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Personal statements for UCAS applications

It’s that time of year when A level students up and down the country are grappling with huge decisions about their futures. Deciding upon what subjects they wish to study, where they wish to study and how much it’s going to cost them. And even once those big decision are made, they still aren’t out of the woods, for then comes the dreaded University applications.

All part of the path to Graduation...

I’ve heard recently from a number of sources that the personal statement section of the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, for those not in the know) form is by far the most intimidating and depressing section to complete.

Many people, I’m told, find it difficult to write about themselves. But this section, personal by name and personal by nature, is crucial to the success or otherwise of this important application.

What’s the point in it?

The personal statement is your best opportunity to let the University know why they should pick you, above all others, to take up one of their precious places on a course. You need to explain to them why you are suitable for the course and you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

You have only 4,000 characters, including spaces, to get your point across so plan it carefully. Don’t waffle. Be concise. You need to use those 4,000 characters wisely to convey your passion for your subject, to sell yourself and your abilities and make it clear that you deserve a place on their course.

Making the best of a bad format

You’re highly restricted when it comes to format with a personal statement. You can’t use sub headings to draw the readers eye, and you don’t have the freedom of as many words as you can use. However, the future is not all bland. Use short sentences to break up your words. Plan the logical flow of the statement so you’re not chopping and changing direction and confusing the reader. Here are the basics for consideration:

  • State your reasons for choosing this specific course
  • Explain why you enjoy the subject, how you came to love the subject, what drives you to want to do well in the subject
  • Describe how you hope the course will help you to further your passion for the subject
  • Lay out what skills you have that make you the ideal student to study the course

A logical flow

The aim of the personal statement is to make you stand out from the statistics and to make it as simple as possible for the admissions tutor to find the relevant information about you.

The best piece of advice I received from my teachers when filling in my UCAS application (many years ago…) was to break the personal statement down into three sections:

  1. Concentrate your attention on explaining why you chose the course and why you think it is the best course for you.
  2. Explain what your career plans are for after you’ve graduated and why the course will help you with that path. Outline your work experience and the skills you’ve developed that will help you with your studies.
  3. The final section should explain a little more about you as a human being, not just as a student. Write about your extra-curricular activities and other interests. Paint a picture of what makes you tick. Include clubs and societies you’re a member of, part time jobs you’ve had and highlight any high standard achievements. All this helps the admissions tutor to see that you’re a well-rounded individual.

Planning to succeed

Before you launch straight into the first draft of your statement, take a few minutes to jot down some bullet points for each section. Keep your notes brief at this stage – you can flesh out your ideas when you have all the information you want to include in front of you.

Once you’ve decided what you want to include, go for it. Write that first draft. Get it all down and don’t worry about editing it while you’re writing. Once you’ve written everything you want to write, that’s the time for editing. Make sure you’re within the character limit and read the statement back several times to check for a good flow and to make sure what you’ve written makes sense.

Ask other people to read it for you, to make sure it makes sense to them too. Ask as many people as you can. It’s important to get it right. Don’t be afraid to do some more drafts if you aren’t happy with this one.

Finally, leave it aside for a few days if you have time. This will allow your brain to forget what you’ve written and you can come back to it with a fresh perspective. This will allow you to spot any errors, omissions or spelling mistakes more easily.

Try to leave enough time to have it checked over by an objective third party before committing to a final version.

And that’s it. Easy wasn’t it?

Over to you. Do you have any experiences with UCAS personal statements? Leave a comment if you have any further hints and tips – thanks!


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