Top tips for writing the perfect personal statement

This article was written in conjunction with the University of Derby.

A high-quality personal statement is a vital part of your UCAS application. Grades and academic references alone are not enough to differentiate between students so your personal statement is your chance to show universities why they should offer you a place.

Sophie, University of Derby

Your personal statement is limited to only 4,000 characters in which to convince a university to accept your application. To make the process easier, follow these top tips, including excellent advice from University of Derby students Sophie and Karolina.

1. Make a plan before you start

Do not jump straight in. You need to treat your personal statement like an academic essay by brainstorming ideas and thinking about content and structure first. Make an initial draft without focusing on language or word count as a way of getting all your ideas in one place and to refer back to throughout the process.

2. Think about the language and tone you use

Once you have planned the content and structure you have to decide on how you will articulate your ideas. Start with an engaging introduction to draw the reader in. Remember that you can only write one personal statement so try to avoid using language which is specific to one particular course or university.

Karolina, University of Derby

Sophie: Use simple language. Fancy words will not make you seem any more intelligent and could make your statement harder to follow. Also, make sure you do not mention any specific universities. You will likely have a university that you have a preference for, but singling them out will put off the other universities you are applying to.

Karolina: Stay away from clichés. Saying how passionate you are about the subject is one to avoid. Use a synonym or an example to demonstrate this instead.

3. Write about your academic achievements

It is crucial that you include your academic achievements. Talk about the subjects you have studied, the skills that they equipped you with and how this is relevant to the course you are applying for. Mention specific pieces of work you have done and any academic recognition you have received such as awards and prizes.

4. Include extracurricular activities

Universities aren’t just looking to admit clever students with good grades, they want well-rounded individuals who will contribute to university life in different ways. Include part-time work, internships, societies, clubs, volunteer work as well as your hobbies even if they aren’t directly related to the course you’re applying for. Anything you include will demonstrate transferable skills and show them what type of person you are.

Sophie: Focus on skills you have acquired from your non-academic hobbies, you’ll probably find that they are in some way relevant to your course. I applied for Creative Writing and my main hobbies were music, Rubik’s cubes and organising a Sunday School. These helped my application as they gave me problem-solving skills as well as good discipline and initiative.

Karolina: Extracurricular activities are character building. Being captain of the hockey team is relevant to any personal statement; it paints a picture of you as a determined, hard working team player – any university would want that type of person!

5. Make your career ambitions clear (if you know what they are)

If your course is vocational (for example Teaching, Medicine, Social Work), you will be expected to show that you have gained sufficient work experience or career knowledge through, for example, work shadowing, observations, taster days or networking with professionals. If not vocational, you may be able to demonstrate career ambitions that you are working towards. But don’t worry if your career plans are still undecided at this stage, this is a university application not a job interview!

Karolina: Show that you are thinking about life after university by writing about the what kind of career you are interested in and how your degree and going to university will help you enter this career.

6. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the course  

Show that you have an understanding of the subject and a genuine interest in it. Understand what the course involves, elaborate on any specific interests you have to show your enthusiasm, demonstrate why the topic is important and if a piece of work or a particular text inspired you – mention it.

7. Don't leave it until the last minute!

Your school will likely set deadlines for writing your personal statement. There may be a deadline for a plan, a first draft, additional drafts and the date by which a final version must be submitted. Ensure you meet the deadlines and give your teachers sufficient time to feedback and help you produce a statement to be proud of.

Also, universities will make offers before the UCAS deadline so the earlier you complete your personal statement the better.

Sophie: Personal statements are important so take your time over it. Draft and re-draft as much as need to until you are completely happy with what you have produced.

Follow these tips to help you write a stand-out personal statement and get a place on the course you want. Good luck!