April 28, 2016

My favourite personal statements are by far the unintentionally funny ones. For example, I’ve seen a few that boast about having ‘grate communication skills’; oh the irony!

I was ‘lucky’ enough to write my personal statement twice for two separate applications. My opening sentence on the first application was:

‘A BA in English and Drama would be an exciting path to travel upon in order to explore my adoration for the subjects and for achieving my ambitions’.

YAWN. Luckily my application was accepted but I think that we can all agree that such a sentence is neither interesting or inventive!

My second personal statement began with the most pretentious few lines that I have ever written. Please don’t judge me too harshly:

‘Looking back at my personal statement from last year, I had to laugh. It isn’t that the words aren’t true, or that the language isn’t eloquent; quite the contrary. I laugh because the previous statement was overcomplicated and convoluted, just as I was’.

Wow, deep. I think a few personal circumstances in my year-off gave me some kind of philosophical and benevolent attitude. It sounds so ostentatious now, and if I’m honest I’m quite embarrassed by it. I continue on from that point by discussing what makes me smile, interweaving my love of drama and literature. Urgh! They let me in, but probably out of pity!


As you can tell, UCAS applications can be complicated, and the personal statement can really feel like the cherry on the cake. To help you – and stop you making some of the mistakes I did, I have shared some useful tips on how to pull-off your personal statement – because it is possible to strike a balance between personal and pretentious, while avoiding the downright pointless!

1. Tone

It is very important to strike the right tone. Tone, in written form, is attitude. For example, in novels, you can normally tell if the narrative voice is satirical, humorous, proud, formal, informal etc. It’s the feeling of a text. You want your personal statement to feel believable, feel genuine, feel positive and feel informed. You need to stand out from the crowd, granted. But you are not a candidate on The Apprentice nor are you an endearing X-factor sob-story. Therefore avoid phrases such as ‘from an early age’, ‘I have a thirst for knowledge’ and ‘I’ve always been passionate about…’ or bold sweeping statements like ‘I was the best in my classes, ‘I’ve always been good at…’ or ‘I’ve come so far’. Equally, do not quote famous philosophers or celebrities. The admissions tutor wants your opinion, not someone else’s. And finally, starting every sentence with ‘I’, is boring. You can still express your personality while avoiding these clichés.

2. Content

The ideal ratio of academic to personal info in your statement would be: 75/25. Only include relevant personal information. Your first paragraph = your first impression, and if it doesn’t give a lot, chop the lot. Write about why you want to take up this course. What is great/beneficial about your chosen discipline? Make them as interested as you are about your chosen course. It’s an oxymoron, I know, but think ‘subtly passionate’. After you have ignited their interest, talk about your experiences and how they relate to your chosen area of study.

You have a right to be proud of what you have achieved and yes, you have to sell yourself, (university places are competitive). One way of promoting yourself modestly, is by stating your achievements/experience and demonstrating how you can utilise these skills in the big wide world. Think about how you can share your skills. Universities have a real interest in Global Citizenship; the awareness that you are part of a larger community and that you are able to effectively communicate with others.

Ideally, a significant amount of your experience should have been gained outside the classroom. Universities and employers are looking for candidates that go above and beyond. If you are captain of the football team, you will have learned many transferable skills, such as leadership. If you haven’t got extra-curricular experience though, don’t panic. The important thing is that your experiences so far are applicable to real and academic life.

*In all seriousness though, do try your best to get some extra-curricular work experience in the next few years, (this will be crucial post-grad).

3. Punctuation & Grammar

It doesn’t matter whether you are applying for an English degree or a Maths degree, or whether the course demands written assessments or practical work. Good grammar and appropriate punctuation is an absolute essential, across the board. Recently, literacy has been a hot topic – many ageing academics and politicians accuse the younger generation of not being able to write properly. Prove them wrong! Proof-read the hell out of your statement and give it to friends, family, teachers and tutors. Also – be wary of spell-check! Most computers are not yet gifted with the intelligence of the robot out of Ex-Machina. A computer can’t always tell what the tone of a sentence is or which ‘homophone’ you intend to use, e.g. write/right, meet/meat, peace/piece.

I hope this blog will be useful if you’re currently applying to Uni. Personal statements are one of those tricky things in life that we have to do, but have to do differently to everyone else. You’ve probably been bombarded with presentations and hints and tips of how to write one and ‘stand out from the crowd’, but at the end of the day, it is a personal statement. It is unique to you. There is not really a definite right or wrong way to write one. It can be very time consuming so just get it out of the way – as once it’s done, it’s done. It is a challenge, but one you will definitely beat, (I promise)!