Applying for an undergraduate course in the UK? You will be applying through UCAS, a central online platform that connects you to your chosen universities. And one of the requirements of this application is the personal statement. While every element of your application is important, think of your personal statement a bit like a golden ticket. It’s your opportunity to stand out amongst hundreds if not thousands of other applicants. Nailing your personal statement can be your key to admission! Read on to find out how to write a personal statement for a UK university.
Writing a Personal Statement for UCAS
First things first, what is a personal statement? The “personal” in the name gives it away. It’s a write-up about you, outlining your reasons for wanting to study your chosen course at your chosen university, in the UK.
It’s also your opportunity to give admissions officers a clearer picture of who you are. Admissions officers are looking at hundreds of transcripts and certificates. But these standard documents don’t really give them an idea of what kind of person you are. What do you bring to their university as an individual? What goals, interests, experience, skills, and insights make you a brilliant addition to their institute? The personal statement could be the document that helps secure your place at your chosen university.
Though similar to a statement of purpose, the UCAS personal statement has some unique characteristics. For starters, you write just one statement for all the universities you’re applying to. Through UCAS, you can apply to a maximum of five universities at undergraduate level.
This statement can also only be up to 4,000 characters long. That’s roughly 700 words. It may seem challenging to make a compelling case for yourself within these restrictions. But don’t worry – we have some guidelines set out for you!
Tips on How to Write a Personal Statement for UK Universities
1. Plan Thoroughly Before You Start Writing
To write a solid personal statement for a UK university, you must start with a plan. You have a limited number of characters to work with. To make a strong case for your application, you have to engage and impress with your writing within those characters.
To begin this process, start by brainstorming. Draw out a mind map to help you jot down the potential ideas you could write about. A good place to start is with your course description. If you’re applying to the same or similar courses for your shortlisted universities, research what these universities are looking for in students. What are these course descriptions highlighting? What experience, skills, qualities, and so on are they focusing on?
Structure your personal statement around these points. What academic achievements, work experiences, skills, extracurricular activities, etc. align with these points? Highlight these, rather than trying to write a general autobiography of yourself.
For example, say that a course description spotlights “students who are curious and eager to learn.” You could be the captain of the football team and win many medals. But as cool as these achievements are, they don’t really match what the course is looking for, right? Instead, you could discuss how watching a legendary football player got you interested in the sport. Discuss how you signed up for the team, and spent a lot of time and effort learning to be a better player. Then connect this to your course, to demonstrate that you have the qualities the university is looking for.
Planning first makes the writing process much smoother. It helps you organise your ideas and narrow down your best and most relevant ones. When you do start writing, it’ll flow much better because you know exactly what you’re trying to say!
2. Know What the Admissions Officers are Looking For
Crafting your personal statement around the skills and qualities highlighted in course descriptions is a must. There are also some questions admissions officers will seek answers for when reading your personal statement. Why did you choose to study in the UK, for instance, rather than your home country? Why did you choose this particular program?
Through UCAS, you’re applying to all your shortlisted UK universities at the same time. So, avoid addressing the university by name. Discuss how, for example, the UK has the best program rankings in your field in the world. Link your ambitions and passions to your choice in what and where to study.
Communicate your interests and motivations with enthusiasm but without exaggerating or being vague. Saying you wanted to study in the UK because you’ve seen it on TV isn’t a compelling reason to admissions officers. Saying that the UK consistently ranks highly in your field, and describing how passionate you are about studying this course, is much more convincing of your value as a student.
Tip: Avoid stating dual intentions. If you state motivations to live and work in the UK, admissions officers might interpret your intentions as a student as “not genuine.” In a couple of cases, people have applied to UK schools to use a student visa and enter the country, without intentions of completing their courses. Admissions officers will prioritise students who express genuine motivations to complete their studies in the UK.
3. Set Yourself Apart in Your Writing
Allow your unique voice and personality to express themselves through your writing. Generic statements like “I have always wanted to be a teacher” aren’t particularly engaging, right? The same statement could be true for hundreds of others. If you’re applying for an education course, think about experiences and skills that make you the perfect fit for the program. Share an anecdote of how you’d spend lunch break mentoring students for exams coming up. Or talk about your internship working with kids at summer camps or kindergartens. Rather than stating that you are passionate about teaching, show it through your writing. Describe relevant experiences you had, events that made you realise you wanted to teach as a career, that convey this passion.
4. Don’t Copy or Exaggerate in Your Writing
Given how important the personal statement is, you might be feeling a bit of pressure. But trust us – trying to copy off an already existing personal statement, or exaggerating to impress the admissions officers, will do more harm than good.
