Simplicity is the key here. Aim for short, punchy sentences that get your point across. Keep reminding yourself that you are not writing an essay. What matters are the facts – get these across clearly and avoid the temptation to embroider your writing with flowery language.
Download your free UCAS Personal Statement worksheet
As they begin to plan their Personal Statement, students may feel intimidated. It’s not easy to summarise your academic interests and personal ambitions, especially when you’re competing for a place on a course which is popular or has demanding entry requirements. In particular, students will likely come up against any or all of the following challenges:
Students, and indeed teachers and counselors, must undertake the planning and writing of the personal statement whilst juggling other commitments, classes and deadlines, not to mention revision and open day visits!
Because there is already a lot of academic pressure on students in their final year of secondary school, finding the time and headspace for the personal statement can be hard, and can mean it gets pushed to the last minute. The risks of leaving it to the last minute are fairly obvious – the application will seem rushed and the necessary thought and planning won’t go into making the personal statement the best it can be.
Sticking closely to the Personal Statement format
The character limit which UCAS sets for the personal statement is very strict – up to 4,000 characters of text. This means that students have to express themselves in a clear and concise way; it’s also important that they don’t feel the need to fill the available space needlessly. Planning and redrafting of a personal statement is essential.
Making it stand out
This is arguably the greatest challenge facing students – making sure that their statement sets them apart from everyone else who is competing for a place on any given course; in 2017 alone, UCAS received applications from 699,850 students. In addition, UCAS uses its own dedicated team and purpose built software to check every application for plagiarism, so it’s crucial that students craft a truly original personal statement which is entirely their own work.
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is an account of your achievements, talents, interests and goals often included in job or university applications or on resumes. Personal statements for university and jobs have similar content, but university personal statements are usually longer and more detailed. University personal statements are typically three or four paragraphs. When included in job applications and resumes, these statements are generally a single paragraph. Employers and universities may have their own requirements, so make sure to heed any word or character limits.
Breaking the task of writing a personal statement down into small, manageable steps can help you write a strong statement for a job or university placement. While your introduction, body and conclusion sections should be in that order, you can write them in any order that best helps you effectively write your statement. For example, writing your body first and then returning to write the introduction can help you craft a stronger opening because you already know what the rest of your statement discusses.
1. Write a personal introduction
Write an introduction that reflects you and your personality. It should say why you are interested in the job or degree and, if appropriate, your recent experience with the job type or course topics. Starting a personal statement with sentences that show who you are can help encourage the recipient to read further.
For a job application, consider addressing what first interested you in the position’s listing. Use a single, strong sentence to mention the most relevant aspects of your personality and interests in the role or company. For a university application, discuss what parts of the program or school align with your passions. Your university introduction should be a full paragraph.
2. Expand on relevant skills, interests and experiences
The body of your personal statement lets you share more about your relevant skills, interests and experiences. Write about personal details that relate to the job or course for which you are applying. You could write about the following elements, where relevant, in the body of your personal statement:
Your achievements and experience: Write about your degrees, certifications, awards, years of industry experience and positions you have held that relate to the job’s responsibilities or the university’s educational offerings.
Your relevant skills and talents: Describe the talents and skills you have learned during university or on your career path. Consider mentioning specific skills discussed in a job listing or values the school is looking for in students.
What you would bring to the organization: Discuss why you feel you would be an asset to the company or university. You can mention your experience or eagerness to learn specific skills, perform tasks or earn credentials in a field.
Your professional or academic goals: Write about how the job or course you are applying for fits into your dreams for the future. Consider selecting a specific goal the job or course can help you achieve.
Two sentences should be sufficient for the body of your job personal statement. You may choose two or three of the previously listed elements to discuss in those sentences to keep it comprehensive while also being brief. If your university personal statement is a general prompt asking about your interest and goals, the body of your college personal statement should be one or two paragraphs. A recent high school graduate may need just one paragraph, while someone applying for an advanced degree should write two paragraphs when discussing the professional experience and skills they have in their chosen field.
3. Write a strong conclusion
Craft a conclusion that leaves a strong, lasting impression on the prospective employer or university admissions officer. It should be a clear restatement of why you applied and what you hope to achieve with the experience. It should also persuade the reader to take action on you as a candidate, either reading through the rest of your resume or reviewing your other academic credentials.
Extension of your professional goals: Some statements for job applications may include specific reference to your goals and how the position can help you achieve those goals. For a university personal statement, reinforce how the school’s mission or coursework can prepare you for a career. In both types of statements, consider discussing relevant short- and long-term goals, such as what you hope to achieve in the school or position and where you see yourself in 5-10 years.
Summary of your personal statement: A brief summary of the main points in your statement can be an effective strategy for a one-sentence conclusion or one sentence of a larger conclusion. Be sure to connect your achievements, experiences and skills directly to your future contributions with the company or university.
