Tutorial: Writing a personal statement for a UCAS or college application

It's the toughest part of your UCAS form or college application – a personal statement. 

It needs to convince the admissions officer that you have the right skills to do the course and that you're really enthusiastic about it. You need to start strong and prove why they should pick you.

Careers adviser Vikki Gemmell has some advice. Follow her 5 tips to writing a personal statement. 

1. Sell yourself

This can be hard, so talk to friends, family and teachers and ask them what they admire most in you. Remember to keep it relevant to the course.

2. Research

Show knowledge about your course and get across your passion for the subject. One girl told me she was rejected because she did not mention why she wanted to study the subject.

If the course has a strong vocational focus, like social work or occupational therapy. It’s crucial to explain that you’ve thought about life beyond university and why you want to take up this career.

If you're applying for more than one type of course, remember you still have only one personal statement. This makes it a little trickier. What connects your choices? How can you make sure the information you provide is useful to the different people reading it?

3. Explore the campus

Think back to university open days or visits to your preferred departments. Students who do this pick up valuable information from tutors and current students, both about the course and what they’re looking for from applicants. Do not be scared to email a tutor, they’ll be more than happy to help you.

4. Show your skills and strengths

Demonstrate the range of skills you’ve developed both inside and outside the classroom. Mention projects or volunteering you’ve taken part in at school or college.

Admission tutors will look to see if you have taken part in, for example:

  • fundraising activities
  • the school year book
  • organised band nights
  • ran for student president

Explain how these activities have developed your skills and strengths. You can learn more about what skills there are and how you can demonstrate these. 

Need some inspiration? Try out the Strengths tool or use the Skills Explorer tool in your account for ideas.

5. Get to work

Think about whether the course you are applying for expects you to have relevant work experience. More and more this is a key expectation and not one that a week’s work experience in school will provide. Students in the past have been rejected from primary teaching courses because they have no evidence of working with young people.

Get some work experience in a school, offer to volunteer at any school summer clubs, youth groups, Brownies or Scouts. Similarly, medicine applicants need relevant work experience, whether in a hospital setting (this can be difficult so even making a point of trying to talk to a range of medical staff can be helpful) or a local nursing home. Alternatively, contact other agencies who work with vulnerable or sick people.

6. Final checks

And lastly, ask someone to check over your personal statement before sending it. I’ve heard admission tutors say they have binned applications with spelling mistakes regardless of how good the content is. I’ve also heard tutors complain when a statement is littered with text speak.