Your personal statements will automatically be run through plagiarism checks. If there is over 10% similarity with other documents and statements, your selected universities will receive notice. Plagiarism can result in your application falling through altogether. So, trying to frame your personal statement off someone else’s or taking inspiration from elsewhere is something we strongly recommend against. You could look at personal statements for university samples for ideas on how to write, but remember that your statement needs to reflect you.
Another temptation some students fall into is exaggerating. You might feel as though your accomplishments aren’t enough to guarantee an unconditional offer. But making up or exaggerating them and risking being found out is worse. If there is misinformation or inaccuracies in your personal statement, you face rejection.
Remember, be honest, and be yourself. Use course descriptions and structures as your guide. Which of these qualities have you displayed during your schooling, work, or general life experience? Discuss these skills and experiences to demonstrate why you’re a good match for the university.
5. Writing About Personal Circumstances
Presenting yourself positively does not mean you can’t write about anything negative. Did you experience something that affected your application in some way? For example, did you miss school because of an injury or mental health challenge? Or was there a family emergency that made it difficult for you to focus on school? You can – and should – discuss these, to give universities a better idea of why your academic performance isn’t as great as it could be.
The important thing is not to fixate on the negatives. You’re not trying to get sympathy from the admissions officers. In fact, trying to do so may work against you. Use these negative experiences to highlight positive characteristics about you. Talk about your resilience, how you didn’t give up, how you still got passing scores despite the difficulties you were facing. Let your universities know that even under pressure, you will thrive.
6. Use Proper Language and Grammar
The personal statement is still a formal document and part of your official application. While writing in an engaging and enthusiastic way, you must still write properly and professionally. Avoid slang, contractions, informal language, and jokes altogether. Remember also that you have a limited number of characters to work with. Cut down on “fluff” when you’re writing. If certain words or phrases don’t add anything to your statement aside from sounding nice, find a way to rephrase or repurpose them to service your statement better. If they don’t service your statement, omit them completely.
Make sure you check your work multiple times for punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Don’t simply rely on grammar-checking software – these often don’t catch all the mistakes.
Also, avoid trying to impress the admissions officers with complex vocabulary. These people have read hundreds of personal statements, and they can tell when your writing feels unnatural and manufactured. Rather than focusing on complicated jargon, write in a way that feels natural, succinct, and easy to understand. Keep your tone enthusiastic, but not inappropriate, overly-familiar, or casual.
7. Get a Second Opinion
And a third, and fourth, and a fifth. While planning out your piece, discuss your ideas with your teachers, friends, family, counsellors, and others who know you well. Their insight could help you consider ideas you might not have thought of otherwise.
Ask for feedback as you draft and re-draft. You may have been staring at your own writing for so long you might miss mistakes or inconsistencies. A fresh set of eyes can help you catch odd sentence structures, errors, or simply suggest better ways to express parts of your statement.
Don’t overdo it looking for feedback either. Not everyone may have the same opinion and too many conflicting ideas and opinions can make your job difficult too. We recommend reaching out to counsellors and teachers who are already familiar with helping students write personal statements. They can help you write a quality personal statement for a UK university knowing what works and what doesn’t.
8. Start Early
“Start early” is our blanket advice for all application processes. And for good reason. The more time you allow yourself, the better you can prepare. You won’t be able to write the perfect personal statement in a single draft. Giving yourself enough time to plan, draft, get feedback, re-draft, proofread, and so on lets you create a thought-out, quality personal statement. Starting too close to the deadline will inevitably mean that you rush the process. You won’t be submitting your best work. And that’s not the type of risk you want to take with the document that could make or break your application.
8. Write Out Your Personal Statement Separately
Type out your personal statement separately in a Word document or Google Doc, and keep back-ups. Continuously monitor that your word count doesn’t exceed 4,000 characters. When you are ready to submit your application in full, copy and paste this text into UCAS’ platform where you’re asked to do so. Remember, the UCAS window for the personal statement will become inactive after some time. Instead of typing everything out, it’s much safer and more efficient to have a copy saved elsewhere to paste on at the right time.
Our Concluding Thoughts
We hope that this piece has settled your doubts and worries about writing a personal statement. How to write a personal statement for a UK university isn’t as daunting when you know what to do! Start early, and do your research about what your universities are looking for before you begin. Seek advice and feedback from teachers, counsellors, friends, and family. Once you’re confident about your best ideas, draft and re-draft, proofread and edit, until you’re sure you’ve produced your best work. Remember, the personal statement is your chance to show admissions officers why you deserve that seat out of hundreds of other applicants. Make full use of this opportunity!