Writing a personal statement for university is extremely important. It is a students first contact with the university, so making a good first impression is key to try secure a place. For students applying to university from sixth form college, your teachers at college should help guide you through the process, however this article will provide you with many ideas you may want to include in your personal statement. Lets jump into it!
1. Your Interest in the Course
It is important to make your interest in the course you are applying for clear, so that the universities are able to understand that you actually want to study under them. Because studying at uni is so independent, universities want to ensure that all of their students enjoy their courses. Enjoying the course will help their motivation to learn and so are able to work hard in order to graduate.
The first section of your personal statement should be dedicated to the course with an explanation as to why you are excited to study it. This will of course need to be backed up with evidence to prove that you are passionate about the subject and are interested in the content of the course. In doing so, you will convince them that you deserve a place at the university.
2. What Led You To This Course
The people looking at your statement will be able to see your interest in the course by learning why you want to study it. They want to know about you, not about the course.
Have a think and take your mind back to where it all started–was it a trip, an event, or a person who inspired the path you want to take? Be reflective and ensure you give an explanation as to how that led you to apply. Tell the universities your story and allow them to see who you are through your words.
You need to have convincing reasons as to why you want to study the course, it can’t just be a simple explanation of “I enjoy the subject”—anyone can say that, so you need to make them really believe in you.
3. Joint Honours Course
If you are applying for a joint honours course, then you should explain why you want to study the subjects together. You could also give reasons as to how the pair complement each other. Do not forget to mention how the combination of these subjects fit in your long-term plans.
For similar subjects, the connection will be more obvious due to the similarities in the courses. In which case you will find it more straightforward to discuss both subjects throughout your personal statement and also as to why you have chosen to study both. Other subjects will have a weaker connection which may make it harder for you to talk about your interests in both.
I recommend that you focus on one first, then the other, before adding a couple of sentences as to why it is beneficial for you to study them alongside one another. Otherwise, as you discuss the second subject, you could link it back to the first one throughout.
If you are applying for different combinations of subjects or have an application to study only one of the two at some universities, with one in common throughout, it may make more sense for you to focus on that subject.
4. Prove That You’re Passionate
To back up your excitement about the course, you need to provide some proof that you’re passionate about studying it. This can be done by talking about any work experience that has improved relevant skills and affected your opinions on the course in some way.
Another very important thing to mention are key examples of your super-curriculars. This refers to anything you have done outside of school which relates to the course, such as reading books, listening to podcasts and anything else related to the course. Always mention how they helped you to consider something you had not thought of before.
For work experience ideas, check out this article, as you probably still have time to start at a placement so that you can include it in your personal statement.
Never lie about any super-curriculars as they are something that universities will want to talk about if they offer you an interview. This could be done by discussing a certain book which they’ll ask your opinions on so they can understand your thought processes and see your mind work (so to speak).
Universities want candidates who have self-motivation and good critical thinking skills. As I mentioned earlier, university focuses on independent studying, so students need to be able to form their own opinions.
5. Schemes Related to the Course
Although they are linked to super-curriculars, mentioning any higher education taster courses, summer schools or other courses are also vital evidence of your intention to do well at uni.
UniTasterDays is a website which you can use to find courses run by universities in preparation. Simply select the subject area you want to explore, add in your age and let it find you available courses! You can also search by university if there’s a specific one you would like to look at.
Springpod groups different degree taster courses in one place so that you can see whether or not a subject is right for you. You can also search on university websites to directly find out if they are running anything that might be useful for you.
6. Why You’re the Perfect Student for This Course
The next thing that should be included in your personal statement is why you are the perfect candidate that the uni should accept.
If you look through the prospectuses of the universities that you are applying to, you will find that they will outline the values of the students they want. The majority of universities will want students to have attributes like a strong work ethic, enthusiasm to learn and to be able to cope well under pressure.
Each university will have their own priorities about the characteristics they want their students to have, but they all want ideal students. This is something you should bear in mind when writing your personal statement.
7. Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills are important as although you need to be independent, you must also be able to work well with others. By learning how to work alongside people with different personalities, you will build confidence in yourself and know how to deal with people.
To learn more about how to develop your interpersonal skills further, Skills You Need offers advice which is tailored to prospective uni students.
As seen in this study, there are many ‘soft’ skills that are looked for by employers, and this can also be applied to uni students. I recommend you have a look at some of the listed examples that the employers decided were the most important to them.
You can mention these skills when outlining experiences like taking part with the National Citizen Service (NCS) and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE). You could also link them into any work-experience, volunteering, or part-time jobs that you have held.
If you are struggling to brainstorm your skills, then feel free to ask your friends and family! But do not get carried away and quote them (i.e., “My grandmother has told me that I am good at communicating with others.”) as this is wordy, makes you come across as unsure of yourself and seem reliant on others.
8. Academic Skills
Academic success is founded on having the right skills, hence why universities want to ensure that their students have such skills. Some academic skills overlap with interpersonal skills.
Critical thinking is one of the most important skills that you will need when in uni, as it involves your ability to interpret sources of information, irrespective of the subject. The University of Leeds explores this skill in more detail on this page. Although it is something that you will be able to show off in interviews, you may wish to mention or display it in regard to your super-curriculars.
Time management and organisational skills are also very important, especially due to the increase of independence that you will face in the transition to uni. You should give examples of these skills if you have acquired them through specific activities such as running a club or tutoring someone. These skills require planning and demonstrate you are able to handle your time well, which is great to include on your personal statement.
9. Employment Experience
If you have had a job that relates to the course in some way, then you should talk about your experience. You could link it if they are of the same field or perhaps it confirmed your desire to study the course.
