However, as Williams says, don’t go overboard. “The mistake people make is to mention too many clubs,” he says, “it makes us question how dedicated you’ll be to your study or work. Pick some key extra-curricular activities and think about the skills they give you and feed that into what you are doing.
“Avoid the vacuous statement,” he adds, “the statement that seems to say a lot, but actually says nothing at all, for example ‘I am a people person; committed to doing my best at every opportunity’.”
Stock phrases should be avoided at all costs, and applicants should also be careful not to exaggerate their achievements. Be warned; if you are invited to interview, you should expect to be quizzed on what you have said in your statement. White lies won’t impress anyone and can become pretty obvious pretty quickly under pressure.
Applicants should also avoid copying anyone else’s statement or taking inspiration from the internet, says Balnaves. Ucas uses a program called Copycatch to identify similarities in statements and notifies the universities if it picks up anything suspicious.
Balnaves also urges students to review their statements for spelling and grammar and to apply in good time. “We probably get about 10 per cent of our applications in the last week,” he says, “but it’s best to give yourself some breathing space. The best advice you can get is from a family member or a teacher, read it aloud to them so you haven't missed any crucial bits.
“Write about what makes you unique," he continues, "only you know your unique selling points. Ask yourself ‘what makes me different, what will I bring to the university and what will I get out of it?’”
It’s important to remember that not only will your personal statement be used in the initial process of making an offer, it could also be used at the end of the application cycle if you miss the grade requirements.
As Hunt says: “The personal statement is something tutors will use to remind themselves why they made you the offer in the first place if things don’t go to plan - they might give you the benefit of the doubt.”
With this in mind, it’s worth putting in the extra effort now, to give yourself every chance of success.
Dos and Don’ts of personal statement writing
DO check for spelling and grammar - get your parents to double check and then check again
DO link your extra-curricular pursuits with your course choice
DO show your teachers a draft first – so you will know what to change in plenty of time
DON’T leave it until the last minute – try to submit the application before Christmas
DON’T use suggested synonyms unless you’re sure what they mean
DON’T be tempted to exaggerate what you’ve done
DON’T talk about specific universities, only talk about the subject
Quick links for this article
What to includeHow to brainstormShowing your passionSelling yourselfNot enough to say?The 'so what?' test
We understand you want to make sure your UCAS personal statement is absolutely perfect before hitting send. So here is some help on writing and fine-tuning your personal statement. Read our tips on what you could write about, how to show your passion, how to sell yourself without sounding arrogant and what to do if you haven’t got enough to write about.
Your personal statement: what experiences should you write about?
There is no definitive list of what to include in your personal statement. Admissions tutors want to get to know you as an individual so what you write will depend on your experiences. What have you done that makes you different and will make you a great student on their course and at their university?
Most of your personal statement should focus on your experiences that are relevant to the course you’re applying for. However, about a quarter of your personal statement can be about what else you’ve done. See our advice on how to structure your personal statement to find out more about how to balance these.
Below is a list of ideas for what to include. Depending on the subject you’re applying for, they may be relevant to the course or they may work better as examples of what else you’ve achieved.
- Relevant experience, for example work experience, work shadowing or voluntary work.
- Any wider reading you’ve done.
- Trips abroad or visits to museums (both school trips and independent visits).
- Interests or hobbies you have, such as playing a musical instrument or playing for a sports team.
- Clubs and activities you’ve been involved with at school, such as Young Enterprise.
- Part-time jobs you’ve had.
- Positions of responsibility you’ve held.
Brainstorm ideas for your personal statement
Before you start writing your personal statement, it’s a good idea to sit down and plan what you want to include. Get a blank piece of paper and brainstorm everything you’ve done or achieved over the past few years that could be worth mentioning, using the list above to help you.
When it comes to writing your statement, you can then pick and choose the best points on your list that you want to expand on. Tip: try to use examples that are unique to you rather than, say, passing your driving test, which many other applicants will also have done.
Show your passion for your subject in your personal statement
Passion and enthusiasm for your subject are just as important to admission tutors as your academic capability. This doesn’t mean sprinkling the words ‘passionate’ and ‘passion’ throughout your personal statement though.
