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Students: how to overcome your biggest personal statement challenges

What to include, the first sentence, achieving the right tone… We explore how to tackle common personal statement obstacles

If you’re planning to go to university in 2019, you may have already started writing – or at least thinking about – your personal statement.

Your personal statement is a short reflective essay about why you’re the perfect candidate for the university course you’re applying to. It gives you a chance to really sell yourself to universities and show them who you are, beyond your grades.

However, it can be tricky to achieve the right balance of demonstrating your motivation to study a particular course, why you’re well-suited to it and how your extra-curricular activities prove that you’re a well-rounded person. And it can be especially difficult to do this without slipping into clichés and writing identical phrases as other candidates.

We asked 38 students about the biggest challenges they faced when writing their personal statement. Below, we run through the top five most popular answers, and explore how to overcome them.

Personal statement builder – answer a few simple questions and we’ll help you create that tricky first draft.

1. Knowing what to include

There are a few essential ingredients to a solid personal statement.

You’ll want to get across…

  • why you want to study the course
  • why you’re right for it
  • what you’ve done outside the classroom, and why it’s relevant to the course and your career aspirations
  • your transferable skills
  • the long-term plan.

For more detail, alongside tips from admissions tutors: 10 things to put in your personal statement.

To help your application stand out, you may also want to check the 10 things NOT to put in your personal statement.

2. Organising and getting my thoughts down

Don’t feel like you need to start writing straight away. Gather all the facts and evidence that you need first, the same way a TV detective might before launching an investigation.

You’ll likely benefit from taking the time to plan and work your thoughts out on paper, whether that’s using mind maps, bullet point notes or even a long stream of consciousness.

3. Starting to write it

The first paragraph of a personal statement is often the hardest. We’d advise thinking everything through and planning the structure beforehand – as this will help shine a light on the best way to start writing.

We’ve spoken to admissions tutors across the country, and many of them emphasised the importance of not overthinking it and going overboard.

It’s better to get to the point succinctly and concisely, explaining why you want to study your chosen course, than to open with a long and rambling quotation. After all, admissions tutors are interested in what you think when deciding to give you an offer.

Read our article on writing a killer opening for your personal statement for more in-depth guidance.

4. Getting the language and tone right

How much of my personality should I reveal? How much of it should be my opinions? How do I best demonstrate my real desire to study my chosen course?

All valid questions when tackling a personal statement. Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to any of the questions – much of it really depends on your personal style.

However, there are a few principles to stick to. For example, it’s important to write well-structured paragraphs rather than one big chunk of text, as you want to make it as easy to read as possible. And try to provide concrete examples of your keenness and motivation wherever possible.

5. Tailoring the personal statement to the subject

While there are some things that tutors will look for in all personal statements, it’s crucial that yours is really well-tailored to your chosen course, and aware of its demands.

For more bespoke personal statement advice for your chosen subject, take a look at Personal statements: subject guides.

For all advice on making the right higher education choice for you, head straight to Which? University.

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