How to write a personal statement that universities will love

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Inside information to help make your university application sing

Your personal statement is an important part of your university application – but it’s something that can feel difficult to get right. 

Maybe you’re looking at that 4,000 character limit and thinking ‘what on earth am I going to put in this thing?’ Perhaps you’re finding it hard to describe yourself and all the things you’ve done. 

You might just be wondering whether universities are actually going to read what you’ve written.  

In this situation, a bit of help is what's needed. So we went in search of some expert advice to help you build a sharp and readable personal statement that could really boost your application.  

Elliot Newstead heads up UK student recruitment and outreach at the University of Leicester, which means he knows a thing or two about what universities want to see in a personal statement. 

Here he shares some straightforward tips to help get yours done - including the one thing most students miss.

What’s the point of a personal statement?

Writing your personal statement gets a bit easier once you stop to think about what it’s actually there for. 

“The personal statement is the only real chance that students get within the application process to articulate why they’ve chosen to apply for their specific subject and then why they’d make an excellent candidate,” says Elliot.

Ultimately, if it came down to you and another candidate with exactly the same grades, a compelling personal statement could tip the outcome in your favour. 

“Other elements on the application, such as predicted and achieved grades, do indicate performance levels,” says Elliot. “But the personal statement really allows for the detail and helps us, as universities, understand motivations and interests.”

The personal touch

So what you’re looking for from your personal statement is something that will elevate your university application beyond the mundane. Something that will tell the story behind all that generic information about personal details, predicted grades and so on. 

“The best personal statements are those that are exactly that – personal,” says Elliot. 

Have a think about personal anecdotes you could share. What are the experiences that have helped shape your passion for the subject? What steps have you taken to reach this point in your academic journey?

Your personal statement should be the part of your application that could only have been created by you. Whatever you write, it should be uniquely yours.

Provide evidence for your points

As well as adding that personal touch, you’ll also want to be clear about the qualities and skills that would make you the perfect fit for a course. But this can’t just be a long list of ‘things that are great about me’.

“[Ensure] any points you make around ability, performance or additional research into a subject demonstrates where or how you’ve done what you say you have,” says Elliot.

That means you’re not just saying ‘I’m really great at geography’ - you’re saying ‘I’m really great at geography and here are some things I’ve done at school and in my spare time that prove it’.

Give some thought to how these examples connect with the kind of skills you’ll need on your course. It’s easier then for the reader to picture how you’ll fit in at their university.

“Use two or three killer examples of academic ability that link to the subjects you’ve applied for which evidence a good range of transferable skills that all unis love – such as communication, teamwork and organisation,” says Elliot.

Link it together

By this stage you’ve got some key points that can form the structure of what you’re going to write. Now onto the secret sauce that could take your personal statement to the next level. 

“It’s the joining up of information that really stands out,” says Elliot. “A lot of students will usually write about their interest in the subject, some will go into the additional reading and research they’ve done. Not many will link it all together. So if you can crack that, you’ll really stand out.

“For example, if you’re writing about your interest in subject X (let’s say history), the strongest personal statements would then follow up with what specific bits of history (eg American history) you are most interested in.

“[Then] where you’ve looked into that particular area in more detail (eg listened to a podcast series on the Great Depression). Which is important because the degrees you’ve applied for all have opportunities to study the topic in a lot more detail.”

Writing in this way demonstrates that you’re really thinking about the course, as well as what you’ll get out of it and what you’ll bring to it.

Structure it well

Like any good piece of writing, your personal statement should be easy to follow, with a clear beginning, middle and end. 

“Make sure you have an introduction and a conclusion surrounding the main body of text,” says Elliot. “It needs to flow well and take the reader on a journey.”

Plan your time

So that just leaves actually writing the thing! It’s no small job and Elliot advises planning it out to give yourself plenty of time. 

“Break your time down into measurable and achievable goals, then reward yourself for hitting them,” he says. 

“Time will go quicker than you think, so dedicating a bit of time each week and allocating an area of focus for this time should keep you on track.

“The most important thing with your personal statement is to give yourself enough time to show yourself in the exact light you want to. Rushing it risks not doing yourself justice.”

About our sponsor

The Student Room is proud to work with the University of Leicester, a top 30 UK University (Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024).

The University was founded with a mission to create a better world. When you study at Leicester, you become a Citizen of Change. As a global citizen, you are the future, and together, with our leading academics we can make a difference. Discover how to apply now.