However, as Williams says, don’t go overboard. “The mistake people make is to mention too many clubs,” he says, “it makes us question how dedicated you’ll be to your study or work. Pick some key extra-curricular activities and think about the skills they give you and feed that into what you are doing.
“Avoid the vacuous statement,” he adds, “the statement that seems to say a lot, but actually says nothing at all, for example ‘I am a people person; committed to doing my best at every opportunity’.”
Stock phrases should be avoided at all costs, and applicants should also be careful not to exaggerate their achievements. Be warned; if you are invited to interview, you should expect to be quizzed on what you have said in your statement. White lies won’t impress anyone and can become pretty obvious pretty quickly under pressure.
Applicants should also avoid copying anyone else’s statement or taking inspiration from the internet, says Balnaves. Ucas uses a program called Copycatch to identify similarities in statements and notifies the universities if it picks up anything suspicious.
Balnaves also urges students to review their statements for spelling and grammar and to apply in good time. “We probably get about 10 per cent of our applications in the last week,” he says, “but it’s best to give yourself some breathing space. The best advice you can get is from a family member or a teacher, read it aloud to them so you haven't missed any crucial bits.
“Write about what makes you unique," he continues, "only you know your unique selling points. Ask yourself ‘what makes me different, what will I bring to the university and what will I get out of it?’”
It’s important to remember that not only will your personal statement be used in the initial process of making an offer, it could also be used at the end of the application cycle if you miss the grade requirements.
As Hunt says: “The personal statement is something tutors will use to remind themselves why they made you the offer in the first place if things don’t go to plan - they might give you the benefit of the doubt.”
With this in mind, it’s worth putting in the extra effort now, to give yourself every chance of success.
Dos and Don’ts of personal statement writing
DO check for spelling and grammar - get your parents to double check and then check again
DO link your extra-curricular pursuits with your course choice
DO show your teachers a draft first – so you will know what to change in plenty of time
DON’T leave it until the last minute – try to submit the application before Christmas
DON’T use suggested synonyms unless you’re sure what they mean
DON’T be tempted to exaggerate what you’ve done
DON’T talk about specific universities, only talk about the subject
The UCAS personal statement strikes fear into most sixth formers. Sculpting the perfect personal statement is an arduous an unavoidable process. With approximately 600,000 people applying to university each year, admissions officers need a way to filter stronger candidates from the rest of the pool.
As daunting as this task may seem, it’s also your only real opportunity to share your personality and suitability for your chosen degree program. Follow our top tips, and you can make a success of your personal statement.
Understand the UCAS personal statement guidelines
There are specific requirements for your personal statement which you absolutely cannot ignore. You cannot exceed 4,000 characters, or 47 lines of text (including blank lines) – whichever is reached first. If you do, universities won’t receive your entire statement.
Because of this, make sure your personal statement has a strong, definitive conclusion. It will look poor if you’ve obviously cut it off mid-sentence after realizing you’d surpassed the text limit. Instead, plan your piece thoroughly and give each section adequate attention, time and characters.
Plan your time and write it well in advance
Given how important it is, the UCAS personal statement can take a while to perfect, so give yourself time to work on it. Most schools probably won’t let you leave it until the night before – but try to even be slightly ahead of your internal deadline. The more time you allow yourself, the longer you can take to edit your ideas and strengthen your application.
Choose which universities you’re applying to before you start
The academic level of the university and course you’re applying to will have an impact on the tone and content of your personal statement. If you’re not sure of the kind of universities you should be aspiring to, you can use the UK University Search Tool, which will generate a list of universities based on your UCAS Tariff points. If you are unsure what your qualifications equate to, you can just pop them into our UCAS Tariff Points Generator.
Once you have made an informed decision about where to apply to, you’ll be able to cater your statement appropriately. As a general rule, the more traditional and academically acclaimed the university, the less time you should spend in your statement talking about non-academic activities.
Find out what admissions tutors are looking for
Speaking to university representatives can be a really great way to discern what faculties may want to see from applicants. Remember, universities are looking for the right students just like you’re looking for the right university. This information won’t be written in their prospectuses, but if you attend higher education events, like the upcoming UK University Fairs in Autumn 2017, you’ll find that representatives love engaging with students and speaking to them frankly about the application process. Click here for more information about the Autumn fairs hosted by UK University Search.
Draw on your enthusiasm
You need to saturate your UCAS personal statement with your desire to embark upon this course. Obviously, don’t allow your interest to descend into a cheesy mockery – you need to convey sincerity. Three years (minimum) is a long time, and the independence of university means that those who aren’t really invested in their course may struggle. Admissions tutors are searching for students who have a genuine interest and who will relish three years of education. Show that you’re one of these people.
Carefully select your extra- curricular activities
Knowing how much of your well-rounded self to present can be mystifying, especially if you’re worried that everyone will have the same things to say. If you’re not sure what to mention, a good idea is to focus on extra-curricular activities that tie into the course you’re applying to. So, if you’re interested in studying hospitality, mention any events you’ve worked or volunteered at. This might seem trickier for more traditional subjects, but you should be able to think of something. A math student could share their enthusiasm for chess, a budding geographer might describe physical landmarks and features they’ve seen when travelling, and a humanities student may be able to give examples of writing they’ve had published.
Avoid rambling and vacuous statements
You only have 4,000 characters to persuade admissions tutors why you are the perfect candidate for their course. Don’t waste any of them. Leave out any rambling stories about why you’re interested in a particular course. If something is particularly interesting, a brief overview may be relevant. Avoid clichés too. Saying you’re a “committed and hard-working individual” has no weight and detracts from any personality you’re trying to express.
This might seem obvious, but don’t lie
There is a very fine line between presenting yourself in a better light and simply lying. You should never lie – not only is it immoral, but, if caught, your application could be reconsidered and come back to bite you. This is particularly true if you are called to interview. There are many horror stories of applicants being interrogated about their favorite book, only for it to become apparent they never read it.
Finally, don’t copy
Reading personal statements used by older siblings or friends can be a really useful exercise, but don’t be tempted to re-use somebody else’s words. Aside from the fact it doesn’t demonstrate your uniqueness and personal drive, there are also programs used by UCAS to prevent plagiarism. Copycatch reports suspicious activity to universities, so don’t risk your application being rejected. Your personal statement needs to be your own.
Lead image: Jisc.ac.uk