xTurn on thread page Beta
The UCAS Personal Statement is an important part of a university application as it is the only opportunity that you have to write at length about why you want to study the course you are applying for and to set yourself apart from other applicants with the skills and experiences you have to offer. For many people this may be the first time they have had to write an important piece of prose about themselves. TSR has several resources to help you with your statement:
Where should I post?
Drafts/Content from your PS
Any content from your statement, either single sentences or complete drafts should be posted in the private Personal Statement Help forum. Personal Statement Help is a private forum visible only to a selective group of PS Helpers who have all been to university and can review and offer advice on your Personal Statement. For more information on how the forum works please read the Personal Statement Help FAQDO NOT post your drafts or PS content anywhere else on the site as there is a risk it may be plagiarised.
General questions about Personal Statements
General questions about personal statements, what they should include, style and character/line limits should be posted in this thread. However this first post will attempt to answer many of them so read this before posting.
Subject specific questions
If your query is specific to a particular course or university you are applying to, for example how important books are to a Law Personal Statement, this should go in the appropriate University and University Courses sub-forum. Regulars in these forums are more likely to be able to answer your specific questions.
Before posting your query or draft have a read of the following:
How long can my Personal Statement be?
The UCAS form you fill in using UCAS Apply has both a character and a line limit for the Personal Statement section, and your statement must conform to both:
- Maximum of 4000 characters (including spaces). Generally you probably want to be aiming for 3000-3500 characters to allow room for line breaks and still be within the 47 line limit.
- Maximum of 47 lines, as measured on the UCAS Apply form. The only way to check this is to try inputting your statement into the form and it will tell you how many lines you are using. In MS Word Times New Roman at 12 point, with 3.17cm left and right margins gives a reasonably close approximation for the line count on the UCAS form.
Generally speaking, the 47 line limit is more strict than the 4000 characters and so it is important to check when writing your draft how many lines you are using in addition to how many characters. You don't want to perfect your statement only to find it doesn't fit!
If you enter/submit a statement which is too long then the remaining lines or characters will simply be chopped off the bottom of your statement, even if that is mid sentence or mid word.
Formatting in the UCAS Apply form
The Personal Statement section of the UCAS Apply form will convert any text you enter to a standard format (font size and style). You cannot get around the line limit by writing in a smaller font. You cannot use bold, italic or underline text to emphasise as this will not be retained in the final form.
The form also removes any excess spaces automatically, so if you use tabs or spaces to indent paragraphs this will not be retained in the final form. Similarly double spaces between sentences will become a single space. The only way to separate paragraphs is through a linebreak (pressing return twice) and this will be retained in the final form. Each linebreak is included in your line limit, but if space allows it is recommended that you do this as it makes your statement more readable. Remember an admissions tutor looks at hundreds of statements so you want to make their lives easy!
The formatting is unable to recognise non-conventional characters so you shouldn't use é, á and other accents in your statement. Style also dictates that you should avoid characters like & and numbers (1, 2, 3...) should be written in full (one, two, three...). Once you're happy with your statement and have pasted it into your form and previewed it, read it or print it out before you submit it to check that the formatting is as you expect!
So what's the point of a PS anyway?
The Personal Statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the admissions tutor and to tell them why you want to study the subject you are applying for and why you think you are well suited to studying it. Everything in your PS should therefore relate to:
- Why you are interested in the subject, and why you want to study it further
- What relevant experiences you have both academically and socially and how these experiences give you the necessary skills for study at degree level
- Your diversity as an individual, demonstrating a wide range of interest and experiences.
Where do I start?
The first thing to do before you begin writing your statement is to think about what it is that the statement requires (see above) and to gain an appreciation of the style/format it should be written in. Many of the resources on the TSR wiki are useful at this early stage:
Once you have familiarised yourself with the general expectation and style of a PS then you can start to plan your statement. Instead of jumping in and trying to write a first draft, brainstorm your experiences and the skills that you gained from these. Having done this you can write a more structured plan to think about what paragraphs each experience belongs in.
What is the structure of a personal statement?
There is no set structure for a PS, but the most commonly used structure is something like this:
This structure is only a guide and will be dependent both on the subject you are applying for and your own experiences. You may have lots of work experience or you may not and so the exact structure is unique to you.
How much of my statement should be extra-curricular activities and how much academic?
The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular. Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences. Extra-curricular activities show diversity and provide a good opportunity to discuss the transferable skills you have developed. However, these should still be discussed with regard to how these pursuits make you well-suited to studying the course. These hobbies should not take up more than 1-2 paragraphs in your statement.
Can I include quotes in my statement?
