UCAS personal statements: your questions answered

personal statements Q&A: question mark image
Here are our top tips for university personal statements and answers to common questions.

It’s completely normal to have lots of questions about personal statements. Is your personal statement the be all and end all? How long will it take to write? When should you begin writing it? Who should you turn to for help with your personal statement? And what should you do if you’re applying for several different subjects?

We’ve got the answers to your burning questions – including top tips from Emma-Marie Fry and Jonathan Hardwick at Inspiring Futures, a provider of careers information, advice and guidance to young people.

Q. How important is my personal statement in getting me an offer from a university?

A. How much weight an admissions tutor will give to your personal statement depends on the university and the course you’re applying to. ‘Some tutors might use the personal statement to shortlist candidates to interview while others will use it to decide who to give offers to without any interviews. For the latter, the personal statement is likely to be a major deciding factor,’ says Emma, an area director for Inspiring Futures. Emma manages the careers guidance team in London and the south-east and goes into schools to deliver support to students.

But that doesn’t mean your personal statement isn’t important for admissions tutors that hold interviews; your statement will need to make them want to meet you face to face.

Q. When should I start writing my personal statement?

A. ‘Start early – ideally in your summer term of year 12,’ says Jonathan. ‘Admissions tutors are only human and they can spend more time on somebody who applies early on in the cycle than if they wait until the rush at the end.’

‘Procrastination can be tempting but it will make things difficult for you in the long run,’ says Emma. ‘Face it head on and get on with it because you might end up enjoying writing your personal statement after all.’

Q. How long will my personal statement take to write?

A. There is no set amount of time that your personal statement should take to write but it will definitely take several sittings. ‘It can take anything up to eight drafts,’ says Jonathan, a former head of sixth form and now a professional development manager at Inspiring Futures. ‘It’s not going to be something you knock out first time around.’

‘Don’t agonise over it for too long though because, actually, the most important thing is getting your grades,’ he warns.

Q. What research should I do before writing my personal statement?

A. Writing a strong personal statement doesn’t start with writing straight away. You’ll need to take some time to collect your ideas, look into the courses and universities you’re applying to and plan what you want to write about.

‘You need to look into the course you’re applying to. What is it all about? What will you do on the course? What will you get out of it? What do you need to be good at to do well on the course?,’ says Emma. ‘Then there is the planning stage, which involves thinking about what you could write about.’

Take a look at our degree subject guides to kick off your research into the course. Then move on to look at the course descriptions on the websites of the universities you’re applying to.

Q. Where can I get help with my personal statement?

A. If you need help with your personal statement, there are several places you can turn to. These include:

  • a subject teacher who is relevant to the course you’re applying to
  • university websites, which have a lot of information such as useful further reading
  • admissions tutors – you could go to a university open day and speak to them about what they want to see in a personal statement.

Your parents and friends can also be useful people to bounce ideas off and to help you think about what you’ve achieved. Just make sure that your personal statement is in your own voice.

Be sure to make the most of any help offered to you by your school. If your school offers access to independent careers advisors, such as Inspiring Futures, you could speak to them about your personal statement. Or if your school arranges any talks by schools outreach officers from universities, go along and you might even have the chance to ask them a question or two.

Q. How can I write a personal statement if I’m applying to different courses?

A. If you’re applying to different courses, be careful not to trip yourself up in your personal statement by referring specifically to one of the courses and neglecting to mention the others. Jonathan says: ‘Talk in general terms. So if you’re applying to a few different engineering courses, talk generally about wanting to know how things work, solve problems and be analytical rather than how you’ve always wanted to design aircraft wings.’

However, Jonathan advises: ‘Don’t apply for courses that are very different or have conflicting entry requirements.’ Emma agrees: ‘Applying to two courses driven by different values like accountancy and medicine will look indecisive.’

You can use the UCAS course search to find the courses you want to apply to.

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