Personal Statement Help Question Thread

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The UCAS Personal Statement is an important part of a university application as it is the only opportunity that you have to write at length about why you want to study the course you are applying for and to set yourself apart from other applicants with the skills and experiences you have to offer. For many people this may be the first time they have had to write an important piece of prose about themselves and it can be difficult to know where to start. TSR has a number of good resources to help you with your statement.

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, using the form linked to on the wiki page. 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.

Updated 19/9/2012: Following an update to how PS Help works, personal statements are now submitted for review via a form which creates a thread for you, instead of creating a thread in the normal way. See this page for full information and the relevant link.

DO NOT post your drafts or PS content anywhere else on TSR outside of PS Help as there is a risk it may be plagiarised.
If you see anyone posting a full PS or even part of it, please report the post using the post report button in the top right corner of the post so that the moderators can remove it.


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 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.

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 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 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 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:


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:

Recommended Structure

  • Introduction - This is a more 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 A-levels 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 A-level you do and you don't need to list your A-levels, since these are elsewhere in 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.
  • 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.
  • Conclusion - The conclusion should be brief (1-2 sentences) but should summarise and reiterate you 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.

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.

Most universities give subject guidance for what they are looking for in the PS somewhere on their website. Ensure you take note and use it.

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 computer science faculty 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:

I want to impress the Admissions Tutor, should I use long words and quotes?

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/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 have been surrounded by troublesome classmates get it mentioned in your reference, don't include it in your PS.
  • 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 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 decsion 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 or the historians are particularly impressed by your lack of commitment to their course.

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 can not 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 and remember you can also submit a draft to Personal Statement Help for a review by the PS helpers. Depending on your subject and the time of year it can take up to a week to get a review so ensure you post in plenty of time and keep your thread updated with new versions of your PS. 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.

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, if you have placed your PS on an insecure internet site (NOT including the PS help forum on TSR - this is secure) such as a blog or in an open forum (ie: the main UCAS forum of TSR as opposed to the PS help secure area) then UCAS may pick you up for plagiarism, so in this case you can not use your PS again.

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.

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?

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, which is well known to both UCAS and the universities. The key point 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 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!

2010-11 PS help thread: here
2011-2012 PS help thread: here[/I])
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harrywilcox
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Is it ever OK to use quotations in English/ Philosophy personal statement? I've started with the, "Literature is the subjectivity of society in permanent revolution," Sartre quote. It is pertinent to the rest of my personal statement and shows that I am capable of using literary criticism, etc. but I wasn't sure if it was too gimmicky/ cliched
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Good bloke
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(Original post by harrywilcox)
Is it ever OK to use quotations in English/ Philosophy personal statement? I've started with the, "Literature is the subjectivity of society in permanent revolution," Sartre quote. It is pertinent to the rest of my personal statement and shows that I am capable of using literary criticism, etc. but I wasn't sure if it was too gimmicky/ cliched
Read my profile.
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zguitarmagic
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No. We were told not to ever use quotes for any subject- unis just see them as an unoriginal waste of words :holmes:

This was posted from The Student Room's Android App on my GT-I9100
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Carnationlilyrose
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No quandary. No quotations.
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TheWorldEndsWithMe
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Don't bother.
I mean, a friend of mine did for fine art and got offers, but all the careers staff knew/thought it was a bad idea.
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Carnationlilyrose
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(Original post by TheWorldEndsWithMe)
Don't bother.
I mean, a friend of mine did for fine art and got offers, but all the careers staff knew/thought it was a bad idea.
Fine Art sometimes like them quirky. If I'd had any say in my son's ps I'd have scrapped more than half of it for being bonkers, but it worked. No quotations, though.
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TheWorldEndsWithMe
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(Original post by carnationlilyrose)
Fine Art sometimes like them quirky. If I'd had any say in my son's ps I'd have scrapped more than half of it for being bonkers, but it worked. No quotations, though.
Yeah, I think that's why it worked. She had a quote where someone said something along the lines of 'do whatever makes you happy' and she was explaining how she 'tries to live by that quote, and nothing makes me happier than doing art'.

Reckoned that was why, somehow. Don't think I'd have gotten away with it for Optom.
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Carnationlilyrose
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(Original post by TheWorldEndsWithMe)
Yeah, I think that's why it worked. She had a quote where someone said something along the lines of 'do whatever makes you happy' and she was explaining how she 'tries to live by that quote, and nothing makes me happier than doing art'.

Reckoned that was why, somehow. Don't think I'd have gotten away with it for Optom.
No, you have to make yourself fit the profile a bit. Mad artist, sane optometrist. Sane artist, mad optometrist :eek:
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clad in armour
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quotes? Ive got a good one, I think its was clad in armour who once said



oh the fromage
just brings a tear to your eye
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harrywilcox
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Different quandary then - what if I introduce the notion conveyed by the quote, without actually using it in its quote form?
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Carnationlilyrose
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(Original post by harrywilcox)
Different quandary then - what if I introduce the notion conveyed by the quote, without actually using it in its quote form?
Spend your word count talking about your own ideas, not someone else's. Honestly.
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~ Purple Rose ~
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The universities want to read your words, not those of somebody else, it is better to use the space saying personal things - that's what they want to know about.
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harrywilcox
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(Original post by carnationlilyrose)
Spend your word count talking about your own ideas, not someone else's. Honestly.
I was merely enquiring. Honestly.
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Carnationlilyrose
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(Original post by harrywilcox)
I was merely enquiring. Honestly.
I probably should have said seriously.
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(Original post by carnationlilyrose)
I probably should have said seriously.
No, no. You conveyed your unhelpful discontent efficiently with 'honestly'.
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Carnationlilyrose
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(Original post by harrywilcox)
No, no. You conveyed your unhelpful discontent efficiently with 'honestly'.
You've misunderstood my intended tone, but I'm sorry if you think I am unhelpful. It's up to you what you do in your ps. Not much point in asking advice, but good luck with it.
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Kalliope
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I'm surprised by the answers here actually. I know nothing OP, so don't look for me as a differing opinion to support you, but I would have thought that discussing Sartre's literary criticism in a literature PS is definitely good as it shows engagement with literary theory. Sartre, while not obscure, isn't so well-known for his views to be clichéd. I'm sure the OP will also include their own views, but surely they can do both?

EDIT: but perhaps in the second paragraph or so rather than as the opening

(Original post by carnationlilyrose)
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harrywilcox
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(Original post by carnationlilyrose)
You've misunderstood my intended tone, but I'm sorry if you think I am unhelpful. It's up to you what you do in your ps. Not much point in asking advice, but good luck with it.
I merely meant the perceived discontentedness to be unhelpful, I appreciate the advice and I'll consider it when writing my personal statement
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Carnationlilyrose
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By all means discuss your interest in Sartre, just don't quote him. It's not a literature essay. Save it for when you are at university. One quotation isn't enough to do him justice and there isn't enough space to do so. In addition, a quotation is all about someone else's ideas, using someone else's words and it isn't Sartre who is applying to the course. The ps is about you, not him, and why you are the right student for the course.

Edit: This was supposed to quote Kalliope, but I'm mucking about trying to change to Google Chrome and I don't seem to have got the hang of it! Sorry.
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