You can, but use them sparingly. Using a quotation doesn't make you intelligent and it's not personal to you. It's quite possible that many other applicants have used the same quotation. As a general rule, quotes should only be used where they are used to show an interest in the subject and should be discussed. Don't just put a quote in because you like it or because it sounds intelligent. You might like to look at this thread, especially post #15, for more advice on this.
How important is work experience?
The importance of work experience depends on the course you are applying for. If you are applying to a course like medicine or a vocational subject then relevant work experience is very important and should be used to highlight the skills you have shown and developed which are important on the course (bedside manner for example in the case of medicine). For a more theoretical subject like mathematics it is very hard to get relevant work experience and it is not expected.
Can I mention my module marks in my statement?
There's nothing to stop you mentioning module marks if they are particularly good, but things like this are actually better going in your reference from your school which accompanies your application and you can ask them to mention it. Other things which are better in your reference:
- Extenuating circumstances as to why you did badly in a particular module/GCSEs/AS levels
- Reasons why you didn't take particular courses (for example because your school didn't offer it.
- Background of your school - if your school wasn't the best and you were surrounded by troublesome classmates don't put it in your PS, get it mentioned in your reference.
- Virtuous qualities - avoid saying things like "I am a dedicated and committed student who will be an asset to your university." or "I was the best student in my year". These just make you sound arrogant and presumptuous and should be discussed in your reference. When discussing personality traits in your statement show rather than state, giving examples of where you have demonstrated these qualities.
How do I write a statement for joint honours or multiple subjects?
It can be hard to write a statement if you are applying for multiple subjects because you need to show dedication to both. This is a lot easier if the two are closely related in which case you can focus on the aspects that they have in common. It's less of an issue for common joint honours disciplines, as other universities will be more forgiving if you have applied for PPE and then economics elsewhere.
If you are applying to very different subjects because you can't decide which you want to do then you may be better off narrowing down your options earlier rather than later. You will have to decide sooner or later and spreading yourself thinly across many disciplines can actually harm your application to each of them. For example if you apply to Veterinary Science and History, it will be no surprise if neither the vets or the historians are particularly impressed by your lack of commitment.
What about Personal Statements for foreign universities?
These may be different to the UK style of application. American Personal Statements in particular are written in a very different style and you should seek separate advice for these kinds of application.
Refining your Personal Statement
Having written your first draft, check it over thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors. Get as many people to look over it as you can - parents, teachers, family, friends and remember you can also submit a draft to Personal Statement Help
Download this page as a pdf document
Below is a personal statement from a recent applicant for A100 Medicine at Oxford. It is not perfect and it may not be suited to every medical school. There is no single template for success in terms of an application to Oxford. Other styles can be equally effective: we encourage individuality and diversity in our students. This statement is however a good example for an Oxford application because it helps us see that the applicant is attempting to match ourselection criteria.
An applicant's personal statement is likely to be discussed by tutors during interview.
A well-written statement will not in isolation gain you an interview or a place. It forms one part of an application from a gifted applicant that can be considered alongside other information - academic record, BMAT score, school reference, interview performance - in the selection process at Oxford.
Statement & comments
Choosing to study medicine is not a decision I have taken lightly. It isn't a career I have wanted to do since a particularly young age, nor did a life changing event prompt my choice. I have thought very long and hard before deciding to apply.
Admissions tutors may be sceptical of exaggerated descriptions of a revelatory moment or lifelong desire to become a doctor.
At first glance, this might seem like a down-beat opening paragraph. Although you may think that an arresting opening statement will impress, admissions tutors may be sceptical of exaggerated descriptions of a revelatory moment or lifelong desire to become a doctor. This introduction shows honesty and a degree of introspection. Throughout the statement, the applicant works hard to show that they have a realistic view of medicine. You won't prove that you have the motivation for medicine by simply saying that you do: it is what you have done to inform yourself about the career - and the views that you have formed - that will convince us that you really know what being a doctor is like and that this is what you want to do.
Various periods of work experience have taught me much about the career. A local hospital placement gave me the opportunity to visit A&E, Radiology and Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
You won't prove that you have the motivation for medicine by simply saying that you do.
Whilst fleeting, these visits to the departments highlighted the variety and diversity of the fascinating specialities medicine encompasses. A placement shadowing a clinic staff was hugely informative regarding daily life as a doctor. During the day I sat in on consultations ranging from routine post natal checkups to discussions of treatment for young people with diabetes and overactive thyroid glands.
You won't be judged on what you've done: we want to know what you learned from doing it.
This student describes their experiences of healthcare that have helped them decide that they want to study and practise medicine. We understand that opportunities to obtain experience vary, so you won't be judged on what you've done: we want to know what you learned from doing it. The description of the placements here isn't over-exaggerated, and the applicant takes care to explain what they have seen and done and the insight each opportunity afforded them. The relatively detailed account of the infant's check-up conveys the impression of engagement during the placement and suggests an intellectual curiosity to understand the infant's condition and its treatment. The applicant also takes care to point out an example of the importance of good communication skills and argues how their sales position has helped them develop such skills.
