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The UCAS personal statement formula

The Personal Statement is an applicant’s opportunity to show Admissions tutors how they stand out from the crowd of other aspirants. The following guidance is to help you succinctly explain to pupils how they should structure their personal statements, what they should include, and the style and tone they ought to adopt when writing about themselves to an audience of “obsessed specialists”.

The first 2/3:  Your 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, as it is relevant to skills required at university level and an eye-catching project can immediately get the reader’s attention.
  • Alternatively, 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 (e.g. a Geographer peering into the crater of Mount Vesuvius).
  • Then discuss your interests in general terms (e.g. 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. Also, do not simply list books, but 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 (e.g.Engineering, Medicine, Psychology) must justify their application by showing extensive research (courses, reading). Admissions tutors will first ask themselves whether the candidate is looking for an escape route from current subjects.

The last 1/3: Your other interests and achievements (you, the rounded person!)

  • 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: e.g. “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.


  • 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.

Important advice for students:

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.

  • Keep a record of relevant website articles or a file of newspaper cuttings relevant to your subject interest -this can be a great support for your interview (e.g. Medicine candidates might gather 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; London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) offer suggested reading in its prospectus. Make notes on what you have read 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 the 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.
  • 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 one University of Bristol History admissions tutor advised).
  • NEVER borrow phrases or ideas from other applicants. UCAS have 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. Don’t run the risk of disqualification before you’ve even started the actual process!
  • There is no perfect Personal Statement. The more opinions you seek, the less personal and therefore less convincing it is likely to become. Naturally, different people have different opinions, so stick to yours!

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Posted by Dear Headteacher on Fri, 10 Feb 2017

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UniBox's 'Dear Headteacher' series brings together a complete set of guidance articles created by the Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School, Philip Rogerson, based on his 20 years' experience of helping pupils get the university places they deserve. 'Dear Headteacher' is part call to arms, part hard-headed advice and all good practice. We hope that schools across the UK get some hugely valuable insights out of this 2-week series, especially in terms of supportive advice.

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