Ucas Essay Guidelines

We’ve produced this little guide to ease the pain of writing a personal statement for your UCAS form. We hope you find it useful, and please let us know if you have any comments by emailing us at info@studential.com. Further help can also be found on our blog.

When should I start writing my personal statement?

It's never too early to start thinking about it! Unfortunately, UCAS deadlines have a tendency to creep up on most students.

However, you probably want a good idea of what course you're going to apply for before you launch in to actually writing the thing.

Check out our choosing a degree section if you're still deciding what subject to take.

On the other hand, don't leave it too late - you'll probably need a few weeks to write it and a week or so to get a reference written.

As a general guide we would say start writing it when you come back to school or college after the summer, though it might be worth jotting down a few ideas during the holidays.

We know some people are extremely organised and get at least their first draft done by the end of the summer!

How long can the personal statement be?

There is no actual word limit - instead, you have a maximum of 47 lines or 4000 characters to work with.

This is all the space UCAS give you on their online system, Apply. You can check that your statement will fit in the area provided by using our handy Personal Statement Length Checker.

How do I start writing my personal statement?

Most people won't be able to just start writing their personal statement off the top of their head - so it's a good idea to jot down a few notes first.

The main things to think about are:

These are the two main things to start with, and if this still doesn't help you can look at a few more detailed starting points.

Many people have trouble writing about themselves and their personal qualities.

So if you're having trouble pop down to a library or bookstore and get a book on writing CVs that will go into this process in much more depth.

What are admissions tutors looking for?

Usually the sort of things you've written about for the part above!

Obviously the things admissions tutors are looking for will differ but in general: "Do we want this student on this course?" And "Do we want this student at this university?".

The idea of your personal statement is to show this - so once you've written it, have a read through and see if it answers these questions.

Individual universities and departments often publish information on applying and writing personal statements, so surfing the admissions scetion of their website should turn up more specific information on exactly what they're looking for.

Our blog post, 8 Things Not To Put In Your Personal Statement, will help you avoid making any obvious errors. Then check out What You Should Include In Your Personal Statement to make sure you don't miss anything important.

What's the most important part of the personal statement?

From our days of GCSE English, we would say either the beginning or the end.

A good first sentence will get the reader interested and ensure they actually read your statement rather than skim it.

A good ending will ensure the reader remembers your personal statement, though it also helps to have a good middle section as well.

The first line is probably the thing to work on - most people put their reasons for studying the subject at the top, and this is generally regarded to be the most important bit of the statement.

How do I write a statement for two different courses?

There's no easy way to write a personal statement for two totally unrelated courses.

If the courses are similar (i.e. Business Studies and Economics) you may find you can write a personal statement that is relevant to both subjects without mentioning either subject by name.

If the courses are totally unrelated it may be impossible to write for both subjects without your personal statement sounding vague and unfocused.

Instead, you will need to concentrate on just one subject and just ignore the other.

Should I talk about what I want to do after university?

You could, but only if you have a good idea of what you want to do.

If you sound sure about what you want to do after university, it gives the impression that you've thought carefully about your course and what you want to do with it.

It is also a nice way to round off your personal statement, rather than just finishing on less important stuff like extra curricular activities.

If you don't have any future plans then leave it out - you don't want to be asked about them at interviews.

How should I structure my personal statement?

Most people write their personal statement in an essay style, usually starting off with the course and why they want to do it, then talking about their relevant work experience and skills, and finishing off with extra curricular activities.

However, you can use any style that you feel works best for you.

As a guide, spend around 50% of the space talking about your course and how you're suited to it and 50% on your work experience and other activities.

Exactly how you write your personal statement depends on your subject - generally people write more about work experience for vocational subjects like Medicine and Law than they would for Maths or English, where work experience is less important.

Is it worth doing loads of extra-curricular stuff to make my statement sound good?

There's no point doing extra things just to try and make yourself look good to universities - you won't enjoy it and it probably won't help much either.

From what we've seen, an interest and aptitude for the course is more important to admissions tutors than lots of extra curricular activities.

