2019-2020 Writing your Personal Statement FAQ thread: ask your questions hereWatch
Where should I post?
Drafts/content from my personal statement
It is extremely important that you do not post any content from your Personal Statement on the public forums. Whether that is a complete draft of your statement or a single sentence, once you post it on a public forum there is a risk that it may be plagiarised.
However, it is possible to get a review from a TSR Personal Statement Reviewer in a private forum on TSR - there is more information on the service here.
PLEASE NOTE before you submit anything:
This is primarily a service for active members who contribute to the TSR community i.e have over 100 posts on TSR. If you do not meet this criterion you may experience longer waiting times.
We are only able to do one review so please make sure you only submit your final draft. Additional drafts and questions may be responded to at the discretion of the reviewer.
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. Regular posters in these forums are more likely to be able to answer your specific questions.
So what's the point of a personal statement?
The personal statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the admissions tutors 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.
In addition to this you hope to demonstrate that you have an appreciation of what is required of the course you are applying for, that you have the ability to write in coherent sentences and can form a compelling and focused argument.
How important is a personal statement?
The personal statement is just one aspect of your UCAS application and will be considered along with your achieved exam results and predicted grades (unless you already hold all of your qualifications), your reference and any interviews that you attend. You are unlikely to be offered a place solely on the basis of your personal statement if you do not meet all of the other requirements but you can certainly lose a place if you write a bad statement. You have much more to lose than to gain when it comes to submitting an inadequate personal statement and so the key is tick the boxes as best you can without trying to be revolutionary.
Many of the popular tales about applicants writing a one word/line statement then being accepted on the merit of it despite not meeting the entry requirements, or applicants who write their statement as a poem or use other "crazy" ways to get noticed often contain very little truth. They are merely fabrications that come out of the woodwork every single year. The traditional, tried and tested method is usually the one which comes out top.
Where do I start?
The first thing to do before you start 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:
- How to write an excellent personal statement in 10 easy steps
- Personal Statement Frequently Asked Questions
- Guide to Writing a PS
- Subject specific guides to writing a PS
- Example Personal Statements - Old statements submitted by site users to provide a guide to the style and content of a Personal Statement. Do NOT 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.
- TSR Personal Statement Builder tool
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. It is also extremely important to consider why you’re interested in the subject you’re applying for. Having done this you can write a more structured plan to think about what paragraph 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:
- Introduction - This is a general paragraph which should immediately explain and discuss why you want to study the course at university and why you are interested in the subject. You don't need to demonstrate skills or list experiences at this stage.
- Section 1 - This should discuss your academic experiences. Discuss your relevant subjects and how these have inspired you and what you find interesting about them. Try to give specific examples of things you have enjoyed studying. You don't need to discuss every subject you do and you don't need to list the subjects you’re studying, since these are in the Education section of your application.
- Section 2 - Continuing with academic interests you should discuss your interest in the subject outside of the classroom, so summer schools or open days you have attended, books you have read or relevant experience to your discipline. Again specific details of what you did and how this makes you a better/more motivated candidate are good. When discussing books try to avoid name dropping and instead discuss aspects of the book you have enjoyed reading or have been inspired by. Ask yourself what particular ideas raised in the book or lecture you attended you found particularly interesting, and why you found them interesting.
- Section 3 - Discuss any work experiences, relevant or otherwise, with particular focus on how the experiences have enabled you to develop relevant skills for the course. This is an opportunity to show appreciation of what skills the course requires.
- Section 4 - Include hobbies and extra-curricular activities in a paragraph again with focus on skills. Sport, music and voluntary work are all good examples and help to show that you are a diverse person outside of the classroom. Avoid more mundane hobbies like socialising with friends, watching TV, playing computer games or browsing the internet. This should be quite a short section to make room for the more academic sections.
- Conclusion - The conclusion should be brief (1-2 sentences) but should summarise and reiterate your interest in the subject and your aptitude and skill for it. This is also a good place to discuss any future career aspirations, but if you don't have any then you don't need to mention it.
