How to Write a Personal Statement

The hardest thing about writing a personal statement is that hardly anyone really knows how it should be done, least of all the students who have to do the actual work of producing them. This guide will offer some pointers that should make the whole process less overwhelming.

Before you do anything else you should plan: think about why you want to study the course you are applying to and why you have picked the university you are applying to, and identify relevant material – books you may have read, extracurricular achievements, skills and enthusiasms you’ve developed as part of your schooling – that could be included. The key to good writing is often just good planning.

Now you are ready to start writing. Generally it is better to write in your natural voice: be clear and concise, and don’t try to use impressive polysyllables or obscure Elizabethan nouns. The purpose of your personal statement is to communicate, not to dazzle. Elegance and showiness are rarely the same thing, especially when it comes to prose.

 Make sure that you pay attention particularly to your introduction and conclusion. These should include, briefly, your motivation for wanting to do the course and your suitability for studying it. The introduction especially should describe what about you is special and impressive.

The bulk of your personal statement should be factual. The best way to be impressive is to show why you are impressive, rather than to tell the reader that you are – and the best way to show that you are impressive is to have written an impressive personal statement. A lucid and cogent description of your achievements which relates them to the larger themes of why you want to study your chosen course and why you would make a good student is exactly what admissions tutors are looking for.

Our final tip is to be very careful when looking for errors. Few things are more unimpressive than typos and grammatical mistakes. Luckily for you, we offer a comprehensive Editing service which guarantees to return you a perfect document.

The Importance of Getting It Right

The UCAS system has several peculiarities. It is a system in which candidates are represented by their grades, their personal statements, and their references. Despite ever-increasing grade inflation, the primary determinant for admission is still candidates’ grades. In a world where A and A* grades are more and more common, it can be harder for admissions tutors and universities to assess the quality of candidates based on their grades alone. And, because candidates of similar quality are likely to have very similar references too, this places a lot of emphasis on the personal statement.

Simply put, the personal statement is your only real opportunity to stand out. The success of your university applications – and therefore to a large extent the direction of your whole future – is intimately related to, if not entirely dependent on, one 4000 character document. One document that you will never have written before, and will likely never have to write again.

This burden on the personal statement means that it has to accomplish a lot of different things all at once. For every course without interviews, the personal statement is your only opportunity to individuate yourself. It has to demonstrate that you are special and show why you are special, but it also has to conform with expectations of what a personal statement should look like. It has to be well written and show your abilities as a communicator, be infused with your personality but also formal in tone. It has to describe your achievements, skills and successes, but avoid becoming either a biography or a brag. You have to capture yourself, charmingly and characterfully but professionally and studiously, in 47 lines.

Writing a good personal statement, then, is no easy feat. It is best to get as much help and advice as you can, especially from people who themselves know the system and its requirements. It is worthwhile letting these people read over several drafts of your personal statement to ensure that it balances the document’s sometimes contradictory requirements with grace and poise.

Personal Statement Pro offers tailored services specifically designed to meet these needs. Our Editing service gives necessary expert advice and input, while our Writing service places the challenge of balancing a personal statement’s competing demands in the hands of an experienced professional. The aim of both services is to help you to submit a document that will impress admissions tutors and allow you to win a deserved place at the university of your choice. A document this important needs this level of care and attention.

What Universities Are Looking For

Britain’s universities are amongst the best in the world, and they are therefore looking for prospective students of the highest quality.

Most important of the things universities are looking for is, of course, grades. Exam results are the best objective marker of academic quality the universities have access to, and should be comparable nationally. Many universities, particularly at the higher end of the league tables, will have grade cut offs, and will automatically discount candidates with too few A or A* grades at AS level or even at GCSE – this is simply a way of dealing with the vast number of applicants they get.

Universities are educational institutions, however, and they are looking not just to bring in quality, but to teach and develop their students. This means that they aren’t just looking for past academic success; rather they are looking for academic potential, of which grades can be a good and easily comparable indicator.

Your personal statement’s first job, then, should be to convince the admissions tutor reading it that you have the potential to be an excellent student. This is not just a matter of pointing to your prior academic achievements: it is necessary to show your insight and enthusiasm into the subject, your general intellectual ability, your positive personal traits, and the skills that you could bring to your course.

A personal statement is not a CV though, and you are not applying for a job or a specific role. Universities are looking for candidates who will be bright and engaged, who will respond well to the intellectual environment a university offers, and who will contribute to this environment. First and foremost contribution means intellectual contribution: good students breed more good students, and the more good students a university brings together, the better their learning environment will be.

