How to write a UCAS personal statement
If you're applying to a UK university, one of the main concerns you'll have is how to write a UCAS personal statement.
In this blog post, I'm going to walk you through my tried-and-tested personal statement writing framework that has successfully helped people to get offers from universities as elite as Oxford and Cambridge, but also from a diverse range of other universities across the UK.
Prefer to watch a video? Here you go:
How to write a UCAS personal statement – an overview
This image gives you an overview of how to go about writing a successful personal statement:
In essence, there are three stages in the process of writing a UCAS personal statement. These are:
- Choose – where you explore and choose the five options that you'd like to apply to. You can't move on to writing your personal statement until you are firm about these five choices because you don't know what requirements you're tailoring your personal statement to if you don't know your choices.
- Prepare – this is where you do detailed research into the requirements of each course and take action to make sure you fulfil those requirements (because, why would the universities take you if you don't have what they're looking for?)
- Write – this is where you finally put pen to paper and start writing. If you hurry into this before completing steps 1 and 2 you'll find you'll waste a lot of time drafting and re-drafting your personal statement. So, make sure you have completed steps 1 and 2 before you start writing.
Let's talk about each of the three steps in a bit more detail.
How to choose your five UCAS options
The choose step of the How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement is broken down into three steps:
- Choose your subject
- Research your courses
- Finalise your choices
Choose your subject
A question that I've been asked many, many times is whether you should follow your head or your heart when you are choosing what to study at university. I go into this question more deeply in this blog post. But there are three things you need to consider when choosing what to study:
- What you're naturally good at
- What you love to study
- What's going to lead to the career that you want
The thing that I would de-emphasise here is thinking about your career because, ultimately, what you love and what you're good at should lead you to a fulfilling career, rather than trying to shoe-horn your talents and passions into a career that doesn't quite fit you.
In my Personal Statement Masterclass, I take you through a series of coaching exercises to help you choose the right subject for you. And, even if you think you've known what you want to study since you were eight years old, this is a useful check to go through before you commit to spending three years of your life studying that subject.
Research your courses
Once you know what subject you want to study, you need to choose courses that teach the subject in a way that interests and suits you at universities where you feel you will thrive and fit it.
You need to ask detailed questions when you're reading university websites and attending open days to make sure that the course will suit you and that you like the vibe of the department you'll be studying in. You'll also want to meet people and see if you like their vibe.
In my Personal Statement Masterclass, I give you ten questions you should ask when you are researching a course by either visiting their website or attending an actual or virtual open day. I also give you suggestions about how to find out the answers to your questions and get a feel for a university or course if you can't actually visit.
Finalise your choices
The final step in the ‘Choose' section of the framework is to narrow your choices down to the five you're going to apply to through UCAS. There's an art and a science to making sure you spread your bets with your options across different courses and universities to make sure you'll have somewhere to study no-matter what grades you get at the end of year 13. I give you detailed guidance on how to spread your bets in my Personal Statement Masterclass.
How to prepare to write your UCAS personal statement
One of the big mistakes I see with students writing their personal statements is that they rush into writing before they:
- Know exactly what they're applying for
- Know what those courses require of them
- They have the necessary experiences to write about in their personal statement
This ends up with huge amounts of frustration and lots of wasted time spent drafting and re-drafting the personal statement. That's why the prepare step of the personal statement writing framework is so important.
The three steps in the prepare phase are:
- Research your requirements
- Boost your application
- Gather your experiences
When you've done all these things, then you're ready to actually start writing.
Let's go through each of them in turn.
Research your requirements
Every university course is looking for something subtlety different – although all of them are also looking for broad things like intellectual curiosity, creativity and determination.
When you're researching your courses' requirements you're really looking for those subtle differences – they things that the specific admissions tutors on each of your chosen courses will sit up and get excited about when they read your personal statement.
Some courses have formal scoring systems that they use when they're reading your whole application – this will include grades as well as the personal statement – and will give you a strong idea of the criteria they're looking for on their websites.
Others aren't nearly as clear – but you can pick up subtle cues by reading their websites.
In my Personal Statement Masterclass, I take you through two examples of course websites and how to spot of the clues of what the admissions tutors are looking for. This will help you to create a plan of action to boost your application – so that it precisely fits what your lecturers are looking for in a successful applicant.
Boost your application
Once you know what your chosen courses are looking for you can set about boosting your application with a series of carefully targetted supra-curricular activities ( also called supercurricular activities).
There are seven types of supra-curricular activities that you might like to consider. You don't need to do all of them – but you need to precisely understand the requirements of the courses you're applying to in order to make sure you've got the right ones.
