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The UCAS Personal Statement

A personal statement is your opportunity to show admissions tutors that you stand out from the crowd of applicants. Below is a breakdown of what the best personal statements are ideally made up of.

Style

Always be positive. Never be negative.

This is a personal statement, not a biographical sketch or a summary of an essay justifying a pet theory.

Avoid exaggerated statements: eg “I have always been interested in…”, “I am constantly fascinated/intrigued/beguiled/captivated…”.

Keep it clear and simple, but try to leave an impression of curiosity and enthusiasm.

FIRST 2/3 of Personal Statement: Interest in the subject applied for

An Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) or any such research in a relevant subject should be prominent. You might even choose to start by mentioning such an individual research project: it is relevant to skills required at university level, and an eye-catching project can immediately get the reader’s attention.

Otherwise, you might begin with something like “Of my A Level subjects, I have been particularly interested in…”. Or maybe there was a defining moment, when your interest took off (eg. a Geographer peering into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius).

Then perhaps discuss your interest in general terms (eg wide variety of topics covered; opportunity to look at ethical issues from a different standpoint), before mentioning specific areas which you have researched (support this with reference to a few books or articles read). You are in effect saying: interview me on these topics. Do not simply list books: give your opinion on the author’s viewpoint.

Perhaps mention any periodicals that you read regularly in connection with the subject for which you have applied, and refer to one or two specific articles.

Mention work experience and courses attended, if they are relevant to the subject applied for. You should suggest how they helped your decision to apply for this subject.

Applicants for subjects not studied at AS/A2 (eg Engineering, Medicine, Psychology) must justify their application by showing extensive research (eg courses, reading). Admissions tutors will first ask themselves whether the candidate is looking for an escape route from current subjects.

FINAL 1/3 of Personal Statement: Other interests and achievements

Use full sentences, but do not give too many items. This can suggest that you flit from one activity to another or will have no time left in which to fit your studying. It is better to specify ways in which you have benefited from an activity.
Admissions tutors value signs of persistence: eg “I have played the piano for five years”, even if you have never taken Grade 1.

Only relatively recent interests and activities should be mentioned. If you mention what you did at primary school, the admissions tutor might think that you have done little since then.
It is quite reasonable that admissions tutors expect you to have taken advantage of some of the extra-curricular activities on offer in schools.

A few pieces of advice…

If the courses for which you are applying have “qualities sought in applicants” on the uni. website, use these as a guide to what you should include in your Personal Statement.

Keeping a file of newspaper cuttings of articles relevant to your subject interest can be a great help at interview (eg Medicine candidates: reports of cases involving medical ethics).

Speak with subject teachers about books to be read and opportunities to give talks to class or societies. Oxford and Cambridge offer useful bibliographies on their websites; LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) offers suggested reading in its prospectus. Make notes on what you have red in a “log book”.

Get something down in writing as soon as possible, however imperfect it seems.

Discuss your draft with your tutor and then with a member of your Careers Department.

Even if you decide to apply for another subject later, you will find it very useful to have done this drafting early on.
You should try to fill up most of the area offered on the form (4000 characters, including spaces), but the overall layout should not be cramped. If you use sub-headings, underline them.

Applicants for Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine and other highly competitive courses should devote the first 3/4 rather than 2/3 of the Personal Statement to explaining their interest in the subject(s) applied for. It might be particularly helpful to remember in these cases that you are addressing an “obsessed specialist” (as a University of Bristol History admissions’ tutor advised).

There is no perfect Personal Statement. The more opinions you seek, the less personal and therefore less convincing it is likely to become. You will also find that different people have different opinions!

NEVER borrow ideas from other applicants

UCAS has sensitive anti-plagiarism software, which will be used to check your Personal Statement against those in the current and previous application cycles. Any similarities will be passed on to all your university choices.

Applicants to Durham have the opportunity to send a separate Personal Statement to Durham. You are strongly advised to take advantage of this opportunity, as Durham is looking for “rounded characters” who will be an asset to their college as well as serious academics. The first 2/3 of the Personal Statement should be on academic interests and should be tailored to the relevant Durham course (eg medieval focus in History). You must send this Personal Statement to Durham within 3 days of submitting your UCAS form. If you do this, the Personal Statement on your UCAS form will not be read by Durham.

Personal Statements Advice from Durham University

Substitute Personal Statement – Durham University

Posted by Philip Rogerson on Thu, 2 Feb 2017



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Philip Rogerson read Classics at Oxford. He has taught in a wide range of institutions: from UN (refugee camps in Jordan) to university (Oxford). Philip has been an HMC/ISI inspector of schools and has was Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School from 1997 to 2017.

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