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Applying to university

How to start a personal statement

The process of writing your personal statement can be simple if you know how to start. This is our guide on where to begin.

Student sitting at her desk at home on laptop

Make a plan

Prepare how you’re going to write your personal statement before you begin any of the actual writing. Note down how you want to structure it and what you want to say in each paragraph. By summarising what you’re going to write in a plan, you can assess whether your personal statement will flow and if you have all the things you need to include.

  2. What to include in a personal statement

Have a structure

Part of planning your personal statement is deciding how to lay it out. Keep in mind that you’re telling admissions tutors the story of you. All stories have a structure – there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. You can use a similar method to convey your motivation for choosing the subject you’re applying for.

There’s more than one way to structure a personal statement, but you should at least have a:

  • Clear introduction
  • Strong body of five–six paragraphs that link your experience and achievements to why you've chosen the subject
  • Conclusion to summarise it all

A structured statement also shows admissions tutors that you can communicate effectively.

Begin with you

Tackling the introduction first? This is your chance to talk about you, your background, and your excitement for the course. It should then flow naturally into the middle paragraphs, where you can expand on why you’re interested in the subject you’ve chosen.

Tina, Lead Admissions Tutor for Adult Nursing at the University of Brighton, shared with us what she looks for in the first few paragraphs of a student's personal statement:

They should start their application with the reason why they are applying and if they have any personal insight into a role such as being cared for when they were younger, attending hospital to visit a relative or any other experience as part of a course, volunteering, or work.

Tina, Lead Admissions Tutor for Adult Nursing at University of Brighton

Be to the point from the beginning

Your introduction shouldn’t be long-winded, so two or three sentences are usually enough. You only have 4,000 characters and about 47 lines to play with for the entire statement.

Don’t be afraid to go straight into talking about what excites you most about your subject and the motivation behind choosing to apply. Use language that’s punchy, concise, and relevant too. This will help you to show your ambition and enthusiasm to admissions tutors.

Avoid cliché opening sentences

Clichés are clichés because they’re overused. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions tutor – they’ll be reading lots of personal statements, so the ones that stand out will be those that aren’t like the others.

Make a note of any clichéd sentences you can think of or have seen online, and check you don’t include them when writing your personal statement. Some examples to avoid include:

  • ‘I have always wanted to study...’
  • ‘I feel I’ve always had a passion for...’
  • ‘From a young age...’
  • ‘Since I can remember...’

Don’t feel pressured to write the intro first

The introduction seems like the obvious place to start. But you may find it easier to leave the introduction until the end. Start at whichever point suits you best, provided you have a plan and structure in place.

Fortunately, the intro is only a few sentences, and given that the most important content will come in the body paragraphs, it may make sense to start with these paragraphs.

Just start writing! Don’t feel that you necessarily need to write your personal statement in the order in which it will be read. This is only for the author to know.

Dr Ceri Davies, Economics Director of Admissions and Recruitment at University of Birmingham

  2. Tips for writing your personal statement

Just get words down

The most important part of writing is to get words on paper. If you’re struggling to plan, try writing down the first words that come to your head about why you want to study the subject. If you do have a plan and structure, but don’t know where to begin, try taking the same approach. You can remove or edit any bits that you don’t like later.

Once you start writing you should hopefully enter a state of flow. You’ll piece sentences together and gradually craft an impressive personal statement.

Start by writing down all the reasons why you want to study the subject you are applying for and then, when all your enthusiasm is flowing, you can decide the order you want to put it in.

Katherine Pagett, Student Recruitment Manager at University of Birmingham

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