Instead, demonstrate your passion by showing how and when you’ve gone out of your way to engage with your subject. It’s definitely good to talk about your studies but what have you done outside of the classroom? Have you done any wider reading around the subject that hasn’t been set by your subject teacher? Have you joined an organisation that is linked to your subject? Have you been on any relevant trips or attended any talks, exhibitions or lectures in your spare time?
For example, Helen Relf, undergraduate admissions co-ordinator for English, drama & publishing at Loughborough University, offers the following advice: ‘Avoid vague statements. Give specific examples of texts you have enjoyed studying and explain why. What texts have you read in your leisure time? Are there any particular authors or playwrights you have discovered? Tell us why you are excited about the subject you want to study.’
Selling yourself in your personal statement
For many students, the personal statement is the first time they’ve needed to sell themselves. This can feel uncomfortable at first but it’s very important that you promote yourself to the admissions tutor and convince them why they should offer you a place on the course. One way to sell yourself is to use positive action verbs such as achieved, completed and developed throughout your personal statement.
Be careful not to overdo it though. The key is to find a happy medium between not bigging yourself up enough and bigging yourself up too much. You should avoid just listing your skills without backing them up with evidence. So rather than saying ‘I’m really good at working in a group’, you could say ‘I’m a member of my school debating team and we recently won a regional competition. This experience has helped develop my ability to listen to others, share my ideas confidently and work well in a group.’
‘One way to promote yourself without appearing arrogant is to explain how you could contribute to university life and make the most of the many opportunities on offer,’ says Helen. ‘Don’t just say that the university would be lucky to have you!’ Think about what you can offer to the universities you’re applying for. If you’ve played for your school’s basketball team, for example, maybe you would like to carry on playing for your university’s team.
You also need to strike the right tone when talking about the degree you’re applying to. Dr Helen Moggridge, a lecturer in geography at the University of Sheffield says: ‘Trying to impress the admissions tutor with your knowledge of the subject can risk seeming arrogant.’ You don’t need to convince the admissions tutor that you know everything about global warming, for example. They’re more interested in why you want to learn more about it.
What to do if you haven’t got enough to write about in your personal statement
‘If you’re worried about not having enough to write about in your personal statement, the first thing you should do is talk it out with somebody and ask for their help to generate ideas,’ says Emma-Marie Fry, an area director at Inspiring Futures, a provider of careers information, advice and guidance to young people. Emma manages the careers guidance team in London and the south-east and goes into schools to deliver support to students.
Think about all of the activities you’ve done over the past few years, no matter how small or if they don’t relate to your subject specifically. Discuss how you could draw on these experiences in your statement.
‘Your next step would be to think of what you could do now that doesn’t require lots of planning,’ says Emma. ‘There are lots of things you could do quite quickly that can demonstrate your interest and show your ability to apply your critical thinking.’
- Speak to your subject teacher for some recommended reading material. Look at some more challenging academic texts rather than day-to-day texts that you might read on the train.
- Think about any visits you could make. For example if you want to study history you could go along to an exhibition and think about how it relates to the course you’re applying to.
- Join organisations that are linked to your subject. For example if you want to study a media- or film-related degree, you could become a member of the British Film Institute. Attend some of its events and keep track of what’s going on in the industry. (NB: Most of its events are based in London, although it does have some nationwide events and you can subscribe to the BFI Player online.)
What to do once you’ve written your personal statement
Once you’ve written your personal statement, give it the ‘so what?’ test. Get in the mind-set of an admissions tutor and read over your personal statement. Is there anything that the tutor might say ‘so what?’ about? Is there anything you need to expand on more? Or is there anything you’ve forgotten to include? You should also give it to a helpful teacher to look over and give you some feedback. Once you’ve made the changes, get it checked again.
Once you’ve got your final version in front of you, give it one last read and check for any spelling mistakes. By this point, you’ll be very close to your personal statement so it’s a good idea to get a fresh pair of eyes to check over it too.
Don't forget to use our course search to find the courses you want to apply to.