applications for uk universities are coming up in a few months, so i figured i should post the tips i have collected from when i applied (since they’re all just sitting in a word document gathering dust), particularly for the personal statement! we had a talk from an admissions tutor who told us most of the stuff below + i attended 6 open days and picked up a fair few bits along the way (some stuff might be more relevant to sciences/physics)
the personal statement: what??
- your personal statement is likely your only opportunity to try and ‘sell yourself’ to universities since most courses at most universities don’t interview
- you send the same one to all your unis (even if you apply to different courses!)
- 4000 characters and 47 lines limit (you’ll probably hit the line limit first - keep copying and pasting it into UCAS to check this since it’ll probably be a little different to your word processors count). the average is about 500 words
- 80% academic, 20% extracurricular is generally a good guide
- paragraph 1, intro: personal trigger for your interest in the subject you’re applying for! (not just ‘i’ve always been good at it/liked it’) - how your subject relates to society/current affairs if applicable and relevant (you’ll be seeing that word a lot). what aspects of the courses you’re looking forwards to (but don’t accidentally refer to something not done at all your choices) - prove that you know what you’re getting into
- paragraph 2: what have you done to develop your interest? trips, books, wider reading - both in and out of school/college. link it to your subject! work experience, relevant volunteering. career aspirations - if you have one, put it in! it’s not set in stone just because you wrote it in a personal statement. part time job - skills gained (again, relevant ones), not just facts.
- e.g. i worked in housekeeping part time => work under time pressure to a high standard and working effectively as part of a team
- paragraph 3: non academic achievements e.g. duke of edinburgh - again, skills gained. if you’re doing a gap year, why/what are you doing etc - benefits?
- paragraph 4, summary: short, just a few lines. final impression. recap - this should answer “why do you want to go to university and study your course” and “why do you deserve to be offered a place”. relevant to course - make reference to course choice/area, not generic. career aspirations are good to mention here. can keep it vague-ish for multiple courses, but course area should be clear!
- this is just an example containing most of the stuff that should be in it - how you break it up doesn’t matter too much as long as it does have a structure (remember line breaks will influence your character/line count!)
- rewarding, improved, interested, taking part, reinforced, gained, strengthen, in addition, developed, broadening, hard work, commitment, enhanced, thrive under pressure
long list of advice
- be concise - characters are limited and you have a lot to say
- be honest - lying is a. unnecessary and b. will probably come out later
- remember the person receiving this probably reads thousands, try and keep it interesting
- organised & structured!
- persuade the reader that you deserve a place
- avoid generic statements - everything must be relevant. as much as they may be true, things like “i achieved good grades/always enjoyed this subject previously” are obvious fillers.
- imagine this is your interview - as i said, you probably won’t get a real one! why do you want to study this, what makes you the right person for this course.
- DO NOT LIST. don’t do it. expand on everything you put down, make it relevant - what your experiences are isn’t important, what you got from them is.
- spelling and grammar. check it, check it, check it again - and this must be done by a human, spell checkers don’t notice if you use the wrong word (it’s best to go with a teacher or parent, something like that, not other students or people on the internet - be very careful about sending your personal statement to people online).
- don’t talk about things that belong in other sections - e.g. how good your grades are (they can already see these), extenuating circumstances (should be explained by your referee in the reference). repeating yourself makes you look desperate to fill space.
- avoid ambiguity - explain yourself! e.g. ‘i did my gold award’ - in what?!
- authentic - don’t be pretentious
- avoid being generic
- ‘i’m looking forward to having an experience to remember for the rest of my life’ it lasts 3+ years; you’re going to remember it. don’t say it.
- ‘looking forwards to independence’ - very rarely a choice when you go to uni. virtually everyone else is in the exact same situation here. don’t waste characters on things that aren’t relevant or really important.
- ‘my family…’ they do not care about your family, they care about you. it is about you.
- avoid cliches
- add comments, views and explanations to your points - pretend it’s an english essay or something - making a point by itself gets you no marks
- use your own experiences - you will have enough, don’t make it up.
- ‘i’m quite good’ - avoid neutral or passive terms to describe yourself. be positive and show off that you do have these skills!
- similarly don’t be uncertain - ‘i usually meet deadlines’ is pretty unconvincing
- don’t play things down!
- do your research - know which modules you will study in your courses so you can keep things relevant. talk about things you are particularly excited about and why.
- what have you done outside of the a level course requirements?
- obviously, don’t mention any of your unis by name or location (or course if they vary)
- avoid humour: when someone makes a joke in front of a large audience, if they didn’t come to see them make jokes you will notice that maybe half laugh. you don’t know which half the person reading your personal statement will fall into. don’t do it.
- make connections between interests and courses
- draft and redraft and redraft until it’s perfect… and then check it over a few more times!
- … but don’t let the people who check it over for you rewrite it! this must be your personal statement if you want to get anywhere
- it’s run through sophisticated plagiarism/similarity software by UCAS. don’t write with a friend, don’t get one off the internet.
hopefully some of this helps someone out there, good luck!