The Education Blog

23rd September, 2022

Getting started with your personal statement

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

The hardest part of writing your UCAS personal statement is getting started! Lots of students find the prospect of fitting all their academic achievements and passions into 4000 characters a little daunting, but with organisation and a calm approach you can create a statement that helps you to stand out from the crowd.

Here are our top tips for getting started with your personal statement:

1. Consider your options

Remember that your personal statement will be sent to every university you apply to, so it needs to be relevant to each course.

Courses with the same name can be taught very differently across universities, so before you get started, make sure you research each course you’re applying for and what you would study. The course information on the university’s website is a good place to start, but you may also find articles, news stories and even podcasts helpful to give you a feel for the university and what you might study.

This will help you to make the right decisions about where to apply, but it will also give you good material to think about what about that course makes you excited to study it, and what you could focus on in your statement.

Make sure that you keep it relevant to each university; don’t get too specific about Module 4B at UCL when the admissions team at Kings’ will also be reading your personal statement! Try to read your statement from the point of view of each university and make sure it is relevant and compelling.

2. Plan, plan, plan

No one sits down and writes a perfect personal statement on their first try – there’s just not enough room to waffle!

Instead, think about the course you’re applying for, why you want to apply for it, what about it excites you and why you’d be a good candidate.

Try creating a mind map or listing out different things you might want to include – get them down on paper rather than keeping them in your head and worrying you’ll forget to talk about them.

You might find it helpful to start with the big ideas, and then develop these into deeper ideas that demonstrate your interest and suitability for the course. For example, if you were applying for English, you might start with the idea that you loved studying Victorian literature at A Level, then you might expand on the specific texts, themes and arguments that piqued your interest. To take this further, you could then touch on what other texts or scholarship this led you to read outside of the school curriculum, and how your specific interests might connect with the texts and themes you might have the opportunity to study at university.

You won’t be able to include everything, but getting all these ideas down on paper will help you to hone what exactly makes you excited about this course and what you should talk about to demonstrate why you’d be a good candidate.

3. Stand out from the crowd – what makes you special?

Once you’ve researched your courses and have the outline of what you’d like to talk about in your statement, think about what you’ve done that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Have you shown your interest in a subject by doing additional reading? Did you enjoy studying something and did more independent reading or research around a theme, argument, or approach? Did you do an EPQ or a project on something you’re passionate about in the subject, and what did this teach you? How would you take this further?

You may also want to think about how you’ve shown your interest outside of school. Have you been to any summer camps about the subject? Have you attended any lectures, watched any free MOOC courses or been to any exhibitions or museums? What did you enjoy? What has this made you interested in taking further?

Have you done any work experience or part time work? Especially if you’re applying for a course like Medicine or Law, universities love to see that you’ve got to grips with the reality of this career through work experience.

Use your mind map to make notes on the interesting things you’ve done that make you special and highlight your specific interests on the course – this will help you to stick in the admissions team’s mind!

4. Think about your extra curriculars & work experience

Think about what you’ve done outside of your academics, whether that’s part time work, work experience or extra-curriculars.

Did working in a restaurant give you any transferable skills you can bring to your course, such as time management or organisation? Has your love of drama and being in school productions enhanced your understanding of the texts you’ve studied in English or History?

In the last section of your personal statement, you’ll want to include a couple of lines on your interests and extra-curriculars. What could you bring to the university in addition to your academic interest? Are you musical and will join the orchestra? Or are you keen to get to grips with the student newspaper? This is a great opportunity to briefly show universities who you are as a rounded candidate.

5. Get writing

Once you’ve thought about all of these points, get writing!

It can be really helpful to get your ideas down on paper in full sentences – this will help you to start identifying how your statement might be structured, and the connections between different ideas which you might want to use to connect paragraphs.

Don’t worry about finding your strong opener or coming up with clear paragraphs right away. Once all your ideas are written down, you can sit down and make decisions about which points give the strongest impression of who you are and why you’d be a good candidate. You may also find it helpful to get feedback on this from your parents, family, friends, teachers or tutors.

Once you’ve decided on your key points, you can then start properly structuring your statement and cutting it down to sit under the character limit. Remember that writing a personal statement is a marathon and not a sprint – slow and steady wins the race!

Good luck!

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