The perfect personal statement is absolutely crucial to a successful university application. With the rising numbers of students applying for places and ever-improving A-level results, it has never been more important to grab this key opportunity to make yourself stand out from the crowd. As universities are bombarded with applications from students with excellent results, myriad extra-curricular activities and high UCAS points, the personal statement has become the crucial barrier between success and rejection.
As an Oxbridge applications coach, I am constantly asked the same questions about the UCAS personal statement. What are universities looking for in my personal statement? Should I focus on my extra-curricular activities or academia? Just how ‘personal’ should it be? Should I try to be quirky, stress my strengths, admit my weaknesses or simply list my achievements? And above all, how on earth do I make myself stand out from the crowd? There are plenty of personal statement examples out there but it can be difficult to work out where to start. To help with all these questions and more, this three-part guide, continuing in two further blog posts, will tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know about university personal statement success.
Although many candidates seem to be misled by the word ‘personal’ in the title, this section is ultimately your chance to prove to the university, in your own words, that you are ideally suited to study the course you have chosen. The content of your UCAS personal statement should reflect the demands of the person who will be reading it – they are primarily concerned with your suitability as an academic student to undertake the course for which you have applied. On a secondary level, they will be keen to ascertain what kind of contribution you are likely to make to the wider social and cultural life of the university. So it is advisable to aim for a rough split of 2/3 academic information and 1/3 extracurricular and social achievements.
It is important to remember that the person reading your personal statement will be faced with a pile several hundred forms high. The trick is to include all the necessary information but to try to imbue the whole thing with a strong sense of yourself and your own personality. Try to start your statement with a memorable, carefully thought out phrase. This should convey an idea that relates to the heart of your desire to study the subject you are applying for and ideally should be a theme that can run throughout your statement, pulling the different sections together. The most successful personal statements have this sense of a strong coherent thread running throughout.
You are essentially trying to project an image of a person whose general interests and passions, academic success and extra-curricular activities all culminate in the drive and eligibility to study a particular subject. So try to choose a general idea that relates strongly to your chosen subject but is also applicable to your life and passions. Examples might include a land economist with a passion for the renewal of Indian slums, whose drive to study the subject in order to effect change in that country has informed the sections of his A-levels he has found most interesting and led to his participation in welfare activities. Or an English literature student whose fascination with humanity and relationships has contributed not only to her interest in poetry and history but also to her participation in a wide range of theatre projects and a mentorship programme.
Once you have decided on a general theme to run through your statement, try writing out a few different introductory sentences taking it as your central idea. Try making them more or less formal, academic, punchy, or anecdotal. This will take the pressure off feeling that you are writing that all-important first sentence, but you will instinctively feel when you hit on the one that works for you. The best personal statement examples have a punchy, memorable start. Now you’ve put the personal in your personal statement, you’re well on your way to a successful university application.