Here’s an example of a common prompt: ”A personal statement of 1,000 words or less from the nominee describing his or her background, interests, plans for graduate study and career aspirations. The statement should include a discussion of some experiences and ideas that have shaped those interests, plans and aspirations.”
As Mary Tolar has noted, “If you are applying for nationally competitive scholarships, for graduate school, or for a number of post-graduate service or employment opportunities, you have seen the vaguely phrased request; in one form or another, it comes down to “tell us something about yourself… You are asked to share your “academic and other interests. A clearer charge might be: compose an essay that reveals who you are, what you care about, and what you intend to do in this life. Tell this story in a compelling manner, and do so in less than a thousand words. What’s so hard about that? Simply make sense of your life. (right.) But what does that mean?”
The personal statement is more like a genre than a rubric; there are set of constraints, but no formulas. This means that we need to triangulate our understanding of what it will be with more than one piece of advice rather than a single definition.
For that reason, I recommend you begin by printing out Mary Tolar’s advice. Highlight the phrases that strike you as helpful. Chances are, these are the phrases that surprise you or confirm what was a hunch. Noticing what stands out will help reveal assumptions you may not have even known you had. (This is a stage in the process that should not be overlooked in your rush to master the personal statement. The more you notice what you are learning, the easier the process will become.)
Your personal statement is the only part of the UCAS application form where you get to show admissions tutors what makes you unique and why the university would be lucky to have you. A few paragraphs could be the deciding factor as to whether you are offered a place, which is why you need to make every word work hard to make your case.
The 4,000-character limit includes spaces, punctuation and blank lines between paragraphs. So, depending on the length of words and the number of paragraphs, you're looking at roughly 650 words. Before you start writing, take time to really think about why you want to go to university.
Questions to ask yourself include: why do you want to study your chosen degree? How do your skills, interests and experience show that you deserve a place? What will you bring to the university? What makes you different? What will you get out of your time here?
Once you've jotted down your thoughts you're ready to make a start on your first draft.
- Plan what you want to say and the order you want to say it. This will help you build up your case and end on a high Show passion and excitement for the subject you want to study
- Keep hobbies and outside interests to a minimum and ensure they that reveal a relevant quality, such as teamwork or resilience, or an insight into your passion for your chosen subject
- Give yourself plenty of time to read, edit, redraft and repeat
- Get feedback from teachers, parents and other people you trust.
- Leave it too late as you will end up rushing it and won't do yourself justice
- Exaggerate achievements as you could be caught out if you are probed further or called for interview
- Copy other students' statements. UCAS uses Copycatch, a programme designed to identify this sort of thing
- Use clichés, slang or overcomplicated, pretentious words and phrases. Keep it simple and clear
- Feel that you have to use the whole 4,000-character count.
Personal statement examples
Get inspiration from other students' personal statements
UCAS personal statement tool
Use this tool to help you organise and write your personal statement within the 4,000-character limit
UCAS personal statement FAQs
A final word
Your personal statement is not only important at the application stage. If you narrowly miss your grades, it is one of the things admissions tutors look at to decide whether to still offer you a place.