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How to write a personal statement: A simple guide

Updated on April 8, 2015

You’ve done all of the revising, studying and assignment writing and now it’s time for the final hurdle. However come university application time you can find yourself wondering how to write a personal statement that will land you that perfect place at the university of your choice. If this sounds like what you’re faced with then in this guide you’ll find invaluable advice that comes directly from some of the UK’s top universities.

Key questions about writing your personal statement

How long should your personal statement be?

Rather than a set word limit for your personal statement you instead have 44 lines or 4000 characters in which to inform and impress. Very generally speaking this then equates to around 800 words.

Whilst this may sound like a lot at the moment, as you likely stare blankly at an equally blank piece of paper, rest assured that communicating all that you need to within this limitation is indeed a challenge. To this end your writing throughout your personal statement should be concise, only expanding where you need to and otherwise focusing in on brevity.

When should you starting writing your personal statement?

There’s no set answer to this question, although generally speaking the sooner you start your statement the better. The last thing that you need added to your university applications is the strain of a ticking clock and ever closing in deadline to worry about.

How to write a personal statement: A visual guide

How to write a personal statement: Getting started

To overcome writer's block don’t get hung up on writing the personal statement itself. Instead think about your future, the career that you’re aiming for and the university that will help you achieve all that you need to. Try, in as far as possible, to be inspired by your goals, dreams and ambitions.

10 things to remember to write in your personal statement
Luckily for those who may still be pondering how to write a personal statement and wondering about what should be included there are ten sections and pointers that all personal statements should include.
What's more there’s no one better placed a person or establishment to guide you on this than the universities themselves. The following ten tips are therefore provided directly from the universities and their respective tutors to tell you exactly how to write a personal statement.

  1. Tell them why you want to study that particular course
  2. Explain why you’re the right applicant for both the course and the university
  3. Be sure to include all that you've achieved outside of education
  4. Tell them why your experience is relevant to your chosen course and future career path
  5. Think carefully about your transferable skillsets
  6. Provide more detail on the most relevant skills as they pertain to the course that you’re applying for
  7. Inject a little of your personality
  8. Demonstrate that you can think critically
  9. Describe what your long term plan is
  10. Be positive!

Your personal statement is the first step towards University life.
Your personal statement is the first step towards University life. | Source

How (not) to write a personal statement

As well as being clued up on what you should include in your personal statement, you also need to be aware of the things that you most certainly should not include within your personal statement, namely the following ten things.

  1. Incorrect spelling and/or poor grammar
  2. Sentences that go on (and on, and on, and on)
  3. The obvious (such as information that has been included in other areas of your application)
  4. Repetitions of your academic information and results
  5. A conversational style and unnecessary waffle
  6. Trips down memory lane
  7. Compliments (flattery will get you nowhere)
  8. Mention of any particular university
  9. Following a template to the very last letter
  10. Content that communicates just how difficult you’re finding this process

Personal statements can be stressful, which is unsurprising given the importance that is being placed on these 47 lines of writing. However you need to avoid this coming across in the writings of your personal statement.

Throughout the writing of your personal statement you should keep your dream job in mind.
Throughout the writing of your personal statement you should keep your dream job in mind. | Source

Getting a helping hand

If after reading all of the advice in this article you find that you’re still struggling to find inspiration for your personal statement then you should ask your tutors or education institution staff members for a little help. They’ll likely have years of experience as to what does and doesn't work when perfecting that personal statement.

What are you finding most difficult about writing your personal statement?

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What to expect once you’ve sent your application off

The waiting game will differ drastically as according to the time of year that you're applying. If you’ve been organised and have applied during the initial flush of places (by mid January, unless you’re applying for Cambridge or Oxford, or medicine, dentistry or veterinary science; in which case the deadline is mid October) then you can generally expect replies within a couple of months. That said some universities endeavor to reply to applicants within three weeks, whilst others go further and aim for an interview arrangement within 10 days (notably not all universities require a face to face interview, although those further up the league table require them as standard).

If you've waited until later in the year when the clearing process begins then you can generally expect to hear back from your university applications after around a week or so, and up until the time of the course commencing.

Applying for University: A general guide

Hopefully by now you’re ready and raring to get started on what will be a masterpiece of writing and a personal statement that bags you that perfect university place. However there’s nothing quite like being fully informed when it comes to this mammoth step and if you still feel uncertain as to how to get started you should undertake a little more research and be sure to recruit a few academic helping hands.


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    • ShelleyHeath profile image

      Shelley Heath 2 years ago from Birmingham

      Yes I think a lot of people do really.. modesty versus selling your qualities is always a tough one to balance.

    • Penny Miranda profile image

      Penny Miranda 2 years ago from Portland, OR

      Good tips! I always have a tough time selling myself, whether it's for school, a job, or even in life!