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How to write the best personal statement

A personal statement is the first step towards getting onto your ideal course. Understand what makes a good personal statement to help you write yours.

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
05 Sep 2023

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For 2025 entry onwards, the way in which UCAS applications work will be changing. Personal statements are still required for 2024 entry. If you're considering applying in the 2025 application cycle, stay tuned to learn more about the new application process.


The importance of university research

As a starting point, it's a good idea to visit the websites of all the universities you’re applying to and see if they have any tips or even any personal statement examples. Having access to a personal statement guide will allow you to see how it should be done.

Write a personal statement that works for multiple universities. Every university you apply to gets the same statement, so it’s not a good idea to name a specific university in your personal statement or talk about how you match one institution’s exact criteria. Look for the similarities in what each institution asks for. 

Although they might word it differently, you’ll find that most universities look for similar qualities in potential students — identify what they are, and you can tailor your statement to cover them.

The same goes for courses. Obviously, Bangor University's English Literature course will differ from the English Literature course at Teesside University, but read the prospectuses and understand what they have in common.

If there’s a module that comes up in all of them (which is likely in the first year) you can talk about your interest in that particular topic. You should also be able to hone in on the key skills needed to succeed in a particular course by reading module lists within the prospectuses. These are likely to be very similar for every course (providing you’re planning to study the same subject at every institution you apply to), so you should be able to word your personal statement in a way that includes them all.

Enhance your application by making relevant references. Referring to particular experiences, recent events or developments relevant to your subject can help confirm to the university that you have a genuine interest in your subject and that you’ll be able to bring thoughtful insight to lectures and group discussions.

Try sourcing newspapers and industry journals for inspiration. Even if nothing new is going on, you still want to make sure that your personal statement is up-to-date and that you don’t accidentally talk about an idea or theory that has since been disproven. 

Finally, there are plenty of resources online with personal statement examples you can read. Do not — we repeat — do not copy any part of your personal statement or use AI to write it; UCAS uses very powerful anti-plagiarism software and you will get caught. However, reading through a personal statement template or two is a good way to get a grasp of what to include.

How to approach your personal statement

It's easy to get bogged down with this task. Consider the following: Why do you want to go to university? Why do you want to study your course? These are questions that you’ll need to address in your personal statement. Lots of students fall into the trap of making bland statements like, "I’ve always been interested in history" or "I’m passionate about music", but these won't draw in the reader.

Why have you always been interested in history? Why are you passionate about music? Also, ask yourself what you hope to gain from going to university and how this will help you achieve your goals.

Answering these questions truthfully will prove to your admissions tutors that you’re serious about your studies and that you want to go to uni to learn. Remember to write something which is succinct, has a clear flow and promotes you as an individual.

What to write in your personal statement

It’s called a ‘personal’ statement, after all. While using slang in your statement is strictly a no-no, and humour should be approached with extreme caution, admissions tutors want to see your personality — don’t hide it behind unoriginal, overly formal writing, particularly if that’s not your natural style. You want to sound enthusiastic! Be polite, but be personal — learn to strike a balance when writing your personal statement.

Another area where it pays to be personal is when it comes to listing your academic achievements. Tutors will want to know that you’ve covered relevant material during your sixth form studies.

Use your personal statement to talk about notable academic achievements. Did you think outside of the box during a particular assignment or push your creativity? What inspired you to do this? Talk about how your work and reading materials have influenced your interest in studying your course at uni, or how the skills you learned from studying them have equipped you for that particular degree.

You’ll also want to cover any relevant extracurricular activities in your statement; about 80% academic achievements and 20% extracurricular hobbies is a good guide. Extracurricular activities are important because universities want to know that you’ll engage with other areas of the university experience and will make a valuable contribution to university life during your three or four years there. 

Extracurricular activities could cover anything from hobbies to a part-time job, or volunteering — again, it’s specific to you. Like with your academic achievements, avoid just listing what you do with your spare time and focus on how it demonstrates your suitability for your course, or for university in general. 

