qualities.
How do I write a statement for joint honours or multiple subjects?
It can be hard to write a statement if you are applying for multiple subjects because you need to show dedication to both. This is a lot easier if the two are closely related in which case you can focus on the aspects that they have in common. It's less of an issue for common joint honours disciplines, as other universities will be more forgiving if you have applied for PPE and then economics elsewhere.
If you are applying to very different subjects because you can't decide which you want to do then you may be better off narrowing down your options earlier rather than later. You will have to decide sooner or later and spreading yourself thinly across many disciplines can actually harm your application to each of them. For example if you apply to Veterinary Science and History, it will be no surprise if neither the vets or the historians are particularly impressed by your lack of commitment.
What about personal statements for foreign universities?
These may be different to the UK style of application. American Personal Statements in particular are written in a very different style and you should seek separate advice for these kinds of application.
Refining your personal statement
Having written your first draft, check it over thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors. Get as many people to look over it as you can - parents, teachers, family, friends and remember you can also submit a draft to Personal Statement Help for a review by the PS helpers. You may end up going through many many drafts, but sometimes this is necessary. Sometimes it can also help to take some time away from writing it. You will come back afresh with a new perspective and maybe see things that you didn't before. You may receive lots of advice but at the end of the day it is down to you to decide what to change and what to put in because it is your personal statement.
How important is a personal statement anyway?
The personal statement is just one aspect of your application and will be considered along with your A-level results and predicted grades (or equivalent qualifications), your GCSEs, your reference and any interviews that you attend. You are unlikely to be offered a place solely on the basis of your personal statement but you can certainly lose a place if you write a bad one. In many ways you have more to lose than to gain from writing one and so the key is tick the boxes as best you can without trying to be revolutionary.
How does the UCAS plagiarism software work?
UCAS use a piece of software called Copycatch which scans your statement against a library of previously submitted statements and online resources, such as the TSR Wiki. If there is a greater than 10% similarity between your statement and another then it will be flagged for a member of UCAS staff to investigate. They will then decide whether they believe the statement has been plagiarised and if they think it has will notify both you and the university. If your statement is judged to have been plagiarised then your application will not automatically be voided, it will be up to the university to decide whether they still wish to consider your application. More details of how the software works can be found here.
The plagiarism software is not something to worry about. If you don't cheat then there is very little chance of your statement being flagged and even less chance that the member of staff will decide to progress it further. Please note that plagiarism and asking for help are not the same thing. UCAS expects and encourages you to seek advice from family, friends and online resources such as the PS Helper service. The key point is that when writing it, it should be your own words.
I'm reapplying, can I use the same statement as last year?
In a word, yes you can. For the purposes of UCAS you cannot self-plagiarise. While it is very likely that in submitting the same PS it will be flagged as a match by the Copycatch anti-plagiarism software, it will be discounted by the investigating member of UCAS staff when they see that the two statements were written by the same individual. The universities will not be informed of the fact it matched and it will not affect your application. However, you may want to think about changing your statement for other reasons. Doubtless your circumstances have chances since you applied the first time and you may have more experiences worth mentioning in your statement.
(Last year's thread: here)
Generally speaking, the 47 line limit is more strict than the 4000 characters and so it is important to check when writing your draft how many lines you are using in addition to how many characters.
The OP is excellent and gives good advice about that old chestnut, having blank line between paragraphs. However, I'd like to suggest that you change the word strict in the above sentence to important and relevant (both limits are, in fact, equally strict but more attention should be paid to the line limit as you'll never hit the character limit if you are sensible and have blank lines between paragraphs.
All I've done so far is to copy the OP over from last year's thread, but I agree that both limits are equally as strict so I'll make that change now
Starting early this year
The main problem I'm having is that while I'm applying to maths degrees at every university, some offer maths with German and some don't; consequently some of my courses will expect me to discuss studying German as well, and some won't. How much time and space should I devote to German in my statement?
I'd probably have a paragraph on German compared with 1 or 2 (plus an introduction paragraph) for maths, plus a conclusion which ties them together. Although this is just a rough guide, it will become clearer when you've done a few drafts and you work out if there is anything else which is important that you'd like to include.
Does anyone know if the 4000 characters includes spaces or not?
Hey I'm in the process of writing my ps for 2011 and i'm applying for actuarial science, i wanted to write very briefly about my spinal fusion surgery and how it changed me emotionally (made me stronger) and also gave me more self confidence and assurance. do you think this will be irrelevant and cheesy? or would it work if i made it flow well with the rest of my p.s.
Re. your actual question: cheesy? No, not if it is phrased correctly - making real points, and avoiding cliche in the wording. Irrelevant? Only you can answer that. If you feel that the surgery has genuinely affected how you approach studying, or how you would approach university life, and are able to explain how convingly in the PS (ideally with evidence/examples) then it can certainly be relevant (though should probably still not be more than a couple of sentences or so - the academic content is more important). If however there's any question over the relevance, or any sense (even if you don't intend it that way) that you're angling for sympathy, then it may be better left out (or possibly mentioned by your referee in the reference instead of you in the PS).
If you have a look round our Wiki and some of the stickies in the PS Help forum, it will give you a fairly good idea on structure and content for your PS - we're generally here for reviewing entire statements.
That said, the answer to your question, perhaps if you have room, but don't spend a lot of time on your opinions - you'll be taught the basics in your first year anyway as a lot of people won't have done Economics (depending where you go).
Hope I helped!
I wanted to know if I should include something big economic events such as Aid to Africa etc and include my own opnon on the topic. I thought this maybe a good idea as I don't study economics for A level so some knowledge might be helpful.
I've moved this to the PS help questions thread in the UCAS forum - PS help is the place to come if you want a review on your PS, not to ask general questions
If you wish and it fits in with your PS you can add some opinions (as this is good) but only if you can back it up with relevant academic reading and you're not just saying it for the sake of saying it. Feel free to criticise/disagree with the opinions you've read too as long as its justified. Wider reading SHOULD be mentioned but you need to actually say something about it in terms of your opinions beyond "I read X by X and it was good" which is what most people do in their PS. Obviously given you don't study A level Economics (which is fine) you do need to show interest and this is one way of doing so if you do it in the right way
Due to extenuating circumstances, I had to take a year out of college and re-sit year 13. Should I include these extenuating circumstances in my personal statement, or should I rely on my reference to cover it?
Thanks in advance!
Get your referee to mention this in your reference.
Hopefully I will have my application in on 1st September when UCAS opens