Writing a Personal Statement can feel daunting and overwhelming. You know it can make the difference between acceptance and rejection, but you don’t know where to start. In this guide, we are breaking the process into 6 steps so that you know what to do one thing at a time.
Your Personal Statement has one job to do: to tell the admission officer WHY YOU. Why you are the one who deserves the spot in that university and in that programme. And not just tell them but convince them. How are you going to do that? There isn’t a clear right or wrong way to do it. But the best way is to be honest and find that thing that makes you unique, that sets you apart.
What is a personal statement and what isn’t
A personal statement is a short text about yourself that you have to write when applying to university. It needs to cover your motivation for studying on that programme, your main skills and achievements, as well as any previous studies or work experience. It is somewhat similar to a cover letter for a job application, but it matters much more.
>> Read more inside tips on what to do and what to avoid when writing a personal statement from a university expert here: Tips for writing your personal statement (thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk)
Why do schools ask for it?
Admission officers will attempt to get to know you through your personal statement. You could say it’s an X-ray of who you are.
With your personal statement, you should make an impression, but it shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to. Sounds controversial? Maybe, but the key to an excellent personal statement is in that, and these tips will help you achieve it.
>> Applying for a Master’s or a PhD? Read more about it here: Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Your Master's or PhD Application
The key ingredients to make your Personal Statement be successful
Writing a personal statement is not something to be left to the last moment. You should give yourself plenty of time to draft it and rewrite it.
Step 1 Research
First, you need to read the course description carefully and identify the skills and abilities they are interested in.
I know you’re tempted, but don’t skip this step.
Step 2 Idea flow
Now, think about why you’re suitable for that course. Write some ideas on a piece of paper: just all the things that come to your mind when you think about yourself. What you believe others should know. Don’t filter, this is only for your eyes to see.
Step 3 First draft
Before you start writing the first draft, try to picture the person who will read this in front of you. Keep in mind that there will be subjectivity in the way they respond to you: much like in real life. So, if you’re thinking of cracking a joke, consider whether that person will share your sense of humour.
Now, get a blank page and divide it in three sections: introduction, middle section, and conclusion. Write down what you think will fit each section. Don’t fret over what you write yet, this too is only for your eyes.
Step 4 Pick and choose
Read what you wrote until now and underline what seems to work best and be most relevant and impactful.
Step 5 The building blocks
Finally, the time to build the Personal Statement has come. Don’t bother too much with word count yet. Keep it in mind only as a general idea so as not to write a short novella which might be too difficult to cut down afterwards.
But before you put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard), take notice of these three essential things to consider:
- Use simple, clear language.
Don’t try to impress them with your vocabulary; impress them with your clarity of thought and ability to express ideas in a concise manner.
- Be positive, don’t be negative.
Rather than say you want to be an interior designer because you think architecture is too hard, say designing interiors comes naturally to you; every time you enter a new place, you start designing it in your head.
- Be enthusiastic.
Allow your enthusiasm and passion for your subject area to transpire through your personal statement.
>> Read Aimee’s blog entry on how she managed to make her own Personal Statement stand out.
Start with an impactful Introduction
Your introduction should tell the reader who you are, what you want to study and why. It should also capture their attention and make them interested in knowing more about you. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to write a first sentence worthy of a literary masterpiece or one that’s far too bold or unusual.
- The trick here is to find that fine line between humility and confidence.
Boasting about too much won’t help. Underestimating yourself, well, that won’t help either.
Continue with a solid Middle section
There are three things you need to cover in your middles section:
- what you achieved until now (your past and current studies, work experience, volunteering, and other similar activities, pointing out how this is relevant to your course)
- what your future plans are and how they tie in with the chosen course
- what other interests, passions, and hobbies you have and how they help you develop skills that are useful for your programme
Try to include a story or achievement that shows you are an authentic person with a genuine interest in your subject area. Let them sense your enthusiasm without exaggerating the reality. Instead of being general, be specific. Say, if you wish to become a veterinarian, instead of writing, “I always loved animals more than people,” write, “Growing up on a farm, I was always surrounded by animals, and my favourite role play as a kid was to be a doctor for my pet friends.”
End it with a strong Conclusion
If first impressions are important, so are the final ones. The admissions officer should remain with a good feeling about you after reading the conclusion. Technically, you have to reinforce the most important aspects of your personal statement: summarize why you’re fit for the programme and what makes you stand out.
>> Watch this video by Admissions Officer Jane Marshall to learn what admissions officers want to see in a personal statement: How to Write a UCAS Undergraduate Personal Statement
Step 6 Making it shine
It’s time to edit and refine your personal statement. All good writing is rewriting. You have your first draft, and you can start editing your work. Also, pay attention to that word count now (you should check this on the university’s website or the platform where you apply). For UK universities, for example, the word count is 400 words.
- Remember that every word matters.
Anything that you feel is beside the point or not that important, cut it. If you have two ideas that fit in together and were initially expressed in too much detail, simplify them and merge them together.
If you tell them a story about your childhood, make sure there’s a point to it.
>> Before you get to work, have a look at this worksheet which will help you unearth the right things to say about yourself: Personal Statement Worksheet by UCAS
What if your university asks for a Motivation Letter instead
Sometimes, you might find that the programme you’re applying to asks for a Motivation Letter instead of a Personal Statement or even a Statement of Purpose. They are often the same thing, terms used interchangeably, but sometimes there might be some differences.
A Motivation Letter could be longer than a personal statement and ask for a stronger focus on your future plans and how you will use that degree to better yourself and the world around you, while the Personal Statement emphasizes your current achievements and how those qualify you for the respective degree.
To get it right, the best thing to do is to read carefully what your specific programme asks for and all the guidelines and instructions they offer. However, in general, the same kind of advice applies to both.
>> If you need to understand this better, check out our article: The Differences Between a Motivation Letter and a Personal Statement,
>> Read an in-depth analysis of how to write a successful motivation letter: Write a Successful Motivation Letter for Your Master's