For example, a part-time job could demonstrate that you’re hard-working, and playing sport in your spare time could show that you are well-rounded and interested in lots of different things.

Be sure to mention any work experience placements or internships, particularly if they're relevant to your course or to the job you’ve said you’d like to go on to do. This will prove that you're ambitious and serious about achieving your goals.

When talking about work experience (and, really, any other type of experience you have) it's important that you talk about what you got out of it, rather than just describing what you did. You need to constantly link your experiences back to the things universities are looking for. Just think — what do they want to see evidence of, and how do your experiences give them this evidence?

Drafting your personal statement

For your first draft, jot down some bullet points outlining what you want to write. You could try breaking it up into sections to make it more manageable — for example, you could include sections on why you have chosen your course, your relevant academic achievements and your extracurricular activities. Then when you’re ready to start writing, you can approach it one section or paragraph at a time.

When you start writing a personal statement, consider it a first draft — don’t worry too much about the character limit, or what order you write your sections in; just get down what you want to say. Then, once you’re sure you’ve included everything, you can start editing what you’ve written to keep it within the character count and make it flow better.

We advise drafting your personal statement in Word, Pages, OneNote or similar rather than on your actual UCAS application, as it'll be easier to edit. Once you’re happy with your personal statement draft, you can always copy and paste it onto the UCAS application form. Just keep an eye out for any formatting issues, as sometimes when you copy and paste text it can accidentally delete the spacing between paragraphs.

Proofreading your personal statement

Once you’re happy with the content of your draft, check it, check it and check it again! Any mistakes in your personal statement could count against your application.

Spelling and grammar checking software will do most of the work but don’t rely on it completely, as it doesn’t pick up everything (for example, properly spelled but misused words like ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’, ‘there’ instead of ‘their’). These kinds of mistakes are really common, so don’t assume you won’t make them.

Finally, we’ve mentioned before to steer clear of slang and that humour is inadvisable, but there are some other things to avoid including when writing a personal statement: clichés and quotes. Admissions tutors are sick to death (see what we did there?) of hearing about how students are “passionate” about their subject, that they have a “thirst for knowledge”, or that they have been interested in studying painting “from a young age”. These are bland statements that everyone makes. You’re trying to stand out, not blend in. Be original!

Tutors have also expressed a similar distaste for quotes in personal statements. Don’t try to show off how well-read you are by taking quotes from classic literature. Universities want to know what you’ve got to say, not Shakespeare.

Getting a second opinion

Some of the best personal statements are rigorously checked, so make sure you ask for a second opinion. You could swap statements with a friend, a parent or your teacher. It’s good practice to compare your work to see if you’ve missed anything important, and any spelling or grammatical errors. Ideally, it’s best to get more than one person to check for improvements. 

Personal statement checklist: other things to look out for

There are a couple of additional things to consider that won’t affect everyone but might mean your personal statement for university needs a bit of extra work.

The first is gap years. If you’re planning on taking a gap year, you’ll need to mention it in your personal statement. Explain what you’re doing and why — try to relate it to your course (for example, if you're going to university to study Spanish and you plan on spending part of your gap year in a Spanish-speaking country).

Try and highlight the benefits of what you're doing and work it to your advantage. If you're taking a year out to work and earn money for university, this demonstrates a strong work ethic, while volunteering shows a passion for certain causes and a willingness to learn.

If your course includes a sandwich year in industry or a work placement, it’s also worth mentioning in your personal statement how excited you are about having the opportunity to gain practical experience. If you have an idea about where you would like to go on your placement or even already have something lined up, mention that too — remember, you want to look excited and enthusiastic.

It's done!

Once this is all done, and you have thoroughly checked through your personal statement, you should be ready to submit. The final step of actually submitting the document can be scary, but if you’ve followed the steps above, you'll have a personal statement that is worth submitting and will make a compelling read. Good luck.


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Know about mistakes to avoid when applying to uni

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