Throughout my time there the doctor's genuine interest in his cases and unfaltering motivation highlighted to me the privilege of having such a stimulating profession. This, together with the ever advancing nature of a career in medicine, was brought to the fore by an infant who was having a check up as a result of her being put on an ECMO machine after her birth with Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. The ease with which the doctor broached and dealt with sensitive subject matter also emphasised the importance of a warm, approachable manner and an ability to communicate to a person on their level of understanding. I believe I have honed these skills and gained invaluable experience of the eccentricities of the general public myself in my job as a salesperson.
It is important to convey an impression of engagement and intellectual curiosity when talking about any work experience/placement/voluntary work.
Since February of this year I have volunteered in a care home for a couple of hours each week. I assist with serving meals to the residents as well as feeding one of the more infirm ladies. My time there has brought to my attention the more unpleasant side of medicine and has proved by far the most useful work experience I have had; preparing me for the stark realities of physical ageing and senility. In spite of this, I genuinely enjoy my time there; giving residents, some of whom go months without visitors, 10 minutes of my time to chat can be very rewarding in the obvious enjoyment they get from it. The experience has shown me very clearly the importance of caring for the emotional as well as the physical needs of patients.
The applicant presents evidence that they have become well-informed about the realities of healthcare.
This paragraph reaffirms the applicant's motivation for medicine. They admit that working in a nursing home is not glamorous but explain how rewarding it has been. There is evidence of analytical skills here and there is no doubt that the applicant has become well-informed about the realities of healthcare. Empathy comes across as well, with the applicant recognising that a brief interaction can have such a positive effect on the overlooked residents of the home.
Outside of my lessons I enjoy orienteering with a local club. As part of an expedition I took part in, we walked 80km over 4 days in torrential rain. The challenging conditions demanded teamwork and trust to maintain morale and perform effectively as a group; as well as calm rational thought in stressful situations. Also, through this activity and the people I met, I have become a member of the SJA which has enabled me to gain first aid qualifications and go out on duties.
Although the bulk of a personal statement should be academic-related, it is important to show a life outside of studying. The involvement in a club or association demonstrates wider spare time interests, and the description of the challenging walking expedition provides evidence that the student can work with others and can cope in an arduous situation, obliquely suggesting that they might have the capacity for sustained and intense work. The student also shows that they understand that taking time out to relax and manage any stress is important, and conveys the impression of good time management. The passing reference to the drama group reinforces the impression that this applicant is a team-player. It is useful to describe sporting or musical interests although, as, this applicant shows, these non-academic interests don't need to be particularly high-powered ones.
Other activities I enjoy include drama - I was a member of a local group for 6 years - cycling and playing the guitar and piano which allow me to relax.
Non-academic interests don't need to be particularly high-powered.
I know that medicine is not a "9 to 5" job and is by no means the glamorous source of easy money it is often perceived to be. I understand the hours are long and potentially antisocial and that the career can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. It is apparent that becoming a medic will involve inherent sacrifice.
However medicine is also a deeply gratifying and fascinating career path. I want to be a medic because my passion and aptitude is foremost scientific and to me 5 or 6 years more of formal education followed by a lifetime of further learning sounds like a stimulating career option and, thankfully, a far cry from the monotony some jobs pose. Nevertheless, as an intrinsically social person, I would relish a career requiring the development of strong empathic relationships with patients too. Crucially, I know I have the enthusiasm, capacity for hard work and the open and enquiring mind needed to succeed in such a fulfilling vocation.
Fact-finding placements have given the applicant insight and motivation in order to decide upon a a career in medicine.
In the concluding paragraphs, the statement is emphasising that, although aware of the negative aspects associated with the practice of medicine, fact-finding placements have given the applicant the insight and motivation to be certain that it is the right career for them. The applicant ends by summarising the key personal attributes that they believe make them well-suited to medicine.
Verdict and advice for improvement
Of course, there is room for improvement with this statement. No reference is made to the scientific subjects that are being studied at school or to particular modules that the applicant has found particularly exciting: this could have helped convey enthusiasm and curiosity in science. Although the applicant asserts that they have an 'open and enquiring mind', there is no description of any extracurricular project or reading that the applicant might have undertaken, perhaps to help them understand a highly-charged ethical issue.
Despite those omissions, this is an effective personal statement. It is well constructed, connects with the reader, and the material flows in a logical sequence. It further conveys the impression that the applicant has done the research and knows exactly what is in store: they are not applying with a naive view or because that is what is expected of them. Writing a statement along these lines would provide a good foundation for a competitive applicant and offers lots of material that can be discussed at an interview.