Personal Statement Resource Hub and FAQsWatch
This thread is a first port of call for anyone who is writing a statement for applying to university. This advice is not meant for people applying for sixth form or for jobs.
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. It is the only way to 'engage' with the admissions tutors for those courses/universities that don't interview, and if you are interviewed, the PS may form part of this interview.
For many people this may be the first time they have had to write an important piece 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. Please see the list of links at the bottom of this post.
Personal Statement Myth Busting
How important is the Personal Statement?
Different universities will place different levels of emphasis on the Personal Statement - some may use it simply to confirm that you are interested in the right course (i.e. you talk about the course that you are applying for and show a basic understanding of what it involves), some universities may use it, but place more emphasis on other aspects of your application (e.g. grades and reference), and others may place a high level of importance on the Personal Statement.
You won't necessarily know how important your universities view the Personal Statement, and it is unlikely that all 5 of your choices will be the same. Therefore, it is a good idea to make the Personal Statement as good as you can. It can also be really important further down the line - it may be used to decide whether to still accept you if you are a 'near miss' candidate come Results Day, for example.
Overall, 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.
But I've heard about people who have submitted really 'quirky' Personal Statements. Do I have to make it really unique?
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. There are also always people who say that they wrote PSs that did not fit what we are suggesting on here, but still got offers. As said before, different universities will place different levels of importance to the statement. The traditional, tried and tested method is usually the one which comes out top, and it is in your interest to make it the best statement that you can get it to be.
Personal Statement Basics
What Is 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, demonstating an appreciation of what is required for the course.
- What relevant experiences you have and how these experiences give you the necessary skills for study at degree level.
- Your diversity as an individual, demonstrating your interests and experiences.
- Showing you have the ability to write in coherent sentences and can form a compelling and focused argument.
How Do I Structure My Personal Statement?
There is no set structure for a PS, but the most commonly used structure is something like this:
For an academic subject:
- Introduction - This is a general paragraph that 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. However, this is said with a caveat - you do not need to necessarily talk about related subjects, as the admissions tutors will know (e.g.) that you have gained problem-solving skills from maths and that English literature has honed your essay-writing skills. This is an optional section that is only for things that are a bit different and cannot be directly gleaned from your Education section that relate to your chosen subject.
- Section 2 - This is far more important. 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, online courses/lectures, podcasts or other 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 and talk about those.
- 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. However, for academic subjects this is unnecessary and therefore should only be brief. You do not need to list (for example) that your weekend retail job has given you communication skills.
- Section 4 - Include hobbies and extra-curricular activities in a paragraph. Sport, music and voluntary work are all good examples and help to show that you are a diverse person outside of the classroom. It is generally pointless to talk about things like teamwork and leadership through sports/clubs, unless applying for a vocational course (and mostly there would be better examples through relevant volunteering). 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.
For a vocational subject (e.g. medicine, teaching, nursing etc. NOT law or psychology):
- Introduction - You should briefly outline why you want to become whatever it is you are applying for (so a doctor/dentist/nurse etc.). You don't need to demonstrate skills or list experiences at this stage.
- Section 1 - This should discuss your shadowing experience, to show that you have a realistic view of what you are applying for. The best way to do this is to discuss what you learned from your shadowing about the role - such as the skills and qualities that are required.
- Section 2 - This section should discuss your work experience/volunteering, to show that you have a good potential to do the job, by showing that you have the correct skills and qualities.
- Section 3 - You can briefly (if you have space) talk about academic interests, such as a talk/research article you have read in a related area that you found interesting. This section should take a low priority, however.
- Section 4 - Include hobbies and extra-curricular activities in a paragraph that you haven't mentioned previously. For example, you may talk about hobbies you use to unwind.
- Conclusion - The conclusion should be brief (1-2 sentences) but should summarise and reiterate your interest in the role and your aptitude and skill for it. You could (if relevant) add longer-term aspirations (e.g. what specialism you would like to go into), but it is not necessary.
See the list at the bottom of this post - there are a number of subject-specific guides that have been written by PS Reviewers, that talk about the intricacies of those subjects and more specific ideas about structure.
These structures are 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.
Instead of jumping in and trying to write a first draft, mindmap 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.
It is often easier to write the middle before the intro and conclusion first as well - then you can think about what you are introducing or summarising! Don't worry about making it too 'unique' - just be honest. DETAILS and SPECIFICS make a PS unique and personal, without being quirky or unusual. 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.
How Long Can the 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 that 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.
Do I Need to Talk About My A Levels?
The short answer is 'no'. In most cases, the majority of applicants will have similar subjects to you, and the admissions tutors will know the basics of what the subjects involve (e.g. English literature can improve your essay writing, maths can improve your problem solving skills), so talking about your A Levels rarely adds anything that the admissions tutors couldn't imply from your Education section.
