School is about to start again which means that many new Year 13 students are about to start the stressful process of applying to university. If the world of personal statements and firm choices sounds terrifying to you, don’t worry because this post should help you start at least!
- What on earth is a personal statement?
- What kind of things should I put in my personal statement?
- Umm…how do I start writing it?
- How should I structure this thing?
- Is there anything else out there that could help me?
What on earth is a personal statement?
If you’re asking this question then it’s likely that your teachers haven’t already started pestering you about writing one! A personal statement forms part of your university application which is done through UCAS. This effectively acts as your marketing pitch to the universities and explains why you love the course you applied to and why they should pick you over another applicant.
You only get 4000 characters/47 lines (which includes spaces and line breaks) to tell them how amazing you are so it’s important that everything you say is relevant and to the point! Moreover, you can also only write one personal statement which is sent to all of the universities that you apply to which means that you can’t focus on the specific details of one university.
This guide should help you to at least put together the first draft of your personal statement so that you can then begin to refine it until it’s perfect!
What kind of things should I put in my personal statement?
Whilst you might want to write about everything you’ve achieved from the age of 6, it’s not all totally relevant and would, quite frankly, be a waste of space. So what should be included?
Unless it’s something truly incredible or relevant to the course you want to do/your interest in it, try and stick to things that you’ve done/experienced in the past few years. Obviously there are exceptions to this – if you had a truly amazing teacher in primary school who inspired you to apply for a teaching course at university then you may want to include that in your statement, although I’d still recommend backing this up with more recent experience (e.g. you did work experience at a school for a week).
In most cases, you can write about pretty much any achievement or activity that you take part in; that being said, maybe don’t mention being able to binge watch a whole TV series in a week – even if it does show determination! Honestly, there isn’t really any set rules as to what you can include providing you can write about it in the correct way. I’d suggest to use these basic guidelines below to decide whether something should be included:
- Does it show you having a certain skill that is relevant to the course?
- Does it show that you’re actually interested in the course?
- Does it show that you’ve cared enough to research what the course/career actually entails?
If something fits into one of these criteria, then it’s most likely okay to include in your personal statement. This means that you could actually include anything from any sports or extracurricular activities that you do, anything you’ve done to help out within school, books you’ve read or work experience you’ve completed. You may even want to talk about how your sixth form courses fit into the course that you’ve applied for.
This article by UCAS suggests that you include the following things in your personal statement:
- The reasons why you’re applying for that particular course
- The reasons why you’re interested in a subject
- The reasons why you’re suitable for a course
- Whether your current courses relate to the course you’ve applied to
- Any activities you’ve taken part in which demonstrate your interested in the course
- Any other skills and achievements
It may be worth mentioning that some universities specify what kind of qualities they look for in applicants on their websites so it may be worth checking and trying to include these in your personal statement.
Umm…how do I start writing it?
So now you know what should be included in a personal statement, you need to start putting together your plan and then eventually your first draft.
The first thing I’d suggest you do is make a list of every single thing that you could possibly include in your personal statement. Mine included a couple of books that I’d read relating to a medical specialty I was interested in, a course I’d done about dementia as well as my work experience and volunteering.
When making this list, you’ll see categories start to emerge so you can then group certain things together – e.g. academic stuff (books you’ve read, extra courses), work experience, extracurriculars (sports and other activities), etc. These categories can then start to form the paragraphs of your personal statement.
Once you have the basic content that you plan to put into each paragraph, you can start putting together your first draft. Do not worry about writing an introduction – you’ll think of one along the way and most people find that they get frustrated if they can’t think of the perfect opening line. Start by working on each paragraph individually and then figure out which order you’re going to put them in and how you’re going to connect them – don’t worry too much about any connections being perfect, as long as you have a general idea of how they might flow together.
Now that you’ve written your main paragraphs, you just need to add a conclusion and introduction and you’ll have a first draft. This is the hardest part; all you need to do now is adjust it until it’s perfect! If you’re still struggling to get started, this article has a few more tips to help you out.
How should I structure this thing?
This part depends upon your experiences as well as the course that you’re applying for. As I applied for medicine, my personal statement wasn’t just focused about the course but also the eventual career of being a doctor. This meant that I spent a lot of time talking about how various things I did gave me the qualities of a good doctor like volunteering and work experience – for a subject which is more academic like history, this wouldn’t be a good structure to follow.
