The Ultimate UCAS Personal Statement Guide

First impressions count. Oxbridge tutors want to see the person behind the UCAS application and understand why you’re a suitable candidate for your chosen course. Our ultimate UCAS Personal Statement guide will help you get started.

Author: Rob Needleman

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When it comes to completing your UCAS application, the Personal Statement is one of the most important parts to consider.

While your grades show your academic ability and Admissions Tests assess your knowledge and capabilities, a Personal Statement is all about you. Tutors want to see the person behind the application and understand why you’re a suitable candidate for your chosen course. 

Although each university will have its own unique way of shortlisting applicants, your Personal Statement is your opportunity to demonstrate your strengths and let your personality shine through.

However, over 20,000 students apply for Oxbridge every year which is a lot to compete with. As such, you need to stand out from the crowd and really get across your reasons for wanting to study your topic, which can make the prospect of writing one and including all the right things pressurising. To help you, we have written this ultimate Personal Statement guide. Let’s get started.

How to write a Personal Statement

Your Personal Statement isn’t a long monologue of your life so far, nor a gigantic list of all your achievements. Think of yourself as a storyteller. Start at the beginning with how you developed an interest for your chosen subject and end with where you see yourself after university.

Before You Start

How to get started

Before you sit down to write your UCAS Personal Statement, the first thing we recommend is to research the courses you want to apply for. This will help you prepare your statement as courses vary from university to university, and your content should reflect these. Bear in mind, you are only able to send one Personal Statement to all your chosen universities, so you can’t overly cater to one. Look at all of the details, including the structure, modules and examination methods, as well as what they’re looking for from a student. This will support your first draft, though bear in mind you’ll redraft a few times before it’s perfect.

For example, Oxford lists the personal characteristics that they look for in applicants to their Medicine degree:

oxford key qualities for medical students

How many words should a Personal Statement be?

Personal Statements can be up to 4,000 characters long (615-800), and no more. This might sound like a lot, but it’s just one side of A4 paper. There’s plenty of information to include, so make sure it’s concise, clear and easy to read.

When to start writing it

It’s never too early to start thinking about your Personal Statement and what you’re going to write about. But there is a deadline: October 15th for all Oxbridge courses including Medicine and Dentistry, and January 26th for other undergraduate subjects. We suggest you begin preparing at the start of the year, as this gives you plenty of time to plan, draft and rewrite until it’s perfect for submission.

Your Personal Statement is the first thing Oxbridge Admissions Tutors will see about you. It’s imperative you get it right.

Our Oxbridge Premium Programmes help you write a successful Personal Statment that ticks all the Admission Tutor’s boxes. Our proven support is implemented through various mediums including Personal Statment Intensive Courses, Personal Statment Marking and Personalised Reading Lists.

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What To Include

Your Personal Statement is a glimpse into your passion, how keen you are to learn and what you already know about your chosen subject. Express your interest by commenting on the areas that fascinate you most. For example, is it helping people that draws you into Medicine, or is it the fascinating human anatomy? 

Another great way to show your enthusiasm is through your previous experience in the subject. Demonstrate why you’re suitable for the course by providing evidence of any relevant skills and qualities that relate to this. What are you good at? What have you done that proves it? 

Mention any additional projects, work experience or extra-curricular activities you’ve got involved with that further demonstrate you’re an ideal candidate. Reflect on the skills you’ve gained from these (as long as they’re transferable to your studies). Admissions Tutors will be looking for such information, as well as your unique selling points — give examples of things you’ve done that show you have a wider interest in learning. 

You should also try to link your interests, skills and qualities to your university research. However, Oxbridge are not interested in sports, hobbies or if you play any musical instruments — keep it academic.

Show you’re an interesting person and have a true passion for your subject, and your Personal Statement should be a winning one. Your enthusiasm is what will make your statement stand out, so don’t shy away from expressing your love for your chosen subject, though you don’t need to say you’ve dreamed about doing the course your entire life.

Aim to include things like:

The Structure

The key to writing a good UCAS Personal Statement is getting the structure right, as this can have a huge effect on the message it delivers. Often, students get caught up in the content and forget that presenting information effectively is just as important as the words included.

Each section of your statement needs to be crafted correctly so that Admissions Tutors can digest the information easily. While there are no strict rules on how to structure it — since it’s personal to you — there are a few rules of thumb to use to find the right balance. In general, though, remember to consider the format, structure and content equally, and you’ll write a great Personal Statement.

Here is a breakdown of how we recommend students to split up their essay:

Personal Statement Introduction

Rightly or wrongly, it is highly likely that your UCAS Personal Statement will be remembered by its opening sentence. It must be something short, sharp, insightful, and catch the reader’s attention. It sets the precedent for the rest of your statement and unfortunately, decides whether your statement is paid particular attention to when read.