Powerful personal statement examples
Personal statement for employment
“I recently graduated from the University of Indiana with a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design, and I would love to apply the skills I refined at university and my passion for fashion to your design assistant role. In addition to my studies, I have spent the last five years designing and creating dresses to sell at the monthly Indianapolis Arts Market. Seeing the excitement on my regular customers’ faces trying my new creations strengthened my commitment to a career in fashion. I am a quick learner who thrives on challenges, which I believe I would find at your design house.”
Personal statement for a university application
“I am applying for a position in your Master of Business Administration course because I’m passionate about advancing my marketing career and interested to learn more about management strategies. I first became interested in marketing while earning my Bachelor of Science in Business at Peru State College in Nebraska. I was fascinated by the way marketers could use images and text to persuade consumers to purchase products and the range of different modern marketing tools, including social media and virtual reality.
After graduating, I began working as a marketing coordinator with The Digital Eye. My eagerness to learn and try new methods saw me quickly progress through the company. As I moved from simple research and administrative tasks to coordinating marketing events and assisting with the creative process, my passion for marketing grew.
I feel I am ready to take the next step in my career and work as a marketing manager. Studying a Master of Business Administration at NYU Stern School of Business would help me gain the skills I need to transition into my desired role. I feel the coursework in leadership, production management and operation management would help me succeed in a managerial position. I also appreciate that your school offers online classes and part-time study. These options would help me devote the time I need to excel academically without compromising my performance at The Digital Eye.
I respect your school’s reputation for excellence and commitment to career development. I believe it would be a stimulating learning environment and a place where I could connect with several like-minded students. My passion for learning and exceptional academic and professional record would make me an asset to your school. I fondly recall my time at Peru State College and hope I can make more special memories studying at NYU Stern School of Business.”
Show off your experience
Firmly in the second camp are your qualifications. You don’t need to mention these as there’s a whole other section of your personal statement where you get to detail them very precisely. Don’t waste a single character going on about how great your GCSE grades are – it’s not what the admissions tutor wants to read.
What they do want to see is: what have you done? OK, so you’ve got some good grades, but so do a lot of other applicants. What have you done that’s different, that shows you off as someone who really loves the subject you’re applying for?
Spend some time thinking about all the experience you have in that subject. If you’re lucky, this might be direct work experience. That’s going to be particularly appropriate if you’re applying for one of the more vocational subjects such as medicine or journalism.
But uni staff realise getting plum work experience placements is easier for some people than others, so cast your net wider when you’re thinking about what you’ve done. How about after-school clubs? Debating societies? Are you running a blog or vlog? What key skills and experience have you picked up elsewhere (eg from hobbies) that could be tied in with your course choice?
- Your interest in the course. Why do you want to spend three years studying this subject at university?
- What have you done outside school or college that demonstrates this interest? Think about things like fairs/exhibitions, public lectures or voluntary work that is relevant to your subject.
- Relevant work experience (essential for the likes of medicine, not required for non-vocational courses such as English)
- Skills and qualities required for that career if appropriate (medicine, nursing and law as obvious examples)
- Interest in your current studies – what particular topics have made an impression on you?
- Any other interests/hobbies/experiences you wish to mention that are relevant either to the subject or ‘going to uni’. Don’t just list your hobbies, you need to be very selective and state clearly what difference doing these things has made to you.
- Plans for a gap year if you’re deferring entry.
“Instead, I want to know that applicants understand and appreciate modern psychology as a scientific endeavour, one which relies on formulating hypotheses and testing them with data to gain insights into brain and behaviour.
“There are a lot of public misconceptions about what the subject is about, most of which ignore this critical feature. The more misconceptions an applicant holds, the more likely that they’ll be disappointed with the course.”
Okay, I’ve got my personal statement topic. But now I have to actually write it. 😱What do I do?
1. Get personal.
Remember the “personal” in personal statement. We all have a story to tell, and we all have a different journey that led us to where we are today. We might think “someone already wrote about this” or we might think our story isn’t unique, but IT IS.
2. Speak like you.
Write your personal statement in a genuine tone that reflects who you are. There’s no right or wrong tone – just make sure your tone represents YOU. This means, in particular, not using big words just to show off. Often, this just seems like you’re trying to hard. (Or, even worse, you accidentally use the word incorrectly!)
3. Think about your audience.
Who will you be writing your personal statement for? What message do you want to convey? If it’s for to the college admissions committee, how do you show you’ll align well with the culture of the school? If it’s for a scholarship provider, how do you show you support their mission?
4. Hit the big three: Story, Implication, Connection to college/major.
5. Hit the length.
6. Edit your work.
Once you’ve written your personal statement, step away from it. There was a time when we used to rely on pencil and paper to write down all of our ideas and information (including first-draft college essays). Now, we mainly rely on screens, so our eyes grow tired, causing us to miss typos and grammar mistakes.
So save that document in an easy-to-find folder on your computer. Then stepping away from your computer and taking a break helps relax your mind and body and then refocus when you come back to edit the document.