Contributions to the environment can also be made outside of the classroom. Many universities are looking for prospective students who will be able to participate across campus life, be this through sport, music, theatre, student politics or simply by being a friendly, pleasant person. It is important to note, however, that these kinds of contribution are almost always a secondary concern for admissions tutors, so should not form the core of your personal statement.

Finally, and perhaps most trickily, universities are looking for candidates who are capable of jumping through hoops, in this case the hoops of the UCAS application system. This means that they are looking for people who are capable of producing good application forms, of finding good references, and of writing excellent personal statements. In addition to all that a personal statement can communicate about you as an individual, it is also important in and of itself: it is important to be able to demonstrate that you can perform necessary tasks.

This is why having a perfect, error-free personal statement is so essential: it gives universities what they want. Our Editing and Writing services are designed to produce the kind of perfect personal statements that can only be created with years of experience – they are designed to produce the kind of personal statements that are exactly what the universities are looking for.

Does Anybody Actually Read Personal Statements?

The short answer is: yes.

The longer answer is: yes, most of the time. Grades at AS level and GCSE, and predicted grades for A level, are easy ways to compare students from across the country quickly and fairly objectively, and universities therefore use these as the first determinant of acceptance or rejection. For universities that are overwhelmed by applicants, particularly the elite universities, any students whose grades don’t meet the necessary cut offs – who don’t have, say, 6 A* grades at GCSE, or aren’t predicted 3 B grades at A level – will be discarded unless there are some extenuating circumstances. In these cases it is unlikely that the students’ personal statements will be read, but in every other case, the personal statement will be considered by the admissions tutors.

A different longer answer is: yes, sometimes repeatedly. Grade inflation – the increase in the number of candidates with the same high levels of achievement – means that it can be harder to tell candidates, especially elite candidates, apart based on their grades alone. This means that universities will not just read and consider the personal statements of every applicant with sufficient grades, but that they will often re-read them several times, show them to several admissions tutors and consider them seriously and at length.

For courses and universities which interview applicants – mostly medicine and Oxbridge – the answer is: yes, probably again several times. While personal statements are less important as a determinant of entry for courses which feature interviews, they will still be read several times by admissions staff – firstly to decide who to interview, and secondly to inform interviewers about the candidates and guide the interview process. Interviews are likely to be based on personal statements to some degree, and could even be considered an oral expansion on those parts of the personal statement that they interviewer finds most interesting or apposite.

Your personal statement is going to be read, and likely re-read several times, by several different people. It is an integral part of any application, provided that it is supported by sufficient grades. It is therefore vital that you submit a personal statement that is unique, engaging and polished, and represents the best of yourself to admissions tutors. The best way to do this is to use one of our bespoke services; our Editing and Writing services are designed to help you to submit the best personal statement possible.

What Not to Do When You Write Your Personal Statement

The opening line is the most important of the personal statement, so it is crucial that it is engaging and tonally appropriate. More students slip up on the very first words of their personal statement than anywhere else, usually in an effort to be impressive. It is vital to avoid trying too hard: admissions tutors are unlikely to be as awed as you might hope by quotations, flashy openings or quick-fire jokes.

At the other end of the scale, too many students will open their personal statement too flatly, often with a cliché. These need to be avoided: not only will they dull the brain of the reader – and remember, admissions tutors will have to read hundreds if not thousands of personal statements – and will increase your chance of receiving a high score from plagiarism checking software.

There are other clichés that students will often use throughout their personal statement. Try to avoid baldly stating your ‘passion’ for the subject, and avoid writing about the length of your interest in it. It is also usually best to avoid using personal anecdotes, particularly if they are something along the lines of ‘I have wanted to be a doctor since I once nursed a pigeon back to health’ – unless your anecdote is unique and academically relevant, it is probably best left out.

One of the reasons to avoid anecdotes is that they can be tonally inappropriate. Admissions tutors are looking for personal statements that, while personal and revealing of the candidate’s personality, are written in clear, formal English. This means that various forms of informality and joviality – jokes, asides, puns, etc. – are best left out. The personal statement should explain your interests and skills clearly and concisely.

It is important to focus on your actual interests and skills. Admissions tutors are unlikely to be impressed by long words you looked up in the thesaurus, or by smart-sounding books you referenced for their own sake. They are looking for potential more than achievement, so you need to show them the real you. Let your abilities speak for themselves.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, you should avoid any errors in your personal statement. The personal statement is to some extent a hoop-jumping exercise, and any statement that contains typos, bad grammar or unusual formatting fails to make it through the hoop. Fortunately, our comprehensive Editing and Writing services guarantee perfect, error-free and beautifully formatted documents that are ready for submission.