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How to write a UCAS personal statement
Your Personal Statement
When you apply to university in the UK, you are required to fill in an online application which includes a personal statement. This is a maximum of 4000 characters (47 lines in font size 12), all about you, your skills, knowledge and experience and what makes YOU an ideal candidate for the degree you are applying for, at each of the 5 universities you apply to (5 is the maximum).
The first thing to note is that this part of your application is misnamed. It is not in fact a PERSONAL statement , it is an ACADEMIC statement.You will not go on at length about your hobbies, your favourite celebrity and all the awards you have won since age 5. You will have to include what makes you a good academic: what academic skills do you have (e.g. you are excellent at problem solving, as demonstrated by your high grades in Maths), what academic experiences have you taken on outside of the curriculum (e.g. have you attended any free public lectures or attended summer school?), and what parts of your academic studies do you most enjoy, and why?
Imagine you are applying for a job as a student for the next 3 years - just as when applying for a job as a teacher, or architect, or designer etc, you would have to demonstrate all the skills and experience you have that make you suitable for that job, as a prospective undergraduate, you are being asked to demonstrate what skills you already have that make you suitable for this role. You wouldn't tell an interviewer seeing you for a job as a computer programmer, that you loved riding your bike and socialising with friends. Do not put this into your personal statement either!
So, what do you include?
Firstly, I will start with the structure for A level students.
First: A great introduction.
State exactly why you are interested in studying this degree. Be as specific as possible.What has sparked your interest? Why? Don't make statements, e.g. 'I love English Literature', say WHY, e.g " Reading Marvel's poem 'To His Coy Mistress' fuelled my interest in studying Creative Writing as a degree when I realised his use of imagery created an impending feeling of time passing quickly and death nearing, whilst the poem itself on first reading seems light and appealing. This clever use of language has inspired me to want to learn how to conjure thoughts and feelings with words and create my own complex images."
A busy admissions officer might speed-read applications to help sort out the best ones. If you have a great introduction, you will grab his/her interest straight away and get your application put on the 'Maybe' or 'Yes' pile.
***Please be aware that if you are applying for a vocational degree e.g. teaching, medicine, nursing etc, you will have to demonstrate extensive work experience and say what you have learnt from it. This should go here, after your intro, at the beginning of your statement**
Second paragraph:Talk about the most relevant subject you have studied at A level.
Whatever subject you are applying to study at university, there will be one of your A level subjects which is much more relevant to it than the other two. (You rarely mention the 4th subject you may have done as an AS level).For example, if you are applying for a degree in Psychology, then your A level in Psychology is the most relevant subject. You will talk about this in more depth than your other subjects.
Here is your opportunity to show how accomplished you are in the subject. Talk about what topics/modules you have enjoyed most and WHY.Discuss the subject-specific skills you have developed from this subject. For example, for Psychology it could be the handling of statistics.(Tip: to help with this read the course details of your chosen degree - it will mention areas/skills that are covered in the degree - if you mention these same areas/skills in your personal statement it will demonstrate that you are a good candidate).Include any wider reading you have done (outside the syllabus). What did you learn from it?Include any extra-curricular activities you have participated in that have deepened your knowledge and understanding and say how and why these were interesting or developed your skills.
Third Paragraph: Talk about the next most relevant subject you have studied at A level.
(Don't worry if you feel neither of the other 2 subjects are directly relevant - in that case the order will not matter)
What topics/modules you have enjoyed studying in this subject
Why you enjoyed them.
What skills you developed from this subject (now you can start to me more generic in your skills and include academic skills such as essay writing, meeting deadlines, team working etc)
Fourth Paragraph: Least relevant A level subject.
Content as above paragraph.
Fifth paragraph: Extra curricular.
This is the least relevant paragraph to your application and should be concise and relevant, not long and waffly. Ensure that for everything you mention, you say what skills you have developed. For example 'I work part time as a checkout operator at Tesco and this has taught me to communicate with people of all ages and backgrounds'.You can include achievements in this paragraph which showcase your excellent personal qualities, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award (resilience and commitment), or leading a group of Brownies (leadership skills).Examples of what you can/should include are:
Part time work
Achievements (such as Head Boy/Girl, captaining a sports team)
Evidence of your commitment to your school college, e.g. being a Prefect, Student Ambassador or Peer Mentor.
Participation in something which requires your time and dedication, e.g. you are in a choir or orchestra, you are a member of the Youth Parliament etc.
Conclusion:the final word.
This should be a short paragraph (it can be just a couple of lines). Reiterate your interest in and enthusiasm for your degree subject and say something about valuing opportunities ahead.
So, what if you are a Vocational student. Lucky you! Your course relates directly to your degree and you are going to have lots of relevant knowledge and experience, as well as skills, which you can talk about. Follow the same structure as above, but pick out your 3 to 5 favourite (and most relevant to the degree you have chosen) topics/modules and discuss them as above. Remember the key is always to include the WHY? Why did you enjoy something? What skills did it develop?
If you have relevant work experience, make sure you include this is the opening paragraphs. Don't just say what it was, say what you LEARNT from it and what SKILLS you developed.
And finally - Remember:
Spellcheck your statement - when you are an undergraduate you will have to write 10,000 word dissertations. You don't want to spell anything incorrectly in a short personal statement, it implies you don't have the care and attention to detail necessary for degree study.
Read your statement out loud: can you read it comfortably without gasping for breath? If not,shorten your sentences. No-one likes to read a sentence that's 4 lines long. Also this should catch any places where what you have said doesn't make sense because you've phrased it badly or left out a word.
Use terminology from all your subjects, but most importantly, from the one you want to purse at university. It makes you sound academic.It also proves you have taken some notice of what you have studied.
Get your tutor to proofread for you: have you used the correct terminology, or used it in the correct context?
Don't boast: your statement will possibly be read by someone who is a professor in your subject and has 30 years of knowledge of it. They won't be impressed by you saying you will be the best thing that ever happened to the study of Medicine etc.You will just end up sounding arrogant.
Don't make jokes! You don't know that the person reading your statement has the same (or any) sense of humour. You don't want to appear crass, rude or just lame.