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How to approach your personal statement

Our guide to all of the things you should think about before writing your personal statement

Planning your personal statement

Planning what you’re going to include is the first step in writing an excellent personal statement. A key part of planning is looking over everything you've already achieved, and what experiences you've gained. We've covered this in detail on our how to stand out on your personal statement page

Here we'll look at the basics. So you can learn about structure, get an overview of a personal statement, ask yourself questions before you dive into writing and find out how universities will use your personal statement.

A quick UCAS personal statement overview

The personal statement is part of your UCAS application. It's how you show your chosen universities why you'll make a great student and why they should make you an offer.

It’s important to familiarise yourself with the basics of the personal statement to ensure that when you begin writing, you understand how and why the personal statement is used, and what universities expect from the personal statement overall.

4,000 characters

Your personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters long. It sounds like a lot, but it's only around 1 side of A4 paper. So keep your writing concise and clear.

Apply for multiple courses

You can apply for 5 courses, but you can only submit 1 personal statement. So it needs to cover all your course choices. 

Your interests

You'll need to be clear about your interests, and say how they relate to the course and career.

Interviews

Some universities will ask you questions about what you've said in your personal statement on an interview day. Make sure you re-read it before any interviews. 

Stand out from the crowd

If your chosen course is competitive, your personal statement can be used to decide whether you should get the spot over someone else. 

Why the course? Why you?

Talk about why the course appeals to you, and highlight why you're suitable. This is your chance to stand out.

Personal statement structure

You'll need to keep your writing concise, which can be challenging. You'll be including your reasons for applying, how your current studies relate to your chosen subject, your future aspirations and your relevant experiences in only 4,000 characters. 

So here's a simple structure that you can follow to make sure your writing flows.

  • 5% – for your introduction
  • 70% – focusing on your academic experiences, or relevant experience for the course and reasons for choosing the course
  • 20% – on extra curricular activities, interests and the skills you have developed that are relevant to the course
  • 5% –  conclusion to tie everything together including why you'll make a great student

Planning exercise!

Spend 15 minutes asking yourself the questions below to guide your writing. Start identifying your skills and experiences and jotting them down. You'll be able to refer to these notes when you write the real thing. 

Need more help? Check out our page on how to stand out on your personal statement.

Questions to guide you

  • Why do you want to study at university?
  • Why do you want to study this subject?
  • How did you become interested in this subject?
  • What career do you have in mind after university?

  • What work experience (including part-time, charity and volunteer work) do you have and what have you learnt from it?
  • What positions of responsibility have you held? (For example, prefect, captain of a team or member of a committee)
  • What relevant hobbies or interests do you have and what skills have they helped you develop?
  • What transferable skills do you have, such as self motivation, team working, public speaking, problem solving and analytical thinking?

  • How do you keep up with current affairs or news in your chosen subject?
  • What journals or publications relevant to your chosen subject do you read?
  • Which people have influenced you, such as artists, authors, philosophers or scientists?

  • How have your current studies affected your choice?
  • What do you enjoy about your current studies?
  • What skills have you gained from your current studies?
  • How can you demonstrate you have the skills and qualities needed for the course?
  • What qualities and attributes would you bring to the course and university?


How do universities use your personal statement?

Lots of students who apply to university have achieved the basic entry requirements and many more students apply than there are places available. Admissions teams can use your personal statement to get to know you and decide why you're more suitable than other applicants. That's why taking the time to prepare can give you the edge.

Some universities read every personal statement and score them. They'll use them alongside your qualifications and grades to decide whether to offer you a place or interview. Other universities put less emphasis on the personal statement and use it with students who have borderline entry requirements.

Universities might refer to your personal statement again on results day if you don't get the grades you need. So a good personal statement could get you a place even if your grades aren't what you hoped for.

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