The structure of a personal statement is important, but without well written prose the structure is irrelevant!
The admissions tutor reading your personal statement has read literally hundreds of other statements. You need to make sure that your statement sticks in the mind for good reasons. Your personal statement should have a defined introduction, main body and conclusion. Each of these sections need to be memorable and stand out from the rest. Let’s take a deep dive into each section and see exactly how to do it.
If you want to learn about the structure of your personal statement, check out this post here.
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.
- Avoid using overused words like “passionate”, “deeply fascinating”, and “devotion”
- Avoid using clichéd quotes like the infamous Coco Chanel’s “fashion is not something that exists
in dresses only”
- If you are going to use a quote, then put some effort into researching an obscure yet particularly
powerful one – don’t forget to include a reference
- Draw on your own personal experiences to produce something both original and eye-catching
Although a good opening statement can make a personal statement, a bad one will rarely break it.
Once that’s out of the way, you need to answer the most important question:
Why do YOU want to study this subject?
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:
- What subject you are applying for
- What motivated you to apply for this subject
Make sure you keep it personal and honest! The exact phrase: “from a young age, I have always been interested in” was used more than 300 times in personal statements in 2013 (data
published by UCAS), and substituting “young” for “early” gave an additional 292 statements – these phrases can quickly become boring for admissions tutors to read!
The 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 in order to achieve a flowing, easy to read personal statement.
Here’s an 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 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 the main body
- Sports and other hobbies
- Musical instruments
- Work experience
- Personal interests in the field of study
- Personal attributes
What you SHOULDN’T include in the main body (or anywhere!)
- Long complicated sentences
- Lack of reflection
- Listing things
- Irrelevant/out of date examples – keep things recent
- Negative connotations – always put a positive spin on everything
- Generic/stereotypical statements
- Controversy in whatever form it may come
- Drawing out one example for far too long
- Inappropriate examples
How to conclude
The conclusion of your personal statement should be more about leaving a good final impression 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.