The personal statement: what are universities looking for?
The personal statement is an important part of the UCAS application process. Together with grades and references, it’s what universities will use to decide whether to ask you to attend an interview.
A lot of students are in the process of completing personal statements ahead of October deadlines but for many, just hearing the words ‘personal statement’ can bring on a cold sweat! The good news is there are a few simple tips that can help make the task less daunting...
Keep calm and get writing!
The personal statement is your chance to shine and stand out from other applicants. The most important question to ask yourself is, what makes me right for this course and how can I demonstrate that I have the relevant experience and qualifications? In terms of structure it might be useful to consider opening with why you want to do the course, reflecting on your existing qualifications and bringing in other relevant experiences, both from work and outside. Think about your current course; what has it taught you, how has it prepared you for further study, do any modules stand out as being particularly relevant?
The key is to be as specific as possible here and provide examples of your skills too. So if you’re applying to do medicine, you might want to consider the skills required by doctors, such as working in a team, coping with different pressures, problem solving, ability to be empathetic and so on. Don’t forget to provide specific examples of how you have acquired skills – simply stating that you’re good at working as part of a team won’t necessarily get you a place, but if you expand on a particular experience that demonstrates this, you’ll be in a stronger position.
Show your understanding of what the course will entail and how you are prepared to succeed at it. Crucially, what other experience do you have? This could be work experience, paid work, a placement or voluntary work. Pick out some of the key tasks you have undertaken and the skills you gained, again being as specific as possible.
You could opt to finish with a strong concluding paragraph that reminds tutors in a nutshell why this course is important to you and how you meet the requirements. This might include mentioning what you hope to do at the end of the course if you’re successful, as this will help demonstrate your ambition!
Most importantly, don’t forget to be you! Whilst highlighting skills and experience, it’s important to get your passion across and why this particular course is important to you. Equally, what can you bring to the course and your fellow students? Demonstrate your awareness of the subject, and not just in relation to the course e.g. also look at what’s going on in the world of medicine, what’s in the news, what are the challenges?
Preparation is key
So the clock’s ticking and you’re thinking, it’s all very well having this information but I don’t have enough time to prepare! It’s important to take a step back though and check you have the essential details such as, what’s the deadline for the application and what’s the character or word count?
It’s also useful to try and have a read through of a couple of example personal statements to see how they’re structured. And of course, don’t forget your university careers service is also a good source of support and might able to provide some feedback on your personal statement, so it’s worth booking an appointment in advance for this.
Lastly, give yourself time to read over your statement. It’s essential to do a thorough proofread, so print it out. Perhaps a family member, friend or tutor can also have a read. It’s essential the end result is well written and error free.
A final note
Ultimately, it’s not always possible to know what individual admissions tutors will look for specifically in a personal statement. However, if you focus on producing a well-written piece that gets your passion across, and contains examples of key skills and experience relevant to the area of study/ work, you’ll stand in good stead.