What will set you apart from the other applicants/show your interest is what can be termed 'super-curriculars' - this is stuff you have done that are related to your subject that you have done outside of the classroom/A Level learning. This may involve things like: reading text books, reading journals (this can include ones aimed at A Level students), doing online courses (there are a number of free ones through different universities), attending open lectures at a local university (obviously this may not be possible), watching online lectures/TED talks etc. and listening to podcasts. If you are doing an EPQ relevant to your course choice, this is a good way to bring in these activities.
Talk about what you found interesting related to what you read/watched etc. and why it was interesting. Try to avoid making it sound like you are trying to teach the admissions tutors - this isn't an essay, it is talking about why you want to study the subject. For example, you might tell the admissions tutors about things that surprised you, about things that didn't go as well as you'd hoped and how you coped with that, and how you'd approach something differently in future.
What Is The Balance Between Academic and Extra-Curricular Activities?
The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular (or even 3/4 academic and 1/4 extra curricular). Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences (for vocational courses, the main focus should be on shadowing and relevant work experience/volunteering). Extra-curricular activities (i.e. those that can't be related to your course choice) 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 generally be mentioned in one short paragraph 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.
Should I Use A Quote In My Personal 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. Basically, quotes rarely work or add anything to the PS, so are generally best avoided.
How Important Is Volunteering/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 that are important on the course (bedside manner for example in the case of medicine) - see above. If work experience is a requirement for the course, the university will highlight this in their admissions information.
Admissions tutors 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.". Instead, say something like "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.
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.
Should I Mention My Grades In My Personal Statement?
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.
What Do I Need to Say About My Gap Year?
This entirely depends on what you are doing/have done. If it is relevant to your course, then definitely talk about it in detail. If it is not, or you haven't done it yet, then just a sentence as part of your extra-curricular section is fine.
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. If the course is 'and' then the balance should be approximately 50/50 of the academic section, and if the course name is 'with' then it should be approximately 70/30. 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 (or you won't know which one!) so make sure to discuss both subjects in turn, making connections if possible.
It can be hard to apply for a mixture of joint honours courses and single honours courses - as the universities you are applying to for single honours courses would wonder why you are mentioning another subject if you do, and the joint honours courses universities and don't mention both courses, they might wonder why you aren't mentioning both (you don't know which department the admissions tutors might be from!).
It's also less of an issue for rare joint honours disciplines (e.g. some of the courses at Oxford/Cambridge), as they will be less likely to expect a PS talking about their specific course if no one else offers a similar course. A perfect example is Economics and Management at Oxford - this is the only combination to study economics there, so they won't necessarily expect you to mention management in your PS if you are applying for straight economics elsewhere, although it may be asked about it at the interview.
If you are applying for different courses, and the courses you are applying for are very similar, then focus on talking about the subject area more generally and things that interest you that overlap between them.
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.
Refining and Redrafting 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, and may not have much understanding of what universities are looking for in a Personal Statement. 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.
My PS is Too Long! What Can I Take Out?
When looking at it, focus on these questions:
- How much space have I talked about non-related extra-curricular activities? Can I reduce this?
- Have I talked about my A Levels? Can I just remove this section?
- Are there sentences I can rewrite to make them fit on the previous line (look at the UCAS preview - it may only be a few characters that make all the difference!)
- Have I used too many passive sentences (e.g. 'English has enabled me to...')?
What If I'm Reapplying?
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. This can be the case even after you have edited your post or removed it from the site - if it has been cached, it will remain cached.
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.
What If I Want To Transfer Universities?
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/university 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 (or what else you've done, if it is a completely different course, similar to the Personal Statement from college). 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.
Personal Statements on UCAS/Submitting Your PS
How Does Plagiarism Work For Personal Statements?
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, or you have copied something from elsewhere.
How Does The Formatting Work?
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. Please see the examples in the spoiler below to help to illustrate the point:
The latter 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.
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
2017-2019 PS help thread: here
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.
What If I'm an International Applicant Applying for UK Universities?
Your Personal Statement should match the home applicant structure (i.e. what this post is talking about). You may want to talk briefly about why you want to study in the UK, but it's not necessary. If English is not your native language, go through it with a native speaker/English teacher, but you should be wary of IELTS requirements too for your different universities (check their websites).
List of Resources from TSR for Writing Your Personal Statement
These can be helpful for both before you write your PS and during the writing and redrafting process.
- 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. Also, please note that they will be of varying quality.
- Reviewed Personal Statements - Example statements reviewed by the PS Helpers to demonstrate good and bad practice in a PS.
- TSR Personal Statement Builder tool
You can also ask questions in this sub-forum by making your own thread. 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.
Resources/Advice from Specific Universities
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.
If you copy and paste your statement into this template, make sure you paste it without formatting. One sure way to do this is to paste into a text editor (like Notepad) first to remove all formatting, then copy out of Notepad and paste into the template.
I hope it saves you time!
Microsoft Word: PS 47 line template.docx (Open link, then download.)
Google Docs: PS 47 line template.gdoc (Open link, then save a copy.)