Your job might seem unrelated, but if it developed your skills, then it could be a valuable example. Have a good think and list all of the benefits that your job has given you. Go through and decide which of those things will help you to study at university or can be linked to the specific subject in any way.
If you are a mature student who has been working for a number of years, it is also a good idea to address what changed in your life that made you decide to either go part-time or give it up so that you could study at uni. For some people, their decision might be because their employment was not fulfilling for them, but for others they wanted to focus on what they truly love despite having had a good career.
10. Volunteer Experience
Given that you are not paid for volunteering, it is proof that you have gone out of your way to gain some relevant experience. This in turn displays your passion.
Your volunteering could have been organised by you or through your place of education, but are valuable experiences, nonetheless. Some organisations through which you may have volunteered include Project Trust and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE).
If you are writing your personal statement early and have not yet volunteered anywhere, then do not fret as you still have time to find a placement. You could look at volunteering in a local charity shop to develop communication and organisation skills. You could even help out in a primary school, or with a scout troop if you are interested in working with children or in education. Check out The Prince’s Trust for links to various organisations that you can volunteer with.
11. Personal Circumstances Affecting Educational Performance
You should not dwell too long on any personal circumstances that you have had to face in order to avoid looking like you are fishing for a ‘sympathy vote’. However, you must mention any extenuating circumstances which have affected your educational performance. This could include any physical or mental health illness, bereavement, or having to care for a family member.
If you managed to do some studying despite the circumstances, it will also display your determination to succeed.
You do not need to give details about what happened, especially if you do not feel comfortable in doing so, instead be more general and focus on how it affected you and your ability to study.
You can mention any extenuating circumstances in passing to explain grades which have been affected as a result. Your teachers should also mention them in your references to back up what you have said. If you are concerned about how your grades look, have a conversion with your teachers to remind them of the circumstances so that they remember to include it in their references.
12. Your Achievements
Universities want to learn about your achievements, especially any ones which relate to the subject. Regardless of whether it is a personal or academic achievement, ensure that you include it in your personal statement.
Some examples of personal achievements may include: winning a Jack Petchey (Achievement) Award, an award for the Speak Out Challenge, any awards you have gained from ASDAN, charity work and volunteering.
Academic achievements include winning competitions such as the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge, an art competition and the Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition. Further academic achievements could include organising an event and being a prefect or a head student.
However, when going through your achievements, you should ensure that it does not come across as showing off, instead it should have a humble tone as universities are not looking for arrogant students.
13. Hobbies and Extracurriculars
Only talk about relevant hobbies, otherwise they do not add too much to your statement. Universities do want to know about you as a person, they are far more interested in how well you are suited to the course, even through your hobbies.
You could mention any clubs or societies that you take part in, both inside and outside of your level 3 qualifications (this refers to A-Levels, BTECs and the like).
Try to link your hobbies and extracurricular activities to your course. If an extracurricular activity has added to your skills, then by all means go ahead and mention it! This way you will be able to talk about your characteristics without simply listing them.
Prioritise the extracurricular activities in which you had some sort of official role or responsibility, as they will demonstrate your leadership and communication skills.
14. What Makes You Interesting and Unique
You need to show the universities how you stand out amongst the crowd. You can do this by giving them something to remember you by. Think about what makes you unique. Think outside the box! Remember that admissions tutors read thousands of applications, so you need to stand out from the others.
Quotes can be a powerful tool when used correctly to support something you have said but remember that it is you who they want to hear from, not someone famous. Be careful if using a famous quote as many will be reused by multiple applicants.
When writing your personal statement do not read others as they will influence you and what you produce. Instead find your own voice and let the content flow from your mind alone.
15. General Ability to Fit into Uni Life
Overall, your personal statement should showcase why you will be able to fit into university. This is mainly done by talking about your different skills and of course, your passion for the course you are applying for. You could also mention that you have visited a friend or relative at uni, where you have been able to see what it is really like to study there (but only if this is true).
You can also talk about any societies that you would like to join if you are struggling to find anything to say. Make sure the ones you choose are shared by all of the universities that you are applying to though.
16. Your Ambitions
Your plans for where this course is going to lead you is a key feature that you can include. Do you want to continue on from the course by doing a masters? Or perhaps a PhD? Or maybe you have a job in mind that you want to apply for? Whatever it is, only focus on the more immediate goals and not too far into the future.
Telling them of what you intend to do with the degree will show the universities that you have goals which you want to achieve and that you aim to continue progressing with this subject, even after the course is completed. This way you can convince them of your eagerness to succeed with the course!
I do not recommend that you spend too long dwelling on your ambitions as the universities are most interested in what you will bring to them, not so much what you will do after them. A brief mention of your ambitions will suffice in showing them that you do not just want to do the degree for the sake of doing one.
17. A summary of Everything You’ve Mentioned
One way to conclude your personal statement is to summarise your key points. When doing this, do not repeat things as it will be a waste of time, but find a different way to say what you want to.
Kirsty Wilkinson (Loughborough University school and college liaison manager) recommends that you “summarise what you are most looking forward to about studying at university [and] why you feel that this is the right course choice for you”. Click here to read more of Kirsty’s comments.
Keep an eye on the word counter when summarising, as you do not want to use up too much of your precious word limit on a summary. If you struggle to work out how to finish your personal statement, check out UCAS’ advice.
A bit of Extra Advice
Although this article aims to guide prospective sixth formers on their personal statements, it does include some points which you should also think about when drafting your personal statement for uni—so check it out!
If you need some more specific help due to your situation in life, look at UCAS’ ‘Need more help?’ section on this page.
Now go and get writing!