For international students applying from outside the UK, the personal statement is one of the most stress-inducing and challenging parts of the UCAS application for universities. Even students in the UK struggle with it, and often have to complete dozens of drafts before they are ready to officially send it off.

What is the personal statement?

The personal statement is an opportunity for each candidate to express their individual motivations for applying for a particular course at university. Unlike with some university systems, where standardised tests are the overwhelming factor in deciding the outcome of applications, in the UK the personal statement is a very important stage of the application process and therefore requires close attention in order to improve your chances of admission. The limit for the statement is 47 lines or 4000 characters, which is a surprisingly little amount of space. Below is a short list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing your personal statement.

Things you should write in your personal statement:

– Let your potential future professors know why you’re applying for a particular course above all others. Be specific: don’t say things like ‘I have always loved psychology…’.

Try and be original. This is your chance to show how you stand out as an individual. Do just not just with the things you say, but with how you say them.

Mention books or academics which you have found particularly interesting during your studies so far. This will show that you’ve gone beyond what is required of you at school.

Talk about your other interests. Show how these reflect on you as a person, and try and link them to your academic interests. For example, you could say that you became particularly interested in geology whilst hiking in the Andes, and that this motivated you to study Geography.

Sell yourself. This is your chance to show what a brilliant, dynamic, intelligent and enthusiastic person you are. Don’t be shy – show them everything you’ve got, and write about it in an eloquent manner which shows you’re an engaging and thoughtful person. Having said that, don’t go overboard: there’s nothing worse than reading a pompous personal statement where every word has clearly been lifted from a Thesaurus.

Things you shouldn’t write in your personal statement:

Don’t use quotes. We live in a world of constantly recycled, “inspiring” quotes. Sadly, most academics are unlikely to be impressed by a quite you googled or lifted from a popular philosophy book.

– Write it quickly. Most UCAS applications – except those for Oxbridge and medical schools – don’t need to be send off until mid-January. That gives you plenty of time to mull over what you want to say, and to choose your words carefully. It also means you can ask multiple teachers to read it over and give you suggestions. Don’t send it off until you’re confortable that it is perfect.

– Copy similar personal statements. The UCAS application system has a sophisticated system to detect plagiarism. If you’re found to have copied even a fraction of your personal statement off the internet or from a previous applicant’s application, you’ll be disqualified without question. The British take cheating extremely seriously.

– Go off point. The main aim here is to show why you will be an excellent university student to work with. Whilst your extracurricular activities might serve to highlight your capacity to juggle a number of different activities, make sure you always relate them to your academic interests.

– Babble. You have a limited amount of space, so make sure you use it efficiently. You’d be surprised by how much you can cut if you really set yourself to it. This has the added value of allowing you to fit more information about yourself into the application whilst showing that you can express ideas concisely.

by Max Long