The process of applying to university can be hard at any stage. There are a range of things you need to consider. What subject(s) do you want to study? Where do you want to study? What are the entry requirements?
To make matters worse, you also have to bring these considerations together when writing the next bit of your application, your personal statement. Without knowing how to go about it, writing your personal statement can feel incredibly stressful and almost impossible to get done, believe me I know. However, writing your personal statement can be more than doable if you have the right technique and you know what you’re doing.
Continue reading to learn more about what makes up a personal statement and how to write your own. This article will take you through the process of writing a personal statement for both undergraduate and postgraduate applications and give you some extra advice for when you write yours.
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What is involved in writing an undergraduate personal statement?
If you’re familiar with the university application process in the UK, you’ve probably heard of a personal statement. However, do you actually know what it means and what makes one up?
For an undergraduate UK university application, a personal statement is a piece of writing, where you will need to explain why you’re a good candidate for the course(s) you’re applying for and what makes you different from other candidates. UCAS refers to this as a “chance to get noticed” because in your personal statement you pretty much need to show off your achievements, experiences, talents and the things you do or have done outside of your course that relate to what you’re applying for. To learn more about what personal statements are, check out this UCAS guide.
To do your personal statement, you will have a maximum of 4,000 characters or 47 lines, depending on which comes first. As much as it sounds, this isn’t actually very much as the character count will include each letter, space and piece of punctuation. To learn more about the formatting of a personal statement, check out this UCAS guide.
When writing your personal statement, there are quite a few key things that you need to include. These range from explaining your passion and reasoning for choosing the course to your own skills and experience. For example, you may want to write about any schemes you did, your hobbies, the reading you did and other extracurriculars related to the course.
You can also mention the skills you have picked up that will make you a great student, for example the experience you got from volunteering, doing a part time job or any roles or responsibilities you had at your sixth form or college. To learn about what you should put on a personal statement in more detail, check out this great Think Student article.
What is involved in writing a master’s personal statement?
While the basis of a master’s personal statement is the same as that of an undergraduate one, it does have its differences. While there must obviously still be a focus on you and what makes you a good fit for the course, for a postgraduate personal statement the key is to let your passion for the subject show.
As your postgraduate application will typically be done directly to the university, rather than as a general UCAS application, the exact formatting and word count required may depend on where you are replying to. Due to this, it is best to look at the university website to get a more accurate word count.
For example, the University of York give a general recommended personal statement word count of between 500 and 1,000 words. However, for specific departments and master’s degree courses, they may only need to be between 300 and 400 words long, such as with the education department.
To learn more about this, check out this page on the University of York’s website. You can also check out this article by Prospects and this Think Student article to learn more about the application process for master’s degrees.
How to write a personal statement for a university application
As mentioned above, you will have a maximum of 4,000 characters to write your personal statement. As this isn’t a lot of space, you need to make sure that you get your most important points across and that it is structured in a clear and engaging way.
To do this, there are a number of steps that you will need to follow to ensure that your personal statement is the best that it can be. To learn what these are, check out the following sections. You can learn more about the information included below by clicking on this guide and this page by UCAS as well as this article by The UniGuide.
Step 1: Write down what you’re going to put on your university personal statement
As mentioned above, your personal statement is your chance to show off your personal achievements, experiences and ambitions as well as what you’ve done outside of your studies and more.
Due to this, when writing a personal statement, it can be difficult to keep track of everything that you need to put on it. Writing down the key points you want to include in your personal statement can be a great way to make your personal statement clearer and more focused on what you really want to say.
It can also help you to get everything on from the start, which can help you to avoid having to rewrite your entire personal statement just to include all of your key points. In the long run, this can also save you quite a lot of time.
Step 2: Explain why you want to study the course on your personal statement
One of the most crucial parts of your personal statement is explaining why you want to study the course you’ve applied for. This makes it a great way to start your personal statement. Especially, as it can help you to structure the rest of your personal statement by using it as a starting point.
To actually write about why you want to study your course, it can help to think about what you hope to learn, what it will allow you to do, how interested you are in the subject or even its relevance to the wider world. Writing about all of these can help to make you seem knowledgeable/ well-read in your subject and you may even want to start linking the wider reading you’ve done.
You can also mention your future ambitions and how the course you’ve applied to will help you get there. This maybe in regard to getting a job, especially for more practical subjects, or it could be for further study, such as a master’s degree or an alternative postgraduate qualification.
