Applying to university and college is an exciting experience. However, it can also be nerve-wracking. After all, the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) manages three million applications each year.
So, how can you make your application stand out? Writing an interesting, enthusiastic and genuine UCAS personal statement is one of the best ways to catch an institution’s attention.
But if you’re still not sure what to write about, there’s no need to panic. In this blog, we’ll explore how to write a UCAS personal statement that will open doors – including how to brainstorm ideas and some UCAS personal statement examples.
What is a UCAS personal statement for?
A UCAS personal statement is all about you, and it’s your time to shine.
In it, you’ll talk about why you’re interested in what you’re applying for. You’ll also talk about your skills, and how they’ll help you succeed in your studies. It’s a good idea to use concrete examples, and talk about how you have already used these skills in your life.
Institutions want to see why you’ll make an excellent student. So, don’t be shy – you’ve got to sell yourself!
How to brainstorm ideas
We know it can be hard to write about yourself. That’s why we always recommend brainstorming ideas before you begin. This will make your writing process a lot more efficient, and let you communicate your thoughts better. Here are some things that can help:
Write a list
Make a list of all the topics you may include in your personal statement. Separate the list into three parts: why you’re applying, what you’re interested in, and what skills you want to highlight.
Write down everything that comes to mind. With all your thoughts on the page, it will be easier to narrow down the most important ideas.
On their blog, UCAS also shares a great tip. “Every course you can apply for is listed in our search tool, together with entry requirements and a description of what it covers. Find the courses you’re interested in and try to match up your strengths and experiences to the course requirements,” they write.
Think about what makes you unique
What makes you special? Perhaps you’ve overcome a big challenge, or have an interesting hobby. Write about whatever comes naturally to you. This will ensure your statement is genuine. It’ll also make your personality shine through. If you’re an international student, don’t forget to talk about why you want to study in the UK.
Talk to your teachers or mentors
If you’re still stuck for ideas, ask your teachers or mentors to help. What do they think makes you a unique student? You never know: they might even point out some transferable skills you didn’t realize you had.
Use the tools designed by UCAS
Don’t forget to check out what resources are on the UCAS website. The UCAS personal statement brainstorming worksheet is a very helpful tool, for example.
How to structure your statement
There is no right or wrong way to structure your UCAS statement. It all depends on what information you decide to include – and sometimes, even what institution you are applying to.
This video by UCAS explores one way to structure your statement. It suggests including:
- A catchy introduction that talks about why you’re so excited about the course.
- A middle paragraph that talks about why you’re so interested in the course – which includes concrete evidence and the skills that’ll help you succeed.
- And a final paragraph that talks about why you’re so unique.
Many universities and colleges also have tips on how to structure a UCAS personal statement. So, you should always see what advice the institutions you are applying to have to offer. The University of Sussex, for example, recommends applicants focus 80% on why they want to study the course and just 20% on their skills.
And Amy Smith, who works in admissions at Nottingham Trent University, recommends focusing on your skills first. “Put your notes in order according to what the course you’re interested in is looking for. If you have any skills and experience relevant to the entry requirements, make sure you say so at the start of your personal statement,” she said in a popular UCAS blog.
As you can see, there is lots of different advice out there. So, just do your research and focus on what works best for you.
But don’t forget: you must stick to the word count. So just how long is a UCAS personal statement? It can only be up to 4000 characters or 47 lines – including spaces.
Personal statement examples
Many institutions provide personal statement examples. These are great for inspiration – especially if you are struggling with how to start or how to end a UCAS personal statement.
We especially like the list of examples the University of Essex has put together. They provide examples of personal statements for more than 2 dozen areas of study. None of the statements are perfect – each has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. But with this, students get an excellent idea of what institutions are looking for.
You can take a look at their examples here.
Dos and Don’ts
We’ve covered a lot of information in this blog. So now, let’s quickly take a look at some dos and don’ts for writing a UCAS personal statement.
- Don’t mention any institutions by name. Your application will be sent to all the universities and colleges you are applying to.
- Don’t plagiarize. UCAS uses software to detect this.
- Don’t include jokes or informal hyperboles. This is meant to be a formal document. Still, do make sure you write in plain English!
- Do start your application early and have others read it over. The UCAS has a great timeline to help you plan, which you can check out here.
- Do be honest and genuine. You’re great – so just put your best foot forward!
- Do be enthusiastic. Let admissions staff know how excited you are to be applying for the course; they want to offer a place to students with great attitudes.