How to write a GOOD personal statement for University
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
The dreaded personal statement. Let me start off by saying it took me months to write mine and it was definitely not that good at first. By the time I finished I had about 25 drafts-my inner perfectionist self would not settle for less. However there is some advice I wish I had gotten sooner to save me re-editing little things constantly.
This is going to be quite detailed so brace yourself.
So a general point is that what universities want from your personal statement is just that, a personal account of who you are and the potential you have to grow at their institution. It is not meant to be a complete record of your academic life: a list of subjects you do, talks you have been to, books you have read etc. in a bid to just impress them.
At the end of this post is a link to a copy of my personal statement that helped me get offers for Law at Russell Group universities including the University of Cambridge. There are also other personal statements (over 25 of them!) for different subjects written by my incredible friends.
Some practical tips:
Firstly, get rid of the idea of a perfect personal statement. To this day, there are things I would change about mine. It is never going to be "perfect" but it will be a perfect representation of yourself and your love of the degree you want to study in that moment of your life. Relax and take your time.
Make a list of 2-4 key activities you have done that you want to talk about in depth in your personal statement. You have to be selective as you will find out just how little 4000 characters really is when you start. Give the admissions officers a chance to see your passion through a few things you have done rather than a shallow description of the 3 books, 2 lectures, 4 competitions and the podcast you have listened to.
Write what YOU want to write, not what universities want to read or your teachers force you to put in to make you sound "smart". Synonyms are good and all but if you have never used the word labyrinthian before as a synonym for complex...don't start now.
Every sentence you write needs to have a purpose and a reason why it is in your personal statement in the first place. There's no point in saying "I volunteered at a charity shop during my free time" if you are not going to relate that to how it will help you be successful in your degree or overall time at university.
It goes without saying but for your own good, don't copy or lie in your personal statement, especially if you can be asked to come in for an interview...don't do it to yourself!
The kind of universal structure of a personal statement is 3 sections: an introduction explaining why you wish to study your chosen subject, the main body containing the activities you have done to show your interest in what you want to study and a section on extra curricular activities to show that you actually have a life outside of academics. Lastly a concluding sentence to round up your excitement and eagerness to study your degree is always a plus.
A lot of people start by writing the last section on their extra-curricular activities first as it's easy to do and get out of the way which is very good advice for those struggling to start writing in the first place.
There are a few questions you should be answering whilst writing your introduction. What interests you about the degree? Try to pick a specific point rather than a general cliche statements such as "I want to study this subject because it is interesting to me." What specifically is interesting for example? Is there a moment that made you realise that this is what you want to do? Do you have any personal experiences related directly to the degree you're applying for?
This is the first thing the admissions officers will read so try and be as original as possible by trying to avoid opening sentences such as:
"Since I was a child I have wanted to study ......."
"I want to do this course because..."
You might also get told to avoid using quotes and as a general rule that may work, however if it fits what you want to say and you can explain the effect it has had on you in choosing said subject to study at a degree level, then go for it. Although remember that in your introduction you want to give the admissions officer a sense of who you are, not who you think they want you to be, or what someone else says about your chosen degree.
If you are struggling, try writing your main body first and you may find that there are some interesting points you can move to your introduction.
This can be split into several paragraphs (just remember that you have a 42 line limit and gaps between paragraphs count as lines) or a single one, the choice is yours and it will not affect your application in anyway.
If you have done some work experience directly or indirectly linked to your degree, participated in competitions, read books, listened to podcasts, lectures, etc, now is the time to really expand on what you learned and took away from those experiences. What is it about those talks and books that you found interesting? Has your perception of your chosen degree been challenged and in what way? How has your understanding of your degree subject deepened? If you choose to talk about your A-level subjects (which you don't HAVE to do contrary to what your teachers might say- look at the psychology or medicine personal statements to see how that works) how do they relate to your chosen degree and if not, what transferable skills can you bring? The same goes for any work experience. Was there anything you were surprised by when exploring your chosen subject further?
You can use these questions as sentence starters and during this section, try to come back to why what you have said makes you an ideal candidate for the course that you are applying to.
A practical tip is not to be too concerned about the word limit when starting off and just write in as much depth as you can for a chosen 2-4 activities you want to talk about. After that, you can go back and cut out words and phrases that are not needed.
The end of your personal statement shouldn't take you too long to write. Pick 2-3 extra curricular activities, depending on how many characters you have left, explain your role and how it along with any skills you picked up links to either your degree or how you will contribute to university life (societies etc). The last line should be a concluding sentence, re-iterating your passion and enthusiasm to study your degree.
Thats pretty much it.
I hope this break down helps you in writing your personal statement. My last piece of advice is just a reminder for you to be your authentic self and have fun! Applying for university can be scary but you ARE smart enough and deserve to be at an institution that values you and will help you work towards your future goals!
Hi, I'm Aba and I started The Student Scope to give other students advice on their academic journey. Have a look around and enjoy!