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. Ensure that you fully check the PS requirements for every university as some have very strict requirements. A lot of universities give subject guidance for what they are looking for in the PS somewhere on their website. Ensure you take note and use it.
LSE PS Help: here
UCL PS guidelines: here. Take note of the guidelines for applicants who are studying a language at A Level/Higher. If it is your 2nd/3rd/xth language you MUST say this in your PS.
You should also read the personal statement guidelines written by the University of St Andrews for insight into the world of an admissions tutor. These guidelines were written by the School of Computer Science but their advice can be applied to all subjects. Compare your statement to the examples that the admissions team have given. If you have written anything remotely similar then follow the advice from both TSR and St Andrews: these sorts of comments offer little insight into the applicant, and are thus, in effect, a waste of the limited space made available 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 short paragraphs in your statement. Often, applicants fall into the trap of trying to discuss every activity that they have ever done. This is inadvisable and not necessary - a couple of relevant activities discussed in more detail is much better than a massive list of irrelevant hobbies.
Can I include quotes in my statement?
You can, but use them sparingly. Using a quotation doesn't make you appear intelligent and it's not personal to you. Universities are not interested in what Aristotle/Wittgenstein/Einstein/Luther King said about the world - they want to know what YOU think, so it is often best to use your own words. It's quite possible that many other applicants have used the same quotation and your 'unique' quote is far from individual to you. As a general rule, quotes should only be used where they are used to show your interest in the subject and they should actually be discussed in your PS. Don't just put a quote in at the start of your PS because you like it or because you think it sounds clever. You might like to look at this thread, especially post #15, for more advice on the use of quotes.
You may also be interested to read LSE's opinion on the use of quotations:
No. The Admissions Tutor wants to read a personal statement that has been well written in simple English. If you fill your statement with long words and quotations, then the reasons why you want to study the course you have applied for become less clear. The Admissions Tutor also does not want to read lots of quotations from different people. Using quotes means the Tutor cannot get an idea of who you are, and it means you are less likely to be made an offer.
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, teacher training or another 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). If work experience is a requirement for the course, the university will highlight this in their admissions information.
For a more theoretical subject like mathematics it is very hard to get relevant work experience and it is not expected. If your work experience isn't relevant to your course then either discuss it in terms of general, transferable skills or omit it entirely. It is much better to discuss your interest in your academic subject further than to waste lines trying to link your work experience in a supermarket to a maths degree course.
Can I mention my module marks in my statement?
There's nothing to stop you mentioning module marks if they are particularly good, however academic aspects like this are actually better going in your reference from your school. You can ask your teacher to mention module grades if you wish. Other things which are better in your reference include:
- Extenuating circumstances as to why you did badly in a particular module/subject.
- 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 have been surrounded by troublesome classmates.
- Virtuous qualities - avoid saying things in your PS 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 ensure that you show rather than state, giving examples of where you have demonstrated these qualities in your life.
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 also 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 before you apply and forcing yourself to make the inevitable decision whilst you can still control the outcome of your application. Spreading yourself thinly across many disciplines can actually harm your application. For example if you apply to veterinary science and history, it will be no surprise if neither the vets nor the historians are particularly impressed by your lack of commitment to their course.
When writing a statement for joint honours courses, make sure to discuss both in turn. It may be likely that you need to impress admissions tutors from two disciplines rather than just one so make sure to discuss both subjects in turn, making connections if possible.
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. The PS help area of TSR is strictly for UCAS applications only - we cannot help with any international applications.
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. 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.
Remember that no one (including your teachers at school) know 100% what a university wants as often your application will be compared to other candidates before they decide which applicants to accept. It is also worth remembering that helping you with your UCAS application is just one tiny part of your teacher's job. They will often be relying on their own experiences of the UCAS process and hearsay. Information written on an official university website or something mentioned at an open day is much more reliable than anything you have been told at school.
You might also want to check out our article on the ten biggest mistakes when writing your personal statement
I'm reapplying, can I use the same statement as last year?
In a word, yes. 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, if you have placed your PS on an insecure internet site such as a blog or in an open forum (i.e.: the main UCAS forum of TSR or the TSR wiki) then UCAS may pick you up for plagiarism, so in this case you cannot use your PS again.
