Perfecting your UCAS Personal Statement

Every year, hundreds of thousands of hopeful students applying to higher education institutions in the UK have to meticulously craft a personal statement that exhibits their life’s highlights ’til that point. For some, it is a work of art in which they weave literary quotes from books they might not have even read into a gripping narrative of how they have been passionate about a degree subject since they were four.

Over the past few years, I have proof-read quite a few personal statements and have curated what I believe is the optimal structure for a personal statement. By no means am I saying that with these elements, you can all write a ‘perfect’ personal statement because frankly, there isn’t one. I hope to simply point you in the right direction and even inspire some of you to start doing some cool projects or activities that will benefit you in the long run and inevitably will look great on your personal statement.

So what’s the main ingredient in this magical recipe? Honestly? Honesty.

The admissions staff perusing your brief albeit articulate autobiography will quite quickly see through any artificial passion or white lies. By all means exaggerate certain strengths, skills or experience but don’t just simply make them up.

In terms of the structure of your personal statement:

PARAGRAPH 1 — INTRO (20%):

  • Why are you applying for that degree subject?
  • Explain why certain topics or areas of study interest you and try to mention some literature (e.g. books, academic journals, papers)
  • Describe some aspects of your current studies that interest you and mention how your current knowledge base can act as a solid foundation to build upon at university

PARAGRAPH 2 — SHOWING-OFF (50%):

  • High-level overview on how you engage with the subject e.g. solving challenging question on Isaac Physics or reading/writing articles ancient civilisations
  • Mention key academic achievements/pursuits, extra-curricular activities and projects that relate to your degree subject e.g. BMO Round 1/2, Extended Project Qualification, essay competitions, school society journal, work experience/placements

PARAGRAPH 3 — HOBBIES AND INTERESTS (15%):

  • Show the universities that you’re a well-rounded person by describing some hobbies and extra-curricular activities centred around your personal interests e.g. football captain, grade 8 in violin, volunteering, launching your own website

PARAGRAPH 4 — SUMMARY TIME (15%):

  • Mention the appropriate skills you possess to do well academically in your chosen degree subject
  • Why are you a ‘good fit’ for the university and what do you hope to gain out of the experience?
  • How will you make the most out of your degree as you progress into your career?

Writing your personal statement can be quite tough initially because you don’t know where to start. I would recommend just jotting down ideas in sentence form which you can rearrange and amalgamate later. Personally, I did over twenty drafts (that may be a tad too many) before I was fully happy with my personal statement so don’t be disheartened if it seems to be taking a while. As such, I highly recommend getting started with your first draft quite early on so you can proof-read, perfect and submit your UCAS application well in advance of the deadline. If you are sitting there wracking your brain and trying to just put some words on the page and it’s simply not happening, just stop. Take a break. Come back to it the next day. And suddenly, you will have this one day when everything just flows from your mind onto the page and an hour later, you will have written most of it up. So don’t lose hope!

Just before I shoot off, I thought I would add a few more tips to help you become a personal statement guru:

  • The ‘word’ limit is 47 lines of text or 4000 character - make sure you use this wisely i.e. remove redundant words and superfluous explanations
  • Definitely show-off your passion, achievements and understanding of subject area but make sure you avoid coming across as arrogant!
  • Make sure the first line stands out and grabs the readers attention - the admissions team will not have a huge amount of time to go through each personal statement so make sure you start strong (gripping intro hook) and leave a lasting impression (solid conclusion)
  • Before you submit your personal statement, ensure you get a second and third opinion - try to avoid asking too many people for help/advice because you might run into a “too many cooks spoil the broth” kinda situation
  • Really take some time to proof-read your work - make sure your tone (enthusiastic and personal), spelling, grammar and punctuation are ‘on point’
  • Don’t just list projects, extra-curricular activities and achievements - make sure you use the 5 Ws and H extensively to give relevant details and not just bore the reader with a checklist
  • Avoid cliched phrases such as “From a young age…” and “I have always been interested in…”
  • Bit of an obvious one but avoid controversial topics/content and don’t use any offensive/derogatory language

I really hope this article gave you a clearer picture on how best to approach your personal statement.

I wish you all the very best of luck with your university applications and future careers!

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Tech Enthusiast | Entrepreneur | Music Artist | MEng @ Cambridge

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Akhil Sonthi

Akhil Sonthi

Tech Enthusiast | Entrepreneur | Music Artist | MEng @ Cambridge

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