Once that’s out of the way, you need to answer the most important question:

The introduction does not need to be very long. It is generally a good idea to open the statement with something that sets the context of your application. For example, someone who is applying to study History may open: ‘History is all around us’, rather than ‘I have always been interested in History because…”

By the end of the introduction the reader should clearly know:

Make sure you keep it personal and honest! The exact phrase: “from a young age, I have always been interested in” was recently used more than 300 times in Personal Statements in a single year, and substituting “young” for “early” gave an additional 292 statements – these phrases can quickly become boring for Admissions Tutors to read!

Personal Statement Main Body

In the rest of your text, your aim should be to demonstrate your suitability for the course by exemplifying your knowledge of the course structure and its requirements through personal experience. Again, there are no rigorous guidelines on how to do this and it is very much down to your own writing style. Whereas some prefer a strict structure, others go for a more synoptic approach, but always remember to be consistent to achieve a flowing, easy to read Personal Statement.

Here’s the structure we recommend:

Paragraph #1: This should cover why you are suited for your subject. This will include your main academic interests, future ambitions (related to the chosen degree), and what makes the course right for you. This should be the academic side of why you want to study this subject.

Paragraph #2: This should still cover why you are suited for your subject. However, it can be less focused on academic topics. If you’ve had to overcome any significant challenges in life and wish to include these in your Personal Statement, this is normally the best place to do so. Similarly, any work experience or relevant prizes & competitions should be included here.

Paragraph #3: This is the smallest part of the main body and is all about extra-curricular activities. It is easy to get carried away in this section and make outrageous claims, e.g. claim to be a mountain climber if all you have ever climbed is a hill at the end of your street etc. Lying is not worth the risk, given that your interviewer may share the same hobby that you claim to be an expert in. So, don’t be caught out!

What you should include in your Personal Statement main body:

What you shouldn’t include in your Personal Statement main body (or anywhere!):

Personal Statement Conclusion

The conclusion of your Personal Statement should be more about leaving a good final impression rather than conferring any actual information. If you have something useful to say about your interest and desire to study your subject, you shouldn’t be waiting until the very end to say it!

A good conclusion should not include any new information, as this should be in the main body. However, you also need to avoid repeating what you have said earlier in your Personal Statement. This would be both a waste of characters and frustration for the tutor. Instead, it is better to put into context what you have already written and, therefore, make an effort to keep your conclusion relatively short – no more than four lines.

For more inspiration, take a look through our other successful Personal Statement analysis articles:

Our Personal Statement do’s

1. Show passion for your subject

Admissions Tutors aren’t going to pick a candidate who doesn’t seem particularly interested in their field. Show your passion and eagerness to learn and succeed. Why do you love your subject? Why have you chosen it? What do you find most interesting and why?

2. Talk about you

This is your chance to talk about you, your interests and skills. It’s no good saying you’re passionate if you don’t prove that you are. Write in a natural style to show off your personality, making sure it’s genuine, relevant and specific.

3. Use appropriate language

Re-read your Personal Statement multiple times and check that the content is academic, engaging and clear.

4. Provide evidence to back up your claims

It’s all well and good saying you love medical science, but this is going to fall flat if you can’t back it up. Talk about your school subjects and results, any wider reading and relevant work experience. Perhaps you attended a lecture on your subject — this would be good evidence.

5. Link your activities outside of education to your course

Tell tutors why these activities are relevant and what you have learned as a result. Focus on transferable skills gained too, such as time management or organisational abilities.

6. Spell check and look for grammatical mistakes

Poor spelling and grammar makes for a terrible first impression, so ensure you triple-check it’s written to the highest standard before submitting it.

Our Personal Statement dont’s

1. Write a clichéd beginning

Don’t waste time thinking of a catchy opening. The best Personal Statements get to the point quickly, so avoid starting with phrases like “From a young age”, “I am applying for this course because”, and “Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…”. Go straight into why you are interested in your course subject.

2. Use cringe-worthy language and cheap gags

This is not impressive and can indicate that you’re not a serious student. It’s essential you don’t come across as verbose or pretentious too, as Admissions Tutors will spot this immediately. They are well-versed in the ramblings of students who think this tone makes them seem more intellectual.

3. Overcomplicate things

Say what you need to, be specific and don’t waffle too much — you’ll run out of characters fast.

4. Go overboard with extra-curricular activities

Talking about these is good, but the truth is, Admissions Tutors have very little interest in what you do outside of education unless you can find a way to directly link them to your subject.

5. Plagiarise content

You can read Personal Statement examples online for inspiration but avoid copying and pasting them. During your interview, you’re likely to be asked about specific parts of your statement, and if you’re caught off-guard, you’re going to look silly. This could ruin your chances of being accepted. Use a plagiarism detector to ensure your essay is unique.

6. Mention universities or specific courses by name

You can only write one Personal Statement, so it’s the same for each course you apply for. Avoid mentioning specific unis by name or detailing exact specifics of a module, for example. Keep it general.

Now you know what to include in your Personal Statement and the best practices for doing so, we hope you feel more confident writing it. Good luck submitting your UCAS application!

First impressions count. Learn how to craft the perfect Personal Statement that demonstrates your suitability to Oxbridge Admissions Tutors.

We help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive Admissions Test score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxford or Cambridge application, from History to Medicine.

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