Applying to a UK university requires you to face that dreaded task: writing your personal statement. With it feeling like your future depends almost entirely on just this piece of writing (alongside, of course, your exam results), and with competition for university admissions fairly intense, it’s no surprise that it can be a stressful task.
But no matter how stressful it might be, if you’re applying to university, you just have to do it. (That includes you even if you are an international student applying to UK universities.) And if you’re doing it, you may as well do it as well as you can.
We’re here to help you do just that. We want to help you write as good a university application as you possibly can. One that universities love and that you feel proud of too. Because whilst an awful lot rides on it in terms of where it will let you go for university, it is also a great opportunity to reflect on your own achievements too.
So, with a positive spirit, a confidence in your skills, experience, and academic capability, let’s get writing that perfect personal statement. Here is our best advice to get you where you want to study for university.
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Tips for Writing Your University Application
Remember, when you are writing your application to university, that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone who wants to be studying at university needs to write exactly the same sort of UCAS personal statement. Meanwhile, at the other end, universities are going to be reading hundreds and hundreds of applications – which all have the same sort of statement too.
There is not, in this, much scope to be original. However, you have to make use of what you have – and there is absolutely no excuse for errors in the basics. Even the tiniest mistake is enough to send you packing.
So, before we crack on with the tips for your personal statement writing, take note of the essential virtues that a personal statement must have: accuracy, personality, capability, awareness, and passion.
- Accuracy – that’s the necessity for your application to be error-free.
- Personality – or the way in which you communicate your character, interests, and individuality
- Capability – the experience, skills, and qualifications you have that would make you suitable for the thing to which you are applying
- Awareness – your capacity to reflect on those experiences
- Passion – your love for or commitment to your chosen subject.
Don’t sacrifice your chances of going to the university of your dreams by neglecting one of them. Now, let’s turn to the top tips.
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Remember What You are Writing: a Personal Statement
The first thing to remember is what it is you are writing. It is a personal statement. That means that you need to keep the attention on you throughout the whole thing: on your development, your thoughts and ideas, and your experiences.
Don’t be afraid of the word ‘I’. You need to write the narrative of your life, and it is not self-indulgent nor arrogant to keep the attention on you. In fact, enjoy it: it might be the first time in your life that your teachers and tutors have let you use the first person in your writing.
Write about You, Not the Subject
To reiterate, that means writing about you. A good personal statement does not read like an essay; it does not indulge in intense analysis or critique of problems, texts, or ideas. You are going down the wrong track if that’s what you are doing.
Rather, writing a personal statement is about focusing on you, not the subject to which you are applying. Consider your experiences, what you have done or enjoyed and why, what you have read, and why you think you are appropriate for what you are doing. Keep it biographical, rather than intellectual.
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What are Your Experiences and Ambitions?
You need to tell the reader why you have the necessary experience for the course to which you are applying. However, remember what we said about awareness. A simple list of life experiences or extracurricular activities is not sufficient: tell the reader what you have learned from the most important of these and why these experiences would be helpful for you at university.
You can also take a moment to think about your ambitions or desires later in life. Are you applying to study chemistry because you want to be a laboratory scientist, or are you applying for English because you want to be a professor of poetry? Do you want to continue into postgraduate study? Say this, if you know, and why.
Read the Details of the Courses to Which You are Applying
Universities like to know that those who apply to their courses actually know what they are letting themselves in for. If they read how much an applicant loves medieval literature but there is no such module on their English course, it’s going to give something away about how much research this applicant might actually have done.
Of course, dedicating parts of your personal statement to specific elements is difficult when you are necessarily applying to five universities. However, knowing precisely what each of the course to which you are applying prevents silly mistakes.
What Sort of People Do They Seek?
The websites for courses to which you are applying will in most cases tell you what sort of people they are seeking. To take an example for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Oxford, the course site states that they seek:
Application and interest: capacity for sustained study, motivation and interest, an independent and reflective approach to learning;
Reasoning ability: ability to analyse and solve problems using logical and critical approaches, ability to assess relevance, capacity to construct and critically assess arguments, flexibility and willingness to consider alternative views;
Communication: willingness and ability to express ideas clearly and effectively on paper and orally; ability to listen; ability to give considered responses.
These would be the sorts of skills and experience that you should most make sure to highlight in your application.
What Do You Like about the Course?
Across the five courses that you have applied to, is there a something that you could write about that they all have in common? Is there something that you are most excited about studying? Remember what we said about passion. This remains one of the most important qualities to have on your personal statement.
If you can’t find anything that you can write about, ask yourself why you are applying to these courses in the first place? Your passion needs to be sincere.
Make the Most of Your Experiences
We said above that a list of your experiences is not really sufficient for a successful personal statement. Rather, you need to try to “sell yourself”, to make the most that you can out of your life story and experiences.
That’s not to say exaggerate or lie. Rather, it’s about a capacity to balance capability with awareness: you need to frame your experiences in a way that is compelling and relevant.
Hobbies and Interests: “Extracurricular Activities”
Of course, you are going to be thinking about extra-curricular activities. It is inevitable that you won’t be thinking about these. However, exactly the same thing applies here as in the previous section: a list is not enough. You need to say why they matter.
That means why they matter to both you and to your proposed course of study.
Plan What You are Going to Write
Of course, before you actually write anything down, you should really plan what you are going to write. That means brainstorming, that means outlining a first draft, that means ensuring that everything that you are intending to write in the statement is something that you do actually know about.
Like all important pieces of work, do this before you writing anything at all.
Proofread and Rewrite: You Won’t Crack it the First Time
Regardless of whether or not you plan, you will have to rewrite. Parts of your statement will not come out how you want them first time. This is inevitable – and may even be beneficial for you.
Finally, once you are reasonably happy with your application, proofread the thing. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Ensure that everything is perfect.
Then, once you have done that, read it all over again. And get someone else to have a look too.
Give it Plenty of Time: Don’t Leave it Too Late
Perhaps the most important piece of advice for a personal statement is don’t leave it until the last minute. Your university application matters enough that you cannot afford to write it in a rush before a couple of hours before the deadline.