Your UCAS Personal Statement is what sets you apart from other students who might have similar grades to you, so it's a critical part of your application. This is what universities use to evidence your academic suitability and your informed decision making in applying to their course.

Top tips to get started

  1. Given its importance, start early (3-6 months before) and give yourself plenty of time for editing and drafts.

  2. Be sure to actually check (example) what university admissions offices are looking for on their course websites. This is especially important for highly selective and competitive courses. Your universities and courses of choice should have a page or paragraph that describes their 'selection criteria'- or give them a ring!

  3. Be aware you only have 4000 characters or 47 lines (whichever you reach first) so be selective about what you focus on; see our structure guide below.

  4. Remember you are writing to generally apply to university with many university tutors reading your application, so avoid addressing specific universities.
     
  5. Be sure to get input from a trusted teacher or advisor who has familiarity with Personal Statements; they can help advise you if you are talking enough about the 'right things' in your statement or give you advice if you're having trouble wording something.

Common Misconceptions 

  1. Misconception: List every activity you have done related to your subject.
    Truth: Select 2-3 really strong examples of you engaging with your subject, why it interests you and how that has helped inform your decision to apply for this course.

  2. Misconception: Be sure to include all your extra-curricular activities.
    Truth: Use the end of your statement to mention one or two noteworthy achievements that demonstrate your personal qualities (leadership, commitment, interpersonal skills) that show you will do well in a university environment. However, don't let this become the majority of your application -- 80% of your writing should be demonstrating your academic suitability (aka subject knowledge and interest).

  3. Misconception: Avoid mentioning any universities by name.
    Truth: Be sure you don't mention university preferences of any sort ("I have always wanted to attend a Russell Group university"), or write your application so it only appeals to one university. However, it's OK to mention that you attended an Open Day or Summer School placement.

  4. Misconception: If I have great grades I don't need to worry too much about my Personal Statement.
    Truth: Your Personal Statement does count for quite a lot and is a chance to show your unique thinking and interest in your subject of choice, and most universities view the application as a whole.

See our even more great tips, resources and advice linked below this guide.

How to Write A Great Personal Statement

1. Opening Paragraph 

This should address the key question of ‘why do you want to study this subject?’. This is your opening statement that boldly declares to the reader why you have decided to apply to university for this subject and why pursuing this is important to you.

The University of Oxford has some good advice on tackling this:

“Think about talking to your friends about what you want to study at university: what would you tell them? What have you read or watched or seen that has inspired you? (This might have been at school, at home, in a museum, on TV, in a book, on YouTube or a podcast or anywhere else, textbook, blog, website, literature…) Why was it interesting? What do you want to find out next? What did you do?”

To structure your thoughts in your opening paragraph, try using the ARC format: Activity, Reflection, Course. 

Activity: what have you read, watched or done that inspired you?

Reflection: Why did it inspire you? What did you find out? What questions did it make you ask?

Course: How did it develop your interest in the subject you are applying to study?

2. The core of your personal statement 

The core (about 80%) of your personal statement should provide evidence of why you are suitable for your chosen subject. To do this, you should focus on your academic experiences, such as:

  • Wider reading beyond the A-level syllabus 
  • Subject experiences (projects, online courses…)  
  • Wider experiences (books, podcasts)
  • University experiences (summer schools, taster days, masterclasses, etc)

Mistakenly, students in error often run off a list of activities. For example:

"To explore my interest in engineering further, I’ve taken part in a number of activities. I attended a taster day at Imperial College London about engineering which was very enjoyable. I read the book ‘To Engineer is Human’ by Henry Petroski and learnt about how failures can lead to an improvement in design. In an afterschool D&T club, I built a bridge out of plastic straws that was able to support 2 kg. Recently I completed a course about plasma applications in materials science. These experiences helped me to decide that I want to read engineering at university."

However, admissions tutors are looking for you to expand on just a few experiences.

To help with this, the ARC format is again useful: describe an ACTIVITY in detail; critically REFLECT on the experience; relate the experience to your chosen university COURSE. For example:

A: "To explore my interest in engineering further, I took a six-hour course designed by a PhD researcher at Sheffield Hallam University for local schools through ReachUni. The course focused on plasma applications in materials science."