However, you may want to think about changing your statement for other reasons. It is likely your circumstances have changed since you applied the first time and you may have more experiences worth mentioning in your statement.
I want to transfer directly into the second year at a new university, what should I include in my statement?
The focus of your statement needs to be about why you want to do the NEW course. The universities are not interested in why your current course is no longer suitable for you so they do not want to read an essay of excuses. If you are applying for a similar course then you need to show how your current modules have adequately prepared you for study at the new university. It would also be beneficial to highlight the areas of your current course that you have really enjoyed or alternatively, discuss areas of the new course that you feel fit in with your academic interests in your field.
For more information about making a transfer application please see the transfer Q&A thread here.
How does the UCAS plagiarism software work?
Personal statement plagiarism - everything you need to know article is here
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 universities. If your statement is judged to have been plagiarised then your application will not automatically be voided, but it will be up to the university to decide whether they still wish to consider your application.
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. The key point to remember is that when writing it, it should be your own words and it becomes plagiarism when someone else has written your statement for you.
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 line break (pressing return twice) and this will be retained in the final form. Each line break is included in your line limit, but if space allows it is recommended that you do this as it makes your statement much more readable. Remember an admissions tutor looks at hundreds of statements so you want to make their lives easy otherwise they may not want to properly read your statement if faced with a wall of text.
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...). UCAS will also convert any pound signs (£) to GBP. Once you're happy with your statement and have pasted it into your form and previewed it, it is important you read it or print it out before you submit it to check that the formatting is as you expect!
2010-2011 PS help thread: here
2011-2012 PS help thread: here
2012-2013 PS help thread: here
2014-2015 PS help thread: here
Also how many times should I draft it to perfection?
There is no fixed number of drafts though lots of feedback and redrafting helps
It's normally possible to ask your referee to "send back" your application so you can make final adjustments or add a new draft of your PS before it gets sent to UCAS but be careful not to miss the UCAS deadlines because you're changing a single word in your PS.
If you're struggling to meet your school/college deadlines then you need to talk to your teachers about why that is. If you're undecided or are picking between subjects and not settled on a final choice yet then they will often agree to extend your deadline as long as you can show that you're making some progress.
The former is an extreme example (could probably combine a few of those paragraphs) but it's clear which will be easier to read and least likely to have something important missed because the reader is skimming through to 30th PS of the afternoon.
Is the biggest problem that applicants struggle with.
Admissions staff aren't stupid. They know which skills they're looking for - and what they're looking for is EXAMPLES of times that you've DEMONSTRATED a specific skill. No experience or course GIVES you skills. You get opportunities to USE or IMPROVE or PRACTICE your skills.
Don't say "Volunteering with Help the Aged gave me communication skills."
say "Volunteering with Help the Aged involved working with a wide range of customers. This included explaining complicated forms to people in simple language and dealing with any questions." If possible tell the reader about a specific situation when someone was struggling to understand something and you were able to explain it better and help them.
SHOW don't TELL.
Being too generic
DETAILS and SPECIFICS make a PS unique and personal. It's much more compelling and convincing to read about one or two things in detail than to read a PS full of cliches that could have been written by anyone.
Tell us about things that surprised you, tell us about things that didn't go as well as you'd hoped and how you coped with that, tell us how you'd approach something differently in future.
I put in my PS about me taking part in DofE which I did but I didn't complete it (didn't mention that), should I take it out or just leave it? I'm an international student btw.
I just went through my PS again and I noticed that I used 3 paragraphs (17 lines) to talk about my academics and used 4 paragraphs (23 lines) to talk about my extra-curicullurs. So far the people I asked said it looked fine but I don't know. Should I leave it or maybe revise it and lessen the activities?
"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 short paragraphs in your statement.
alleycat393 I just went through my PS again and I noticed that I used 3 paragraphs (17 lines) to talk about my academics and used 4 paragraphs (23 lines) to talk about my extra-curicullurs. So far the people I asked said it looked fine but I don't know. Should I leave it or maybe revise it and lessen the activities?