For most university courses, almost everything that you write should be related to the course you’re applying for – e.g. it should either say why you want to do it or why you’re suitable for it. If you’re applying for geography but you still want to write that you help coach a children’s football team then you could link it back to the importance of these educational opportunities and how you would want to implement this in third world countries.
An example of a general structure could be:
- Introduction – this should only really focus on why you’re applying for the course as opposed to your skills and achievements.
- Your academic experiences – this paragraph is where you can talk about how your A Level subjects are relevant to the course that you’re applying to. Where possible you should try and pick out specific topics that you’ve studied that have particularly inspired you or piqued your interest.
- Academic work outside of school – in this paragraph, you should discuss any academic experiences that you’ve had outside of school. This could include any extra courses you’ve done (e.g. MOOCs), any summer schools you attended or any books you’ve read. Once again you should try and pick out specific details from anything you did and either use it to explain why you’re interested in the course or why it makes you a more motivated candidate applicant than someone else.
- Work experience – here you can talk about any work experience or volunteering that you’ve done, whether it is relevant to the subject or not. If it’s relevant you can use it to explain why you want to study this subject and how it has deepened your interest in the subject. If it isn’t relevant then you can discuss the important skills that it has given you which will be relevant to the course you’re applying for. As always, try and include specific details about things you’ve done.
- Extracurriculars – this is the section where you can include anything that you’ve done outside of academics, e.g. sports teams or playing a musical instrument. This section is important for showing that you’re an all-rounded person who also has important skills like time-management. However, don’t spend too much time elaborating on these things as you’re better off saving space for the more relevant academic information.
- Conclusion – once again you should say that you’re interested in the subject and that you have the skills required for it. You could also include any future career aspirations in this section if you have an idea of what you’d want to do. This section should also be short and concise – stick to one or two sentences at most.
Obviously you do not need to strictly adhere to this structure, although it can give you a helpful guide if you don’t have a clue how you want to structure your personal statement. I personally found that I had quite a bit to write for both volunteering and work experience so I decided to write two paragraphs instead of combining them.
If you want more help with the structure you should follow, I’ll be including some useful links at the end of this blog post! If you want more medicine-specific advice then I’d recommend checking out my section on it in my Applying for Medicine post I’ve done before.
Is there anything else out there that could help me?
Hopefully this post has given you a general idea of how to put together a personal statement, but I know from experience that sometimes you just need to read a million different pieces of advice before you feel ready to start writing one. Below are a few links to useful articles/sites that will help you write your personal statement!
- The Student Room’s personal statement bank: This is a massive collection of people’s personal statements from previous years which can help you to gain inspiration for your own. Just a note, UCAS has a plagiarism checker so don’t even think about stealing any good sentences that you find in these personal statements as it will be flagged up for your universities to see!
- This UCAS article about where to get help with your personal statement: This article suggests a range of places and people that you can ask for help
- This UCAS article which answers a few common questions that people might have
- This guide from Bangor University gives you some advice from the perspective of a university
- This UCAS personal statement writing tool: If you really don’t know where to start then this tool will give you some prompt questions and help you put it all together
- This comprehensive guide by Which? University should be able to answer any questions that you still have!
- Life of a Medic is reviewing medical personal statements for free when you buy their planner and That Medic Life has made a list of their top ten tips for personal statements!
Here’s my last-minute tips for anyone who wants some advice but doesn’t feel like reading this whole blog post (understandably).
- Try and make everything you include in it relevant to the course that you’re applying for
- Don’t start with the introduction because it will just stress you out and it’s easier to add it later
- When talking about things like work experience, try and pick out specific aspects of it which are relevant to the course or helped you develop your skills/interest
- Make everyone read your personal statement – honestly there’s no shame in asking people to read it over and see how it sounds
- You have more to write about than you think – helping your cousins with their homework is tutoring younger students. You shouldn’t discard anything that’s relevant just because it seems unimpressive to you
- Try and made your personal statement personal – write about what makes you unique
- Don’t write anything that isn’t true because you may be asked to talk about it in an interview
- It may take many, many rewrites but you will eventually produce something that you’ll be happy to send off to a university so don’t give up!