R: "One application is plasma nitriding. I learnt how nitrogen can be ionised by a strong electric field, accelerated toward a target metal, and embedded in its surface to improve the hardness and durability of the metal."

C: "I really enjoyed combining my knowledge from different areas of A-level physics to understand the application. I think this is important in engineering and the experience helped me to decide that I want to read the subject at university."

In choosing which experiences to focus on, explore the admissions criteria for courses. For example, the selection criteria for chemistry at the University of Oxford includes ‘appreciation of some aspects of [chemistry] outside the confines of the A level syllabus’, so reflecting on an experience in your statement that demonstrated this would strengthen your application.

Your comments should also indicate that you understand what you are applying for. For example, if going for psychology, do you know how scientific the subject is? If you’re interested in physics, do you appreciate the importance of mathematics in the degree?

What if my experiences are limited?

If you feel that your experiences are inadequate, consider this advice from the University of Oxford:

“We understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do work experience or to go travelling so these activities are not a requirement for any of our courses. Tutors won’t be impressed by your connections, or the stamps in your passport, but they will be impressed by how you’ve engaged with your subject.

For example, some of our applicants for Medicine may have had work experience placements in prestigious hospitals but not be able to evaluate their time there. If you have no more experience than some simple voluntary work, or even just discussing medical matters with your friends and family, you can still write an effective personal statement by reflecting critically on what you have learned and discussed. 

To give another example, for the History of Art, tutors will not want to hear about all the galleries and exhibitions that you have visited around the world if you cannot discuss the art that you saw. You can come across more effectively in your personal statement by evaluating art you have seen, even if you’ve only seen it online or in books without ever leaving the school library.”

3. Closing your Personal Statement 

After spending the majority of your statement concentrating on academic elements, there is now some space to discuss extracurricular activities. Universities are not interested per se in the extracurricular activity, but rather the transferable skills, character traits and spare capacity that they demonstrate.

The University of Cambridge has this to say: 

“…we look at how these activities demonstrate other characteristics that will aid students' transition to life at university, such as how they balance their academic and personal commitments, and have developed particular skills or qualities such as perseverance, independence, leadership or team-working.”

The ARC format outlined above can be applied here also. For example:

A(ctivity): I practice the piano for thirty minutes a day and am currently working toward grade 7

R(eflection): I have needed to schedule my time carefully to balance this commitment alongside my studies

C(ourse): This ability to manage time will be useful at university where I expect the workload to be greater  

Your closing paragraph might highlight what you’ll bring to the university and how you’ll fit into university life. If you already have ambitions for after university, here is where you might describe them, and how taking your chosen degree will support your ambition. Your closing sentence might reinforce your enthusiasm and suitability for the subject.

...Final tips for success

You will likely need to re-draft your statement multiple times. Some ideas to help in this process that brings together some of the best tips from universities:

  • If you're feeling unsure or overwhelmed by how to do this, talk to a trusted teacher, family member or friend.
  • Proof-read your statement out loud.
  • Let others read your drafts and provide suggestions. It can be intimidating to share your drafts, but it's a really important part of the process.
  • Make sure you use plain English. Avoid flowery language and clichés. Avoid trying to be too smart, or funny. Instead plain-speaking and straightforward about your enthusiasm for your subject.
  • Make sure your writing is enthusiastic and positive but avoid arrogance.
  • Use a spell checker and proof-read for SPAG - it is paramount that the statement is error-free
  • Look back at the selection criteria for your courses and check the evidence you’ve provided addresses this
  • Make sure you remain honest - you may be questioned on your statement at an interview and will be caught out if you have been dishonest. 
  • Do not copy or allow others to copy your statement – you will be caught by software used by universities to detect plagiarism.
  • Re-draft until you are happy! 

Other resources and advice for your Personal Statement:

- UCAS guidance on writing your personal statement

- Top advice from admissions tutors

- A great short video from an Imperial College admission tutor on how to get started on your PS

- A short video on what not-to-do from The Student Room

But finally, importantly, just get started-- you can't find out what is best for your personal statement until you get started! 

Psst... Still looking for more 'subject experience' to write about?

ReachUni has a Subject and Course Library where you can explore videos, podcasts and readings on your subject and RBC packs that to build your subject-specific activity experience. It's useful to show that you have taken time to explore materials beyond your required school work, so have a look here.