Step 3: Explain what makes you a good candidate on your personal statement
After explaining why you want to study the course, you also need to explain why they should choose you. To do this, you need to explain what qualities, skills, achievements and experiences you have that will make you a great pick to study the course that you’ve chosen.
When doing this, you need to make sure that you’re not just listing but rather that you’re explaining how they’re relevant and how they’ve made you a great candidate. To do this, you can use methods, such as ABC.
The ABC method stands for action, benefit, course. In this, you have to explain what you did, how it has helped or enhanced your studies and how this relates to the course you want to study at university. To learn more about this, check out this guide by Plymouth Marjon University.
You may also want to use themes to create links between the different activities you’ve done. For example, when I was writing my personal statement for modern languages, I linked my A-Level Spanish studies and the wider reading I had done to the theme of culture and then I linked my A-Level English Language studies and a MOOC I had done to the theme of translation. By doing this, you’re able to talk about more things in a way that seems more natural than if you were to mention each thing individually.
Step 4: Link to the less academic side of university on your personal statement
While the main focus of your personal statement should be on the course itself, why you want to study it and why you are academically a great candidate, another aspect of your personal statement is linking to the less academic side. This may be in terms of university life itself, such as with clubs and societies, that you’re interested in joining.
However, it may also be to do with showing off your non-academic features that will make you a great candidate. To do this efficiently, you can try and link these aspects together and talk about the skills and qualities that you’ve picked up due to any part-time work, volunteering, hobbies, etc. that you’ve done. A great way to do this is by using the ABC method again or by using the STAR method.
The STAR method is typically used for job interviews, however, it can also work pretty well for writing a personal statement. STAR stands for situation, task, action, results, meaning that you have to explain a situation and how you resolved it.
This method can work well to talk about your personal qualities or skills you learnt from a hobby or part-time job that you may have. To learn more about the STAR method, check out this guide by Indeed.
Step 5: Proofread and edit your personal statement
Another key aspect of writing your personal statement is rewriting it. You need to make sure that it is within the character/line count, that it is clear and easy to read and that all the spelling and grammar is correct. If there are these mistakes, it can leave a massive impression on your prospective university and so it is important that you do it correctly.
When proofreading and editing your work, you can also check to make sure that you’ve not repeated loads of phrases or words and that you’ve not used cliches. This is so that your writing will feel more natural to admission’s tutors.
How to write a personal statement for a master’s university application
As mentioned above, the master’s degree university application process is slightly different to the undergraduate one. Due to this, there are also some pretty noticeable differences that you need to consider when writing your master’s personal statement.
To begin with, your master’s personal statement will need to be a lot more focused on your passion for your subject. Unlike when applying for an undergraduate degree, you will need to have clear motivations for studying and you’ll probably also need to have plans for what you want to do after finishing the degree.
As you will have had to have done an undergraduate degree, you’re also now qualified. This means that you are expected to have experience and will need to show this off.
From your dissertation to any relevant projects to any work experience. You will need to make sure that you mention these and explain why they’re relevant to your course and how they’ve made you a great choice for that course. You can do this in a similar way to an undergraduate personal statement, by using the ABC and STAR methods that were mentioned above.
As mentioned above, you will need to apply directly to the university that you want to do your master’s at. This makes your personal statement different to undergraduate level as it means that you will need to explain not only why you want to study that course but also why you want to go to that university specifically. This may be for its reputation, or you may want to highlight a specific aspect of the degree that you’re particularly interested in.
Can you re-use your university personal statement?
To put it simply, yes, you can reuse your personal statement for university. This is because it is your own work and so can’t count as plagiarism.
However, due to UCAS’ plagiarism detection system, they will be notified as your personal statement will be more than 30% similar to that of another personal statement. This won’t however be a problem as long as your personal statement is under the same name.
If it’s still your personal statement but you’re applying with a different name, you will need to fill in the “previous name” box when filling out your application. To learn more about this, check out this guide by UCAS.
While you are allowed to reuse your personal statement, it may not be a good idea to do so. This is because a personal statement can make or break your university application and if you were unable to get in with it before, the same thing may happen again.
This is especially because there may be things you’ve missed out and new experiences and achievements you’ve gained between writing your personal statement and sending it off again. To learn more about reusing a personal statement, check out this Think Student article.