Your Ucas personal statement is one of the main ways universities will assess your application. It needs to be based what you’re good at, why you’re good at it, and how that makes you an ideal candidate for the course. So what exactly should you write and what should you avoid? We asked admissions tutors for their dos and don’ts.
- Don’t waffle. “Use one sentence for the intro and conclusion. The rest of the personal statement should focus entirely on the criteria they’re looking for,” says Simon Atkinson, who interviews medical students at Bristol.
- Do keep it simple. In some cases, personal statements are read numerous times – particularly at results when a student misses their required grades. “The admissions director needs to read them swiftly. Straightforward and confident language works best,” says Alix Delany, head of admissions at UEA.
- Do get a proofreader. Atkinson advises making friends with your English teacher and having them check it for you. “Show it to as many people as possible – especially if you know anyone with a background in human resources.”
- Do focus on what the university says it wants. Universities usually publish admissions statements which outline what they’re looking for in their candidates. Each uni will be looking for something a little bit different: some will focus entirely on your academic activities, others will also pay attention to your hobbies.
- Do show that you’ll be active at university. Any personal examples of work experience, weekend jobs or school activities can be of use. Almost any hobby can be relevant in some way. Be sure to relate them to your studies. Playing an instrument, for example, shows application, stamina and the ability to study and practice, as well as teamwork if you play with other people.
- Don’t try too hard to be funny – it doesn’t always come across well in writing. “You’re not a professional writer and the person who reads it won’t be looking for that. All they’re looking at is whether you fit their criteria,” says Atkinson.
- Don’t bother with quotes. Julie Tucker, from the applicant services team at Falmouth University, says the statements that get an academics’ attention are less formulaic. “Avoid using well-known quotes from famous people, and avoid stating the obvious,” she says. “If you are applying to join a fashion design course, steer clear of Coco Chanel quotes. If you’re applying to study film, don’t open by saying you’ve watched films from a young age.”
- Do use your own voice. “Personal statements are largely scored in an objective way. You need correct English, without looking like you’ve swallowed a thesaurus,” says Atkinson. “I would avoid grandiose or highly idealistic statements such as ‘from the moment I was born I was destined to cure people’. That’s the kind of thing people write. Keep it prosaic and to the point.”
- Do be honest. For courses that interview their applicants, academic teams often use the personal statement to guide their questioning. “With that in mind, applicants shouldn’t use anything they’re not comfortable talking about in detail,” says Tucker. Dr Sam Lucy, director of admissions at Cambridge, agrees. They often refer to personal statements at interview. “We’re checking that their enthusiasm is genuine. In particular, we should get an idea of where within your subject this enthusiasm lies.”
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