Outside of your exams themselves, you’ve probably never written anything as important as your UCAS personal statement. Admissions tutors at some of the country’s best universities are on the record as saying they treat them as an increasingly important part of the application process with every passing year.
So it obviously pays to make sure you get it absolutely right. With that in mind, here’s our guide to help you do just that...
Start at the beginning
Like anything else, writing a personal statement is all about proper planning. Before you put pen to paper, so to speak, start by noting down the key points you want (and need) to get across; then move on to the ordering and structure, grouping similar achievements together – from academic achievements, skills and extracurricular activities to work experience and interests – so that it flows logically. When you feel like you’ve got these two key stages done properly, write a first draft, sleep on it, get a teacher, parent or friend to check it and provide some tips and pointers. Sleep on it again. And then, off the back of their comments, write a second draft.
Check, check... and then check again
It probably goes without saying that getting your spelling and grammar right is essential. Once you’ve gone through the usual obligatory spellcheck, get your teacher/parent/friend (ideally a good speller...) to cast an eye over it. This, after all, is your own personal job window – sloppiness at this point could cost you dear.There is no excuse for poorly spelled personal statement and submitting a substandard statement will hold you back.
The admissions tutor reading your personal statement will have seen hundreds, possibly thousands, like it. If you can’t convey to them the strong desire you have to attend their university, then they’re certainly not going to be able to guess it. Explaining your course choice, and your dedication to it, here is crucial: this should link into your A Level choice, while tying into things outside of your school activities and introducing possible future career plans.
Make sure you don’t leave off anything about you that is notable, but don’t assume everything about you is notable. Your UCAS statement is not a shopping list. Try to show how your achievements or hobbies have an application to either the subject or your personal development.
UCAS warns students to be wary of taking a comedic route. Remember that what is outrageously funny to you might not be to the admissions tutors. You want to stand out, but not for the wrong reasons!
When you’ve spent all day reading different versions of the same thing, there are obviously one or two commonly used opening lines which will quickly get eyes rolling back in heads. Two in particular to be avoided are: “From a young/early age I have always been interested/fascinated in...” (or its close cousin in cliché “For as long as I can remember I have been interested/fascinated with...”) and “I am currently studying a BTEC National Diploma/A Level in...” The chances are that if you start your UCAS personal statement with either of these two lines you’ll have lost the admissions tutor reading it before you’ve even really started. (A key tip here: don’t go looking for personal statement examples – UCAS use a system called Copycatch to scan for plagiarism, so if you do find, and copy, someone else’s there’s a strong chance it’ll be picked up on.)
While the length of a personal statement can be anything up to a 4,000 character limit (or 47 lines), this shouldn’t be an invitation to wax lyrical. Whilst we wouldn’t suggest writing a statement that is exceedingly short (though it would certainly be eye-catching ) don’t feel obliged to fill in every last character space unless you have something worthwhile to say. This comes back to capturing – and maintaining – the reader’s attention. Nothing is more likely to make eyes droop than a lot of waffle and unspecific blah, blah, blah. Be concise, to the point and get your message across in a series of short, succinct sentences – something which should have come out as a result of the initial structured planning and subsequent drafting processes.
Looking for more help and tips? Go to UCAS’s own personal statement guide.