What is a personal statement?
A Ucas personal statement is a short reflective essay you write about why you’re the perfect candidate for the university course/s you’re applying to.
It’s a key part of your Ucas application, alongside your predicted or achieved A-level grades (or equivalent) etc. It’s read by admissions tutors at the universities you apply to, who’ll decide whether to offer you a place or not.
Your personal statement should demonstrate how and why you’re a fitting candidate for their course – and the institution as a whole – through:
- your passion for the subject or field, including specific areas or topics you’re interested in;
- how you’ve made an effort to engage with your subject already;
- what you’ve learned or how it’s developed your understanding of your area so far;
- what you want to do in the future.
Most importantly, you need to link this back to the course.
It’s important to note that you only write one personal statement, which is seen by all the universities you apply to. We cover writing a statement for multiple courses, below.
Why is your personal statement important?
Unlike your grades or admissions test scores – which many other candidates may also have – your personal statement is the main way you can distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack (so you’re not just another Ucas number).
After all, three As at A-level – while impressive – doesn’t tell someone about your long standing passion for your subject, perspective-changing work placements, long-term goals etc.
Plus, your personal statement is written in your own words.
Your statement can form the basis of an interview if you’re invited to one; so you can use your statement to get an admissions tutor excited about meeting you, as well as shape what you might talk about.
Admissions tutors you speak to in Clearing – should you go through this – can see your personal statement too, and may ask about what you write here. In fact, we recommend re-reading your statement prior to results day, to refresh your memory about what you wrote.
How do I write a personal statement?
You’ll likely go through a few drafts before you get the final version you submit. So don’t expect to thrash it out in a weekend.
Check when your school wants your statement finished by, and work backwards from there. This will give you enough time to ask others for their feedback.
Start with your subject
It’s pretty much impossible to start your personal statement without a degree subject in mind. It would be like applying to an unknown job by simply stating your general strengths – these won’t necessarily be relevant.
It’s easier with a few courses in mind. While you can pull together a rough draft while still researching specific courses, it can help to have a solid idea of your five Ucas choices (or at least most of them).
See what they have in common (eg modules, key skills required, modes of assessment) and highlight these in your statement.
Make it personal
The key word is ‘personal’: this doesn’t mean pouring your heart out or emotionally blackmailing an admissions tutor.
And while you can ask a friend for their advice or look at statement templates, what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.
Remember, any statements that show signs of plagiarism will be flagged by Ucas’ system and will hurt your chances of applying.
Oxbridge vs non-Oxbridge
Personal statements for Oxford and Cambridge tend to be more focused on academics, serving as a platform for you to discuss your understanding and thoughts on material that you’ve been exposed to.
What do I write in my personal statement?
Below is a rough solid six-point plan from The Student Room to start you off:
Why you want to study this course or subject at university. Remember, your personal statement is seen by all your Ucas choices; so don’t make references to a specific institution.
Specifically subjects you’ve studied that are relevant to the course/subject you’re applying to, including specific topics or work.
This section should make up the majority of your personal statement – around 75% according to some careers experts – but this might vary depending on where/what you’re applying to (eg Oxbridge) and what else you have to talk about.
For instance, a law or medicine applicant may want to invest more time talking about relevant experience they've accumulated.
3 Interest in your subject beyond the classroom
This could be through books or journals you’ve read, events you’ve been to, podcasts you’ve listened to etc. Don’t just make a long list though; pick one or two key examples and focus on these.
Don’t be afraid to be critical either; critical analysis is a key skill at degree-level study.
You may want to combine this with the next section.
4. Relevant work experience (paid or unpaid)
Like the section above, it’s quality over quantity. Pick out one or two key experiences or placements, talking about what you did and what you took away from these.
Did anything surprise you? Did it convince you to pursue a certain area or career (or did it even put you off one)? Read the course description for all the courses you’re applying to, and pick out the skills or qualities that pop up frequently (then show how you’ve demonstrated these).
5. Hobbies and interests
This section should be brief, sticking to the most relevant ones only. These could be extracurricular activities that demonstrate key transferable skills that aren’t necessarily tied to your subject.
For instance, being captain of a sports team shows you can work with others, communicate clearly, lead and motivate others, etc – all of these are impressive to an admissions tutor, regardless of subject.
Remember, that you’re writing to an official institution in an academic context; keep in mind how someone with no prior knowledge of your interests, might perceive them.