If you do want to do something to boost your application, read relevant books or do work experience related to the subject instead.

Should I talk about my qualifications?

No. There's already a section on the UCAS form for this, so don't waste space talking about them on your personal statement.

If you have something important that doesn't go in the qualifications section, ask your referee to put it down in your reference - it will sound better if it comes from them than from you.

Where can I see some example personal statements?

We have loads of free personal statement samples that you can browse through, broken down into subject categories so you can hopefully find what you are looking for quite easily!

Looking at what other students have written and submitted on their application is a great way of seeing what makes a good personal statement (and what doesn't!).

Just make sure you don't copy sentences or whole chunks of these examples though, as UCAS has plagiarism detection software and your application will be rejected if it's found you've cheated!

What should I do now I've written it?

Ask for opinions on it!

Show it to your friends, parents, teachers, career advisors, etc and note down their comments.

The most useful comments are likely to come from your teachers in the subject and the people at your school or college who handle UCAS applications.

If you have enough time, leave your personal statement for a couple of weeks or a month and come back to it - if you're not still happy with what you wrote, it's time to start redrafting.

Should I post my personal statement online?

It's generally not a good idea to post it on an internet forum or discussion board before you've started university, as anyone can steal information off a website and pass it off as their own, and with something as important as a personal statement, you don't want that to happen.

You should be OK sending it to people you trust by email - see the next question for a better way of getting people to look at it.

Can someone take a look at my personal statement?

To get people to look at your personal statement without the risk of plagiarism visit the personal statement review section.

You can also get people to look at it by asking nicely on the forums (without actually posting your statement) and a few members should be able to help you.

You can also get your personal statement professionally edited and reviewed here at Studential, through one of our very popular personal statement editing and critique packages.

We offer a range of services covering a variety of prices, so there's bound to be a package suited to you.

I'm still stuck with my personal statement - where can I find more in-depth advice?

Some people say writing a personal statement is easy – maybe it is, but it’s difficult to write a personal statement well.

As this is such a big topic to cover, we suggest taking a look at our personal statement examples to help give you some inspiration for what to write, and then read through our personal statement writing guide when you’re ready to put pen to paper.

Browse through the other information and advice we have in our personal statements section, and if you still feel you need a little extra help, you can always get your personal statement professionally edited and reviewed by one of our editors.

We offer a range of personal statement editing and critique services, so there’s bound to be one suited to your needs.

Don’t forget to ask your family, friends, teachers and careers adviser to look through your personal statement drafts, and incorporate any feedback they give you until you are 100% happy with it.

Remember - it doesn’t matter how many times you have to redraft your personal statement – the most important thing is you get it right so you give yourself the best possible chance of being offered places by your chosen universities/colleges.

IMPORTANT: When writing your personal statement, it’s vital you remember not to copy from anyone else’s personal statement (not even just a sentence!). Not only is wrong and unfair, but any plagiarism will be detected by the UCAS Similarity Detection Service.

If UCAS discover you have plagiarised your personal statement, whether you have copied someone else’s entirely or parts of it, they will cancel your application.

You can also try looking through our personal statement guide.

This takes you through how to write a personal statement step-by-step, and goes into far more detail than this short Q and A section does.

If you feel you need a little extra help, check out our personal statement editing and critique services where our professional editors will review your statement to make it a success.

A few last tips

What have you done, relevant to your subject, that is unique and no one else is likely to put down?

Many people have the same old boring interests and work experience - you need something to separate you from the crowd, and while it's a gamble to make an individual personal statement, anything individual you do related to your chosen field can only look good.

Have a think - what makes you so special? If you can't think of anything then you can't complain if you get rejected!

Finally, remember it's your personal statement, and you can write whatever you want in it.

If everything in this guide conflicts with what you've got already but you think you still have a killer personal statement, then use that.

A personal statement is about you, and you shouldn't let anyone tell you what to put in it - sticking blindly to the formula mentioned here will just stop your true personality showing through.

