Today I’m sharing ten top tips for a UCAS personal statement.
If you have kids coming into Year 12, you’ll be amazed how quickly teachers encourage teens to start thinking about their personal statements. At Flea’s school, it was a regular topic of conversation from the January of Year 12 (or lower sixth). And it’s not always easy to know how to make a personal statement stand out.
When to start your personal statement
It’s tempting to think this is too early to start thinking about personal statements. But the truth is that teens need to start doing the stuff they will put on their personal statements in Year 12, because they won’t have time to do them in Year 13. So I suggest thinking about your personal statement as soon as you go into Year 12, because that allows you to identify opportunities to gather the best possible material and evidence for your university application.
If you’re at the point of starting to think about a UCAS personal statement, or if you’re in Year 13 and sitting down to write your statement, I’ve got some tips for you from a family where we have just completed the process.
If you have teens in Year 12 who are considering applying to university next year, you might find these posts helpful:
How to make your Personal Statement stand out
You will find various ‘templates’ for personal statements online but based on admissions tutors I’ve spoken to, it’s easy to over-think the structure of your personal statement. If you use a template, the odds are that your personal statement won’t stand out. It’s going to read like a thousand other statements where people used the same template.
A template is fine if you REALLY can’t think of what to write, but the truth is that universities are not looking for a wonderfully crafted story with a beginning, middle and end.
Instead they’re looking for a series of statements that are in a logical order, and which that demonstrate you have the skills, aptitude and interest to succeed at the course you’ve applied for. If you can provide the evidence, using clear and appropriate language, that’s how you make your personal statement stand out.
Having said that, if you don’t know where to start, here’s a simple UCAS personal statement framework to help you get started writing. This is based on multiple conversations and webinars with university admissions tutors that I’ve attended as a parent in the last two years. It might not be applicable to EVERYONE but it should be a useful guideline when it comes to what to include and what to skip.
UCAS Personal Statement Example/Template:
- Over-arching introductory statement: Your personal statement first sentence should set the scene for the convincing and brilliant argument you’re about to make. It could be bold (“Economics is a religion”) or it could be based on an event (“Since visiting the Whatever Exhibition at the Ashmolean, I’ve realised that history is a lens through which we understand how societies function.”).
- Extended study: Universities love it when you talk about what you learned in school and how that inspired you to do your own reading/learning/activities. So you might talk about an essay you wrote or a topic you studied, then say how you did further learning in your own time. For example, “As an A-Level Philosophy student, I’ve enjoyed learning about how Plato’s analogy is linked to the pedagogy of Aristotle” and then, “This inspired me to trace the influence of Aristotelian thought through the 20th Century, including reading [insert clever book title here]
- Have an opinion. The second thing universities love is students who have opinions about their study. Whatever extended learning you just mentioned, tell them what you learned that was new, or what you agreed or didn’t agree with. For example, “When reading [clever author] I found his arguments about the absence of women from economic history unconvincing, given the works of authors such as X and Y.”
- Super-curriculars: These out of school activities are the most important if you want your UCAS personal statement to stand out. Look for things like essay competitions, taster lectures, TEDx talks and relevant subject books, then talk about them. For example, “During my summer break, I attended a virtual lecture series run by X University, which focused on this part of my subject. I particularly enjoyed learning about this writer, and finding out more about the role of this theory in this particular thing.”
- And repeat: You’ve got limited characters in your personal statement but use as much space as you can to show extended learning, interest in the subject, opinions about your learning.
- Hobbies: Uni admissions teams don’t really care about your football or your DofE. It’s harsh but true. Having said that if you can think of a way an extra-curricular has helped you develop skills and knowledge that is relevant to your chosen course, mention it briefly at the end of your personal statement. For example, “In my spare time, I’m a keen actor, and have appeared in a number of local productions. This has given me insight into how literature and poetry is brought to life on stage,” or “I’m a keen climber, and during my expeditions, have learned a great deal about the geology and landscape of my local area.”
- Lastly, have a reason to study: While a passion for economics or history or French is great, universities want to hear you have a reason to study. So if you can, briefly mention, “I’d love to study this subject at university to support a future career in…” or “Having a degree in XXX will allow me to pursue a career that incorporates…”
- Do start to plan in Year 12. A good tactic is to have a spreadsheet or list and every time you take part in an activity, watch a lecture or read a great book, make a note of what you read, along with brief notes on something you agreed with, something you learned, and something you didn’t agree with. These notes will form the basis of a great personal statement in Year 13, when you can cherry pick your best insights and experiences.
- Make a point of reading successful examples of personal statements. There are websites where you can find shared examples of statements that were written by people applying to your course and perhaps even your chosen university. This will give you a good idea of what your competition might look like.
- Tell your parents that these are not personal statements as we knew personal statements. It used to be about showing you were good at school and a rounded person. But, as one admissions tutor said to my daughter, “If you’re applying to read history at my university, I don’t give a **** if you were on the cricket team.” View your personal statement more like a job application. How can you demonstrate that you have the skills, ability and aptitude to succeed in this subject.
- You don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy out of school trips to Namibia to save an endangered animal. the single best thing you can add in your personal statement is to tell the admissions people what you’ve read and watched that has helped you to THINK about your subject differently or in more depth. For example, “I watched this TED talk on ethics by Bob Jones and it made me really interested in how politics sets the moral tone for other public bodies.”
- Short of things to mention in your personal statement? If you do want to include out of school activities on a personal statement, include things that show you’ve learned or developed a skill that is directly applicable to your chosen course. For example. “Working part-time in a cafe helped me to gain an understanding of how seasonal businesses maximise revenue in a shorter trading period” or “Taking part in the DofE allowed me to see the landscape of the Yorkshire Moors up close, and i was able to see the impact of climate changes on water levels in the streams below Random Town.”
- Avoid exaggerations and cliches. This is probably one of THE top tips for UCAS personal statements. Expect that anything on your personal statement might be queried, and if you can’t back it up in an interview, don’t say it. When it comes to cliches, everyone has had a passion for their subject since they were young, and everyone built teamwork and communication skills by playing football, or whatever sport.
- Don’t focus too much on school activities in your UCAS personal statement – your teachers’ references will include your membership of the debate society or that you won the chemistry prize last year. You wouldn’t run the same ad in the same newspaper twice on the same day. Your personal statement is your marketing – use all the space to say and showcase as many different things as possible.
- Get lots of feedback. They’ll know what works and what doesn’t and will guide you and give you feedback on early drafts. Ask more than one teacher to get a more rounded view of your statement, and ideally ask at least one teacher who did the subject you’re applying to study!
- Show extended interest. Make sure that somewhere in your statement you show admissions departments that your interest in your subject goes outside of school. Maybe you went on a voluntary expedition, or you entered an essay competition, or you did a taster lecture at a university to explore your subject in more depth. This shows commitment and intellectual curiosity – both things that universities love to see.
- Be genuine and enthusiastic. If you want to know how to make your personal statement stand out, be yourself. Find the books and podcasts and magazines and events that you enjoy. If you want to study history and you have a passion for one specific part of history then focus on that. If you love science fiction, read that. The problem with writing a statement that is designed to impress is that you could succeed and end up doing something you really don’t enjoy.
- Bonus tip: After you’ve written your personal statement, print it out and proof it. Proof it again. Have someone else proof it. Don’t just proof the statement, check that you’ve completed all the boxes and the course numbers are correct. I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that I know a teenager who applied for the Welsh college at one university, despite being of Irish and Scottish heritage.
I know I promised ten Top Tips for a UCAS Personal Statement, and ended up with 11. But I hope you find them useful!