An older academic may not quite appreciate your Taylor Swift fandom in the same way as your friends. Plus, what does this say about what you bring to the table?
This should reiterate the key points you’ve already made, giving your statement a satisfying sense of closure.
If you have an idea of your future ambitions (eg postgraduate study, career paths), explain how studying this course will help you fulfil these.
Alternatively, you may talk about your broader goals for university, or areas you’re looking forward to studying.
Keep the above in mind as you plot out, draft and re-draft your statement.
What can you leave out of your personal statement?
You don’t have a whole lot of space in your statement; so think twice about including these (or simply cut them entirely):
- Cliche phrases: things like ‘Since I’ve been a child’ and the P-word (aka ‘passion’) can find themselves in your personal statement all too easily – and everyone else’s, too. Be original!
- Famous quotes: admissions tutors want to see what you think, not Nelson Mandela or Maya Angelou (and not over the course of reading a hundred statements). Unless it’s a lesser-known quote that illustrates your point, try not to use them (or at least, don’t kick your statement off with them).
- Complicated vocabulary: if you can say something in five simple words rather than ten, do that. You don’t want to risk looking silly and using a word the wrong way, nor making your statement a mission to read.
- Humour: your statement is a formal essay with a lot riding on it, and you want to show that you’re taking your Ucas application seriously. Humour is really subjective and easy to get wrong – it’s best to just steer clear.
How long should a personal statement be?
You have a maximum of 4,000 characters and 47 lines to write your personal statement. That might seem a lot, but you might think differently once you begin writing.
It’s best to draft your statement and get it finalised in a Word document, and then copy it over to Ucas's Apply system (rather than make changes afterwards). If you’ve gone over the limit, you should get an error message telling you. Be careful that nothing has been cut off before you click ‘submit’.
Some admissions tutors will recommend that you leave a blank line to separate paragraphs, as any indentation or formatting will be stripped out when you paste your statement into Ucas Apply. However, from what we’ve seen, spacing will indeed count towards your character and spacing count.
Instead of leaving a blank line, try and finish your paragraphs midway along the line – that way it will be clear it’s still a paragraph.
How do I write a personal statement for multiple courses?
It's possible that you may want to apply to two, quite different courses, or to a mixture of single subject and joint or combined courses (with differing subjects).
If there are big differences between your course choices, it might be possible to blend your statement in such a way that everything you write provides appropriate evidence of your transferable skills, academic interests and the way you think, that's relevant to all of your choices.
Alternatively you could take the honest and transparent approach and openly explain why you've chosen to apply to different courses, providing reasons or evidence for each.
There’s even a very small chance you could contact a university directly and ask if you can write an additional personal statement that’s specifically tailored to a course you’re applying to. The worst case is they say no, but at least you’ve made an effort to show that you’re serious about applying to that course.
But be warned: if some (or all) of your course choices are very competitive and receive many more applications than there are places available, an application that comes across as not being 100% committed and relevant is more likely to go on the rejection pile.
Medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine students in particular, listen up!
What if you I have enough to talk about in my personal statement?
This is the ultimate nightmare for any university applicant. That’s why it pays off to use the year or two before applying to university to build up your arsenal of extracurricular activities and work experience placements.
Try to work out which subject/s you may end up applying to and slowly immerse yourself in them: subscribe to a podcast, follow key figures on Twitter, talk to relatives or family friends that work in these fields etc. You might even realise it’s not quite the right subject for you.
Work experience for subjects like law and medicine can be hard to come by, so you might need to be quick to sort this out. Meanwhile, we’ve talked above about how extracurricular activities that are seemingly unrelated to a particular subject can still demonstrate key desirable skills.
Alternatively, you could take a year out to work, volunteer and build up your knowledge and experience; then if you apply the following year, you’ll have more to talk about in your personal statement.
Check out our tips above on what to do before beginning your personal statement.
Personal statement tips for mature students
A question mature students should address point-blank is why you've decided to change direction and apply to university at this particular point.
Even if this was always the plan, it’s important to give the context of your decision-making, so admissions tutors can see your commitment and suitability – this may mean acknowledging the challenges of juggling study with your real-life commitments, but writing spiritedly about a goal you wish to achieve.
If this goal is to change career – a common motivation for mature students – talk about this desired career progression.
Make sure to show that you’re aware of its specific challenges and that you’ve researched this before you applying.