A personal statement is what sets up an accurate portrayal of your character to universities. It’s one of the most important things you need to do, and it’s one of the things that your application relies on, but it’s not too difficult to make it perfect.

 

You don’t need to pour every single thing that’s on your mind into those 4000 words, but it’s a good way of discussing where you are in your knowledge of your subject, where you want to take that knowledge and any past experiences you have had. And believe me, when you’re passionate about a subject, 47 lines is not enough to tell them everything.

 

A few tips for what to write about include:

 

Why you chose to apply for that particular course.

Write about your interests, what you love about the subject you’re studying. If you want to study Biology, go on about your dream to study plant life in the Amazon Rainforest. If you’re studying Photography, talk about your love for the endless possibilities that Photography can provide you with. The possibilities are endless with this paragraph. If you’re passionate enough to apply for a course at university, you’re passionate enough to write about why you love it.

 

Why are you interested in the subject

Maybe don’t go on about how you’ve always dreamed of going to Manchester because of the amazing takeaways. Talk about your interest for the subject, how you’ll stay invested in the course despite the struggles and the stresses of a professional environment. Talk about the different facets to your course. If you’re studying Psychology, don’t just talk about one aspect of it. Open your mind, explain how much you’d like to understand every approach, every different way of understanding one thing, (though some of them can be quite bizarre).

 

Why you are suitable for the course

Prove to them that you won’t spend the entire course lying on the couch eating popcorn and skipping lectures. Prove that you’re interested, tell them what you can offer. Let them know if you have an open mind, if you’re willing to accept alternate theories and processes. University is experimental, and they want someone that can keep up with it. Talk about different qualities you have. Were you a prefect in high school? Let them know your roles and responsibilities that will help you on the course. Were you in a band or a sports team? Let them know that you can work in a team and follow along with the ideas of others. All of these qualities build you as a person and as a potential candidate.

 

Do your current courses or areas of study relate to your chosen course?

Now, I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here, but applying to a French Language degree might not be the best thing to do if you’ve never even spoken the language before. (Though if you do that, I admire your spirit and wish you the best of luck). Make sure you at least know the basics of what you’re planning to study. Even though you’re going to learn, you at least need a base knowledge of what you want to study, and they are going to want to know what you already know. Talk about what modules you have studied. If you’re studying Art, tell them what mediums you have worked with, what artists you are inspired by. Tell them what you know, but keep it truthful. Don’t go talking about how you worked on the Empire State Building in an architecture class. Your tutors will assure them that what you’re saying is wrong. (Unless you did actually work on the Empire State Building. If you did, talk about that. That’s interesting.)

 

Have you taken part in any other activities that demonstrate your interest in the course?

Have you taken part in a football workshop with the Barcelona Football Team? Have you visited galleries and artist talks from prestigious artists? Have you worked with Professor Brian Cox? You don’t need to have done any of these, but anything relating to your course that you have previous experience with, for example playing in an orchestra if you’re doing a Music degree or volunteering at a youth theatre group if you’re doing Drama or  Performing Arts. All of these examples show that you are dedicated to the course and you will thrive once the course is over if you decide to turn it into a career.

 

Skills and Achievements

Have you won a Nobel Prize? Have you won a trophy for being an outstanding rugby player at your local team? Have you had any responsibilities in and around college or school. This can range from being on the school or college council to popping around with a biscuit tray at your school’s parent’s evening. Anything helps, and anything shows that you’re willing to help others. Think about things that you’re proud of. Universities want to know that you’re not just a carbon copy of the next person, that you have real thoughts, real feelings and real pride in the things that you do. If they think you’re an interesting person, they’ll have much more consideration for you. Tell them what makes you unique.

 

A personal statement is important. Be yourself, but be careful with adding jokes and quotes, don’t be offensive in any way. People have different senses of humour. It’s an official document, but it doesn’t have to be too posh. Just be yourself and don’t worry if your first draft isn’t perfect. Just go to your tutor for help, and they’ll help to guide you in the right direction. Use UCAS templates and informational videos to help you in writing your personal statement, because you only get one shot.

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