As an undergraduate I was employed by Admissions for my university (specifically, PLNU) so I'm writing from experience here.
What the admissions council is looking for is individuality, they want a "snapshot" of your life. Basically they're asking: "Who are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself?" Universities get literally thousands of applicants and many (probably 60%) personal statements start the same way, they go something like:
"I want to go to school X because I think school X could challenge me, they are top-notch in research, academics, and student life."
The admissions committee most likely thinks so too, if they didn't they probably wouldn't be working admission at that university.
What a university really longs for is someone that deviates. Deviation shows that they can think for themselves and that they are confident in themselves and their conclusions (it shows initiative and the ability to problem-solve).
I'm actually applying to graduate school now so I guess we're in the same boat (for the school I'm applying to [I'm only applying to one and I'm not going to implicate them] they say you have 1,500 words write something). I actually address the graduate commission using "you" on several occasions (I feel its worth mentioning that the school within this university is ranked 12th in the US and the program is the only one of its kind).
Oh, and at least where I worked, the admission council does "grade" or "score" your personal statements, they just read them (a 5 minute read-through is even over-glorifying it, they may spend about 60-90 seconds on it). That isn't to say that you shouldn't put blood, sweat, and tears into it though because after reading literally thousands application essays admissions counselors are trained psychologists, literary critics, and professional speed-readers all rolled into one, they can spot a slapdashed essay from 12,000 miles away.
I know it's incredibly stressful, I've been there. I hope this provides some assuage!
Your personal statement
Your personal statement needs to create a strong impression for your university application. It's your opportunity to say why you want to study your chosen course, and what skills, experiences and qualifications you have that will make you a successful student.
A member of the Admissions team will read your personal statement and use it as part of the process to decide who they can offer a place to.
What to include
We are looking for you to explain why you have chosen your course of study and demonstrate a real understanding of what studying the course will involve.
You should include:
- why you are applying for the course – show your enthusiasm
- how your current skills, experience and qualifications will help your application
- relevant work experience or extracurricular activities
- details of anything relevant you plan to do before starting your degree
If you're applying to Bath, your personal statement should focus on your enthusiasm, experience and suitability for the course.
When thinking about your relevant studies, skills and experiences, don’t forget to mention any relevant work experience, extracurricular activities or further reading. Remember that universities will see details of your qualifications so there’s no need to list them in your personal statement.
Your personal statement is supposed to be about you as an individual student, so try to avoid using common clichés or generic quotes. Make sure you only include relevant information – if it isn’t about why you want to study the course or the skills you have gained to help you succeed, then don’t include it.
This student blog on starting to write your personal statement contains some good advice. You'll also find additional tips that apply to all types of students in this post on writing a statement for science courses, by a current Bath undergraduate.
If you are applying for Pharmacy or Social Work
Your personal statement must show that you have the appropriate attitude to complete your studies and practise your profession responsibly. You also need to show that you have the relevant experience for your course.
Do your research
Talk to your teachers and tutors about what strengths you should highlight.
Go to university Open Days and UCAS fairs. Talk to admissions staff about what they look for in a personal statement, and to academics about the courses you are interested in.
Look at university prospectuses and websites to find out about the courses you’re applying for and pick out the key elements you need to give evidence for.
- your motivations for applying
- what the courses you’re applying for include
- your relevant passions or experience
- how the course will help you get the career you want
Remember you only get to write one personal statement, even though you might apply for five different courses at more than one university.
Make sure your statement is relevant to all of the courses you’re applying for. Which? University offers some advice for specific subjects based on guidance from course submission tutors.
Write your first draft
It’s called a personal statement for a reason, so make it personal and show your character. We want to find out about you.
UCAS has a tool to help you write your first draft. It will keep you focused on the important questions you need to answer. It will help you structure your statement and keep to the character limit.
You can write a first draft longer than the word limit.
Tone and style
It's important to write in an active voice, using language that's easy to understand. You may find it helpful to talk out loud to someone about your interests and motivations and write in a similar style.
Do this by:
- writing in short sentences
- using paragraphs
- writing in Plain English
- writing positively about yourself without boasting
- checking your spelling and grammar
When writing about work experience, the most important points to cover are:
- what were your duties, tasks and responsibilities during the placement
- what did you gain or learn from the experience
- what are your transferable skills, for example, problem-solving, teamwork, communication skills and self-motivation
What to avoid
- irrelevant information – anything that happened too long ago
- exaggeration or negativity – talk about your positive attributes and experiences
- unsupported statements – give evidence for everything
- your life story – keep your information relevant and current
- common clichés and quotes
- information from someone else’s statement
Get your draft checked by someone else
Show your first draft to your teacher, parents or guardian, or to a friend who is also going through the process.
- to question your evidence
- evaluate whether your statement represents you, your skills and experiences
- if it reads well and is clear and easy to understand
- whether you’ve missed anything out
- to check spelling and grammar
Writing a second and final draft
When writing your second and third drafts, edit your personal statement carefully to make it focused and concise. Write efficiently and compellingly and then edit it. Remove unnecessary words and make sure your statement is under 4,000 characters or 47 lines, whichever is shortest.
Get it checked again
Ask a teacher, parent or guardian to check your next draft. Ask them to check for punctuation, grammar and spelling, and if it represents you as well as it can.
Make any edits or adjustments that are suggested, then get it checked again.
Give yourself lots of time to work on your personal statement. Don’t leave it to the last few days to submit.