Writing A Psychology Personal Statement
Some of the advice here will be mirrored in the general PS writing guidance as well, particularly in the extra curricular section and the style advice.
Start writing your personal statement early as many people will get through a huge number of drafts before they are happy with their PS. This is the general format for a PS and some good advice (you don't have to use this format, just make sure you include all the sections).
If you know where you want to apply, make sure you have a look on the websites for any specific advice on what they want to see in your personal statement as different universities may have different things they want you to include. Although almost all universities will have similar modules due to the BPS accreditation, they may well focus on different areas (e.g. more focus on social psychology/biological aspects of psychology). In particular, look at the modules that they offer in the third year, as these are often optional ones (after having done core ones in years one and two). Also look at whether universities expect you to take electives (even when doing single honours) or whether you do 'straight' psychology.
Before you apply, look at the university requirements. Due to the statistics included in a psychology degree, some universities specify a certain minimum grade at GCSE Mathematics. Some other universities suggest having two 'science' subjects, which normally encompasses: psychology, biology, chemistry, physics and maths. If your school/college has not offered Psychology A Level/you have not studied it then you need to show your interest in it in other ways.
Remember, very few universities interview for psychology degrees, so this is the only chance most people get to impress the admissions tutors and bring in anything to make themselves 'stand out from the crowd'. Oxford and Cambridge are the only ones who interview consistently, although other universities may choose to interview you in exceptional circumstances (e.g. mature students). UCL do a questionnaire with interview-style questions too, although that is done in your own time.
All PSs will have an introduction in some form. This needs to start in an interesting way, to draw the reader in straight away. Remember that admissions tutors will read hundreds, if not thousands of them! 'I am applying to study BSc Psychology' for example, is (a) a waste of characters, as the admissions tutors will be from the psychology department and (b) a very boring way to start a PS. Avoid cliches such as 'I have always been interested in' - technically that can't be true, as it would have not been the case as a baby! Also, it is best advised not to use quotes in your PS - it is meant to be personal to you, so the admissions tutors want to know what YOU think, not what someone else does.
Use the introduction to possibly talk about HOW you got interested in psychology (although don't say 'studying AS Psychology has made me want to study this subject further,' as it will bring up the question 'well why did you choose to study AS?'). Also, don't make it too vague, by saying things like 'I am interested in how people interact' or the cliched 'I am interested in finding out more about myself'. A psychology degree is an academic qualification, and this is not what you will cover. Instead, mention an area or two and say WHY it/they interest you, albeit briefly. You can go into more detail in the subsequent paragraphs.
Academic content should take up approximately 2/3 of your PS. It can be split into two: college academics (A Levels etc) and academic interests/activities outside of your formal education. The latter is obviously more interesting, as it shows more motivation to know more about the subject you are wanting to spend 3+ years (if you include a relevant postgraduate course) studying. However, you may not want to separate them that crudely - for example, covering something at A Level may have enthused you to discover more about that subject, so put it together.
This is not the place to list your A Levels and what you've done in them. It is also not the place to try and link everything to psychology, no matter how tenuous the link. Try and avoid saying 'Studying English literature has improved my essay writing skills and helped me construct concise arguments'/'Mathematics has helped with my data analysis skills'. These will be pretty self-evident and a waste of characters. Instead, talk about what in your A Levels (related to psychology) has interested you and why. If you found it particularly interesting, you may want to briefly talk about any experiments/studies that you did during A Level Psychology. Don't just explain what different areas of psychology/studies etc are about - reflect on them, say why they were interesting. Admissions tutors will be familiar with what (e.g.) cognitive psychology is about!
The second part would be far more interesting. This can come in a variety of forms: reading undergraduate level text books/reading academic journals (including those aimed at college students)/work experience. The last one is far more difficult to obtain, with confidentiality surrounding a lot of what psychologists do. You may get to talk to one about their job, however. Other relevant work experience could include volunteering in a mental hospital or in a school (development, learning, memory, learning disabilities etc); you don't need to mention the name of the school, just say 'a local primary school' (e.g.). When talking about these things, don't simply name drop - anyone can do that. Instead, say WHY you thought it was interesting and if you can, add some sort of evaluative comment (e.g. about strengths/weaknesses of the study, how useful the findings are).
A simple example of how to say 'why something interested me': 'Milgram's famous study of obedience to authority interested me, due to the shocking and unexpected results obtained, even from well educated participants.'
As for what things to read, try and avoid the 'pop psychology' books, such as 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat', or really famous studies, such as Piaget, Zimbardo etc - I have read so many PSs that have included that, and it doesn't really include much actual psychological content. Look for what kinds of modules you'll be studying - e.g. there isn't much point in saying you're interested in psychodynamic theories (dreams, unconscious thoughts etc) if your chosen universities do very little (or none) on the subject. Some journals that are aimed at college students include: The Psychologist, Psychology Today and Psychology Review. Some other possible reads are mentioned in the 'Psychology at University - FAQ' thread, or you may want to consider using something from the 'Interesting and Useful Psychology Resources' thread or the 'Books to read for wider psychology reading, and for university preparation' thread.
Something else important to note - don't go mentioning Freud in your PS! Undergraduate psychology is far more scientific than A Level, so Freud is going to only get a brief mention, if any in the whole 3 years of the degree.
