The Dos and Don'ts of Writing a Personal Statement

July 6, 2021

The time has come to start applying for university. It’s the next step in education and you’ve never been more excited. Your parents are proud, suppressing their tears, already picturing your graduation. Meanwhile, you’re thinking about freedom, the socials and steamy debates. But you’ve come across the first hurdle: how do you write a personal statement? 

Well you’ve come to the right place, you smart cookie. No doubt the panic is seeping in and you fear you won’t get into university. Do not stress! Here’s a quick guide with 8 do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing your personal statement. Follow each step and you’ll have conditional offers from all your top 5 choices — you’re welcome.

Before we start, let’s note down a few disclaimers. You probably know already that your personal statement will be processed by UCAS (duh!) and it needs to be 4000 characters maximum. Yes, that is a word limit and yes, you will be penalised if you don’t adhere to the rules. This means you need to use your words wisely. So with that in mind, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Don’t write your introduction first — save it ‘til the end.

This might sound backward, but you actually want to write your introduction last. This is because it’s easier to summarise your thoughts in a coherent way. Otherwise, you’ll trap yourself and struggle to write the body of your personal statement.

Instead, plan the main points that you want to talk about. Consider why you want to study the course and your inspirations. At the end, read through your content and highlight the important points in your introduction. This will help you save time and a lot of confusion!

Do be honest and true to yourself.

There is no point trying to embellish the facts or just flat out lying. Even a little white lie will come to bite you in the bum. Universities might arrange interviews and discuss parts of your personal statement. So if you’ve been lying, this won’t look good for your reputation.

We understand how intimidating it is to write a personal statement. You want to look like the best candidate for the course (considering the competition) and impress those reading it. The best way to do that is to just be honest and authentic. No one is expecting you to be an expert — that’s why you’re applying to study in your chosen area! So just stick to the facts.

Don’t use a quote… please.

Many students want to sound philosophical when they write a personal statement. However, admissions officers won’t appreciate this, and it will most likely result in eye rolls. This is a very generic way to either open up your personal statement or use characters. It is very much a waste of words — anyone can google a quote.

It is better to reflect on a book or an article that you read. Then address how this shaped your view and love of the course you’re applying to. Alternatively, you might draw upon a memory that first sparked your interest in your subject. This is a much better way to philosophise and show off your knowledge.

Do start writing your personal statement ahead of time.

The famous saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is apt here. Avoid leaving your personal statement until the last minute. You need time to draft, re-draft, scrap it and start again. This also allows you to get it reviewed by a teacher or admissions expert. There is nothing worse than missing the deadline and having to wait another year.

Check when the deadline is on the UCAS website or for the actual course at your university. For Oxbridge applicants and medical students the deadline is earlier than the national date. You want to make sure you’re prepared and happy to submit your statement. Otherwise, you’re more likely to make a mistake which could cost you your future.

Don’t open with predictable or cringey statements.

Similar to the use of quotes, you also want to avoid predictable statements. For example: “ever since I was a child…” or “my Mum was a doctor so it makes sense that…”. Again, these are filler words that do not show your passion, so much as hinders your chances of grabbing the reader’s attention.

A more appropriate way to open your personal statement or paragraph is to be succinct. Draw on a book, programme, extracurricular or life event that then sparked an “aha moment”. For instance: “after reading Yoval Noah’s ‘Sapiens’, I knew that this was only the beginning of anthropological study.” This 

Don’t just say why you like a course — show it.

Anyone can say that they like or love a particular subject. Sadly, this is a throwaway statement that doesn’t prove your passion. You need to demonstrate that you have a keen interest in your subject.

Talk about the extracurricular activities you partake in, or what you read, listen to and watch in your spare time. Provide a link between these interests and how it shows you are a good candidate for the course.

Do follow formatting guidelines.

There are a few annoying but important guidelines that will help your personal statement stand out. Choose a professional font (like Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman) in a standard size 12 and in black. Don’t make the text smaller to fit more words in on the page — it’s still measured by characters, cheeky. The line spacing should be 1.5 for easy reading.

It’s important to structure your content into 4 main sections: why you want to study this course, subjects or texts studied, work experience and then hobbies or extracurricular activities. Then obviously an introduction and killer conclusion.

Photo by fotografierende from Pexels

Don’t compare your application to others.

One thing to remember is that you should never compare yourself to others in life. The same goes true for your personal statement. Treat yourself as someone who is unique with different experiences. Whilst it’s possible that there are thousands of applicants who want to do the same course as you, it doesn’t mean your application is less than.

Similarly, a personal statement is not universal. It will differ depending on the course you are applying to, whether that’s Law, English or Music. Therefore it makes no sense to worry yourself with what to say based on someone else’s application. You wouldn’t compare the hunting strategies of a cat to a lion even though they’re from similar bloodlines, would you?

Do get someone to proofread your work.

Finally, make sure that a friend, teacher or professional proofreads your work. You’ll be working on your personal statement for a few months, in which time you’ll get sick of reading it! This is why it’s worthwhile to get your application checked before you submit. Particularly for spelling errors or format issues that you can easily miss.

Don’t let your ego trip you up. Even the most intelligent people need a supportive nudge and some constructive criticism. However, we know that getting professional advice can be expensive. You also don’t want to spend hundreds of pounds and risk getting poor feedback. Thankfully, our service is free and is monitored by a UCAS expert

To sum it all up…

Hopefully you now feel more confident writing your personal statement. The best advice we can give you is to just keep it simple. As much as research is great, you really just need to put pen to paper. Get your ideas down, review it, seek a second or third opinion, then submit. Good luck!

Looking for a good personal statement checker?

For more advice on the university process, applications and more, speak to our experts today. With over 15+ years of experience, we can give you exclusive advice to help you reach your goals. You can submit your personal statement for free and get a review within 24 hours. We won’t share or advertise your application without your permission, it’s kept safe under lock and key. Our trusted advisors will give you feedback to ensure you write the perfect personal statement. Did we mention that our service is free? At this point, it would be rude not to get help.

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Naida Allen

Naida is a witty wordsmith with a love for writing and reading. She is a Content Writer and Social Media Executive at Tutor House — the top UK provider of online and in-person tuition. She specialises in topics relating to mental & physical wellbeing and career advice.

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