We can’t stress this one enough: Don’t submit your personal statement without checking your spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.! All the grammar things! Your personal statement reflects who you are, from the topic you choose to the style you write it in, so impress colleges (or scholarship providers) with excellent structure and great grammar!
7. Then, ask someone else to edit it too.
We recommend asking a friend, counselor, or parent to read your personal statement before you submit the document. One more set of eyes will really help you get a second opinion on the tone, writing quality, and overall representation of who you are in your personal statement.
8. Be brave, and hit that “submit” button on your personal statement!
9. Remember, personal statements for your college app, can also be reused as scholarship essays.
Get double-use out of your personal statement. Going Merry is your home for all things scholarships–fill out a profile, get matched to eligible scholarships, and apply. You can even save essays so that you can easily upload the same one for multiple scholarship applications. (We were inspired by the Common App to make applying for scholarships easier.)
Do you have personal statement examples?
Charlie Maynard, Going Merry CEO – wrote about what matters most to him and why, for his grad school application.
Charlotte Lau, Going Merry Head of Growth – wrote for her college Common App personal statement:
“As a child, I was never close with my father, though we were always on good terms. He made me laugh and taught me all the things that made me into a young tomboy: what an RBI is, how to correctly hook a fish when I feel it biting, what to bring on a camping trip. But whenever I was upset, he wouldn’t know how to comfort me. He is a man of jokes and words, not of comforting motions.
But as I grew older and I too became infatuated with words—albeit in written form—our topics of conversation became more diverse and often more profound. We continued to watch sports games together, but during commercials, we’d have epistemological and ethical discussions more fitting for a philosophy class than a chat during a Knicks’ time-out. During these talks, my father would insert stories about his youth. They’d always be transitory or anecdotal, told as if they were beside the point. Still, I’d eagerly commit them to memory, and, over time, I began to get a sense of who my father was—and, in turn, who I am.”
Essay 1: Humorous essay about getting a D and learning a lesson
“Getting a D probably isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s not something anyone wants to see, let alone put, on a college application. It came back to me, scrawled in red, on the first big history test of the year. The one the teacher had assured us was a third of our grade. I could already see my chances of a four-year college going up in smoke and my school year hadn’t even started yet.
What happened? I’m not a D student. I’ll get the occasional C as well as the occasional A. D’s are out of character for me, and enough of a stomach punch to really get my attention. The short version is, I didn’t study, and I don’t remember precisely why. There is always a reason not to study, isn’t there? I didn’t study and I went into a test woefully unprepared and got beaten up.
Essay 2: Why a talent (in this case, one at football) is also a responsibility
“Talent is not remarkable. It’s usually the first thing anyone compliments. “You’re so talented.” It doesn’t mean what they think it means. It doesn’t mean I worked hard. It means I was lucky, or blessed, or anything else you want to call it.
I have talent. I’ve known since I was old enough to hold a football. The game just makes intuitive sense to me. The pathways of the players, both my team and the others, where the ball has to go, and what I’m doing. In the silence before a snap, I’m already playing out what is going to happen, watching the holes in my lines, tracing the route of my receivers. […]
It is far too easy to view talent as an excuse. For me, it is a motivator. For my talent, I will accept nothing less than a dream that only a tiny percentage of people ever get to experience. To get there, I’m willing to work hard and wring every last accomplishment from myself.
Talent is a responsibility. Because you had nothing to do with acquiring it, you are compelled to achieve every last bit you can with it. While I had grown used to thinking varsity would be it, that was not the case. Now, I can focus on the goal while I accomplish the steps.”
Essay 3: On living with depression
“Before I was diagnosed, I had been told it was a normal part of growing up. I was told that teens are moody. I would grow out of it. I couldn’t imagine anyone growing out of what I was feeling. I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving.
It might sound bad—as though kindness can only exist in the smallest forms. This is not what I mean. There are extraordinary people out there who devote their lives to doing very large, very important things for others. I’m not talking about them, partially because they are extraordinary. They are not the norm.
What is normal are the tiny kindnesses. These do not cost a person much of anything. A slice of time, a moment of openness, and little else. They are a smile when you’re feeling down, a comforting hand on the shoulder, a moment to talk.”
Essay 4: On why this applicant wants to study music
“My great-great-uncle Giacomo Ferrari was born in 1912 in Neverland, NY, the youngest of four sons. His parents had emigrated from Italy with his two eldest brothers in the early 1900s in search of a better life in America. Their struggles as immigrants are in themselves inspiring, but the challenges they faced are undoubtedly similar to those that many other immigrant families had to overcome; because of this, the actions that my relatives embarked upon are that much more extraordinary. Giacomo’s oldest brother Antonio, my great-grandfather, decided to take a correspondence course in violin, and to teach his youngest brother Giacomo how to play as well. Giacomo Ferrari eventually became an accomplished violinist and started a free “Lunchtime Strings” program for all the elementary schools in the Neverland area, giving free violin lessons and monthly concerts.