However, the one supra-curricular activity that every student should do is further reading. This is because reading research papers and academic books are the foundation of academic life. If you haven't taken the trouble to read something about the subject you want to study at university the people reading your personal statement will sincerely doubt your passion for and commitment to your subject.
In my Personal Statement Masterclass, I take you through all 7 types of supra-curricular activity, helping you to assess which ones you've already done and which ones you need to boost before writing your personal statement.
Gather your experiences
The final stage of preparation before you move on to actually thinking about how to write your personal statement is to gather together all the experiences you've ever had that you could include in your personal statement. This will range from personal experiences that you've had to awards and certificates you've earned, as well as the supra-curricular activities that you've been doing to boost your application and meet the course requirements.
This step will give you huge confidence about how much you have to write about – and create a bank of ideas that you can include in your personal statement. And, if you're the kind of person who struggles with putting their thoughts and ideas into writing, it's a low-stakes way of beginning to experiment with how you're going to communicate everything you've done.
The workbook in my Personal Statement Masterclass gives you space and prompts to write all this down. There is also a video that gives you prompts for each section within the Gather Your Experiences section.
How to write your UCAS personal statement
Now you've been through the choosing and preparing processes, it's actually time to get down and write your personal statement. But, as with any other good piece of writing, it's really important to plan the structure first. You'll then need to write your first draft. Finally, you'll want a really solid editing process to make sure that the personal statement that you submit is as high-quality as can be.
Therefore, the ‘Write' section of the How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement framework is split into these sections:
- Structure your statement
- Write your draft
- Edit to perfection
Let's go over each of these three in turn.
Structure your statement
Creating and planning the structure of your personal statement is incredibly important for two reasons:
- It enables you to think carefully about what you want to put in and what you leave out – making the process of writing your statement really easy – a good plan means it will almost write itself
- It will massively cut down the time you spend on editing.
There are certain paragraphs you should include in your UCAS personal statement, and the lengths of these vary. But, using the advice in my Personal Statement Masterclass you'll make sure that you have:
- The correct paragraphs to tick all of the admissions tutors' boxes as they read your statement
- Thought carefully about the order of these paragraphs so that your personal statement has a great flow to it – making it an easy and compelling read for the admissions tutors
- Written to the word/character count so that you don't have to cut out swathes of your carefully crafted sentences when you're editing your personal statement.
Write your draft
Now, you're really getting down to business; it's finally time to put pen to paper (or fill that blank screen with actual words).
When you're writing your personal statement there are three key things you must do:
- Have a compelling opening sentence that gives the admissions tutor a real insight into your passion and reason for wanting to study their subject
- Rather than listing everything you've done in the ‘Prepare' section you needed to write about it intelligently, reflecting on your learning journey to this point so that they can see your intellectual potential
- Finish with a closing paragraph, a bit like an elevator pitch, that communicates in 1-3 sentences why you're a perfect fit for the course, even if the admissions tutor doesn't read the rest of your statement (they will – you just want to leave them with no doubts that they should make you an offer).
The Personal Statement Masterclass guides you through every step of writing your personal statement. There is an exercise on how to write a truly compelling opening sentence learning from the tricks of great novelists. There are also videos on how to write each of the following paragraphs so that you're never left wondering how to approach them or lost for words with writer's block.
Edit to perfection
If you've followed all of the advice above, you will have a truly superb first draft of your personal statement. Now, all you need to do is edit your personal statement to perfection.
Check out this video on how to edit a UCAS personal statement.
My key advice is:
- Make sure it sounds like you – don't use words that you wouldn't be comfortable using in conversation with your admissions tutor or teacher
- Get someone else to check the spelling and grammar – you get blind to that kind of detail when you read and re-read your own work
- If you're over the character limit, instead of removing individual words, determine the key message you want to get across in that section of your personal statement and re-write it with that in mind.
There is further guidance on editing your personal statement to perfection in my Personal Statement Masterclass, including a checklist to run through before you declare your personal statement finished and ready to submit.
Your personal statement next steps
Hopefully, the framework I've given you for writing your personal statement has given you a process that you can go through to produce a truly excellent piece of writing that gets you offers at all the universities you've applied to.
However, if you need more help and guidance, check out my Personal Statement Masterclass. It's geared towards helping people to apply to UK universities. It guides you through every step of the framework I've outlined in this article, step-by-step, in detailed videos and a workbook that gives you writing frames, planning tools and checklists. We even hold monthly Q&A sessions to answer any questions you have as you go through the personal statement writing process.
Click here to find out more about the Personal Statement Masterclass and sign-up.