This section is for anything that is not specifically related to your interest in psychology. This part should be short, a maximum of 1/3 of your PS. It can include things from school/college as well as in your free time (including a part time job). For school/college, you may want to talk about peer mentoring, prefects. Remember to keep your sentences short and snappy. If they're long, people get bored and stop reading. Cut out all unnecessary words. Don't start your sentences with verbs unless absolutely necessary (e.g. “Being a prefect” is too informal). Say what you did/do, then what you learned from it, and sometimes explain why that is useful, but not at the expense of it being interesting. Don't repeat things you learned- you only need to demonstrate characteristics once each throughout the statement. You don’t need 3 examples of how you can handle responsibility! Other characteristics you can talk about are team work, communications skills, leadership, confidence, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t include them all. If it is just going to sound fake and boring, it’s probably better not to bother. You do not need to relate everything to psychology - you are allowed to have a break from it, even at university!
As for your interests outside of roles of responsibility, keep it very brief. Sport and musical interests are generally good ones to include and just briefly say why you enjoy it. Less important are things like 'I enjoy going down the pub with my friends/shopping/going to the cinema' etc. As long as you have SOMETHING written about your extra-curricular activities (if just to show you exist outside of college), it doesn't matter how many. Quality is better than quantity, and you want this section to be brief, so there is no point in listing a load of activities. Think about how they've helped you.
This would also be the best place for international students to briefly mention why they want to study in the UK.
If you are deferring entry, it would also be useful to include any gap year plans and say why you are doing that.
Your final paragraph should conclude why you are a good candidate and why you want to study psychology. Although you should be confident that you are a good candidate, it is important not to sound arrogant (e.g. 'I am the ideal candidate to study BSc Psychology'), as it's very off-putting. You shouldn't include any new information in the conclusion, except possibly career plans. Don't worry if you don't have any, you don't have to mention career plans at all. But they should only be mentioned if they are relevant to psychology (although with the number of applicants saying they want to be clinical psychologists, admissions tutors will often take that with a pinch of salt). Don't refer to the university directly ('your university') as this comes across as very insincere considering you're applying to 4 or 5 universities.
Psychology is available as a joint honours degree with a number of other subjects. If you are applying for a joint honours course, it is important to balance the amount of space dedicated to each subject. Note the difference between "Psychology with X" and "Psychology and X"; the first implies a 67/33 split between psychology and the other subject, while the second implies a 50/50 split. The amount of space in your PS spent talking about each subject should be adjusted accordingly. You should if possible avoid mixing choices of straight psychology and psychology joint honours. Any indication that you are not 100% committed to the course admissions tutors see you applying for can count very strongly against you. Think carefully about what you want to study for the next three years before you apply! You also need to show a link between the two - answering the question 'why do you want to study them together?'. Remember you will most likely have to do a dissertation that covers both, and while you don't have to have an idea about what you'll do at this stage, you need to show interest in both and how they link together.
Talking about family situations (e.g. sibling with learning difficulties, parents who have gone through divorce, grandparents who have had conditions such as Parkinson's/Alzheimer's, etc) or personal experiences with depressions/other mental conditions can look like you're trying to go for the sympathy vote, whether this is the intention or not. In this instance, it is generally best to avoid talking about it. If you are trying to explain why your grades are lower than expected, then ask your referee to talk about it.
When you've written your PS, read and reread it. Read it aloud to see how it sounds. It's surprising how many times you can notice poor grammar/repeated words close together when you hear it, rather than reading it silently! Get other people to read it - teachers, parents, friends, siblings.
Try and keep things up-to-date. Generally things from sixth form only, although a brief mention of things done during GCSE years may also be OK.
Keep your sentences varied - don't start all your paragraphs/sentences with the same format (e.g. 'I did X/I did Y' or 'My A Level in...'/'My studies of...'), as it doesn't flow very well and sounds very boring. Also, one sentence (or even two) do not make a paragraph!
Don't have ANY sentences that put yourself down- even if you try to turn it round, it's better not to say anything negative to start with.
You are writing formally- “Can’t” should be “cannot”. “Doesn’t” should be “does not” etc. Do not include digit numbers- write them out. "I did two weeks..." not "I did 2 weeks". Do not include brackets- (...), they are too informal. Be careful not to miss out words like "have", "I", and "that", like most people do in spoken language. It is safer not to use exclamation marks at all. Look up 'how to use commas and semi-colons'. Spelling and grammar can make or break a PS.
Some words and phrases are extremely cliché: Passion, fascination, love, aspiration, intrigued by, broadened my knowledge, enhanced my skill, affirmed/confirmed my decision. Use these words with caution. If you're using alternatives, be careful not to sound like a thesaurus.
Using phrases such as "quenched my thirst for" or "sparked up my interest" also don't read anywhere near as well as you think they do.
There's a tendency to use "also" all the time, when it's not needed. Be concise! Unnecessary linking words like "Futhermore" and "As a result" get used too often. A few of them are OK, but only a few. Remember to use commas after these linking words and phrases.
Don't use complex words in extremely long and convoluted sentences. People lose interest (and it makes you look somewhat pompous). Keep it short and make it flow.
Capital letters: NOT needed for subject names, psychologist, counsellor, secondary school, etc. Be careful where you use them