Think carefully about how you want to structure your personal statement. If your argument flows naturally and follows a logical order, this will impress admissions tutors and show them that you will do well on their course. After all, it’s a skill that will come in very handy when it’s time to write your essays and sit your exams over the next three or four years.
Basic personal statement structure tips
- Use paragraphs. This can be tricky as it will eat into the 47 lines available to you so don’t use lots of paragraphs but try to have a few. This will make your personal statement easier for the admissions tutor to read than one large block of writing.
- Have a clear beginning, middle and end. This will make help your personal statement flow naturally. For help with how to begin your personal statement, read our article on writing your opening sentence and, for help with the rest of your personal statement, read our article on what to include in your personal statement.
- Use the ABC method. When writing about each experience, use the ABC (action, benefit and course) structure. What is the activity, what skills and qualities have come from it and how does it relate to the course?
- Keep it short and sweet. You’re limited to 4,000 characters (47 lines) so use short, concise sentences and delete any unnecessary words.
Structure your personal statement to best show off your examples
There is no one set way to structure your personal statement. However, consider putting the most relevant and unique examples of your skills and experience towards the start of your personal statement. This can be more effective than working through all your examples in chronological or reverse chronological order.
For example, if you’re applying to study history you’ll probably want to make sure the school trip you went on to Auschwitz in year 12 has centre stage, rather than feeling you need to start with examples from year 13 or from when you were doing your GCSEs.
Read our article on what to include in your personal statement for more help on what to write about.
The three section approach to your personal statement
If you’re still not sure how you want to structure your personal statement, you might find it helpful to loosely split your personal statement into three sections. Jonathan Hardwick is a former head of sixth form and now a professional development manager at Inspiring Futures, a provider of careers information, advice and guidance to young people. He explains: ‘Your personal statement should cover three things. These are:
- why do you want to study the course?
- what have you done that makes you suitable for the course?
- what else have you done that makes you somebody who will contribute to the course and to the university?’
Section one: why do you want to study the course?
You need to explain to the admissions tutor your reasons for wanting to study this subject. If it’s a vocational course, such as nursing, think about what you like about this profession and why you think it’s the right career for you. If it’s an academic degree, such as geography or chemistry, why do you want to spend a long time studying this subject in detail? Think about what you’ve enjoyed so far and what you want to learn more about.
Section two: what have you done that makes you suitable for the course?
This is the biggest part of your personal statement. You’ll need to draw on your experiences to explain why you think you’d be a good student on the course and how you’ve developed the skills and knowledge needed.
If it’s a vocational course, think about what you’ve done that shows you’re engaging with the profession. Now is the time to mention any relevant work experience or voluntary work that you’ve done.
If it’s an academic subject, show that you’re going beyond what your teacher is telling you to do. If you’re doing an EPQ (an extended project) or you’ve done lots of extra reading, for example, tell the admissions tutor what you’ve done and how this has prepared you for the course. Or if you’re applying for a creative course, such as drama or music, write about what you’ve done outside the classroom. For example, for a creative writing course you could mention your blog or the poetry competition in which you were shortlisted for a prize.
Section three: what else have you done?
‘As a rule of thumb, 75% of your personal statement should be about your studies and your justifications for applying and 25% should be about your extracurricular activities,’ says Emma-Marie Fry, an area director at Inspiring Futures. Emma manages the careers guidance team in London and the south-east and goes into schools to deliver support to students.
A quarter of a personal statement is 1,000 characters (around 11–12 lines), so aim to roughly devote this amount of space to what else you’ve done. This is your chance to write about what you’ve done that perhaps isn’t so related to the course but makes you an interesting and well-rounded person. This could include any hobbies you enjoy in your spare time, paid employment or volunteering.
‘It’s important that you demonstrate why these interests and experiences are relevant to your application (for example, to show that you are able to balance your studies with your commitments) rather than just listing them,’ says Dr Helen Moggridge, a lecturer in geography at the University of Sheffield. Use your examples to show that you’ve developed important skills that will help you thrive at university. Good skills to highlight include independence, time management and organisation. So, for example, a Saturday job as a waitress may have improved your communication skills as well as your ability to work under pressure and prioritise urgent tasks. These skills will help you communicate with your lecturers and peers on your course, as well as juggling your coursework and exams.
Don't forget to use our course search to find the courses you want to apply to.
The UCAS personal statement strikes fear into most sixth formers. Sculpting the perfect personal statement is an arduous an unavoidable process. With approximately 600,000 people applying to university each year, admissions officers need a way to filter stronger candidates from the rest of the pool.
As daunting as this task may seem, it’s also your only real opportunity to share your personality and suitability for your chosen degree program. Follow our top tips, and you can make a success of your personal statement.
Understand the UCAS personal statement guidelines
There are specific requirements for your personal statement which you absolutely cannot ignore. You cannot exceed 4,000 characters, or 47 lines of text (including blank lines) – whichever is reached first. If you do, universities won’t receive your entire statement.
Because of this, make sure your personal statement has a strong, definitive conclusion. It will look poor if you’ve obviously cut it off mid-sentence after realizing you’d surpassed the text limit. Instead, plan your piece thoroughly and give each section adequate attention, time and characters.
Plan your time and write it well in advance
Given how important it is, the UCAS personal statement can take a while to perfect, so give yourself time to work on it. Most schools probably won’t let you leave it until the night before – but try to even be slightly ahead of your internal deadline. The more time you allow yourself, the longer you can take to edit your ideas and strengthen your application.
Choose which universities you’re applying to before you start
The academic level of the university and course you’re applying to will have an impact on the tone and content of your personal statement. If you’re not sure of the kind of universities you should be aspiring to, you can use the UK University Search Tool, which will generate a list of universities based on your UCAS Tariff points. If you are unsure what your qualifications equate to, you can just pop them into our UCAS Tariff Points Generator.
Once you have made an informed decision about where to apply to, you’ll be able to cater your statement appropriately. As a general rule, the more traditional and academically acclaimed the university, the less time you should spend in your statement talking about non-academic activities.
Find out what admissions tutors are looking for
Speaking to university representatives can be a really great way to discern what faculties may want to see from applicants. Remember, universities are looking for the right students just like you’re looking for the right university. This information won’t be written in their prospectuses, but if you attend higher education events, like the upcoming UK University Fairs in Autumn 2017, you’ll find that representatives love engaging with students and speaking to them frankly about the application process. Click here for more information about the Autumn fairs hosted by UK University Search.
Draw on your enthusiasm
You need to saturate your UCAS personal statement with your desire to embark upon this course. Obviously, don’t allow your interest to descend into a cheesy mockery – you need to convey sincerity. Three years (minimum) is a long time, and the independence of university means that those who aren’t really invested in their course may struggle. Admissions tutors are searching for students who have a genuine interest and who will relish three years of education. Show that you’re one of these people.
Carefully select your extra- curricular activities
Knowing how much of your well-rounded self to present can be mystifying, especially if you’re worried that everyone will have the same things to say. If you’re not sure what to mention, a good idea is to focus on extra-curricular activities that tie into the course you’re applying to. So, if you’re interested in studying hospitality, mention any events you’ve worked or volunteered at. This might seem trickier for more traditional subjects, but you should be able to think of something. A math student could share their enthusiasm for chess, a budding geographer might describe physical landmarks and features they’ve seen when travelling, and a humanities student may be able to give examples of writing they’ve had published.
Avoid rambling and vacuous statements
You only have 4,000 characters to persuade admissions tutors why you are the perfect candidate for their course. Don’t waste any of them. Leave out any rambling stories about why you’re interested in a particular course. If something is particularly interesting, a brief overview may be relevant. Avoid clichés too. Saying you’re a “committed and hard-working individual” has no weight and detracts from any personality you’re trying to express.
This might seem obvious, but don’t lie
There is a very fine line between presenting yourself in a better light and simply lying. You should never lie – not only is it immoral, but, if caught, your application could be reconsidered and come back to bite you. This is particularly true if you are called to interview. There are many horror stories of applicants being interrogated about their favorite book, only for it to become apparent they never read it.
Finally, don’t copy
Reading personal statements used by older siblings or friends can be a really useful exercise, but don’t be tempted to re-use somebody else’s words. Aside from the fact it doesn’t demonstrate your uniqueness and personal drive, there are also programs used by UCAS to prevent plagiarism. Copycatch reports suspicious activity to universities, so don’t risk your application being rejected. Your personal statement needs to be your own.
Lead image: Jisc.ac.uk