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JAN 13, 2019 • 6 min read
How to write a UCAS personal statement for university
The UCAS personal statement is the UK’s equivalent of the US college essay. Except where US colleges provide a prompt to applicants and the essay needs to speak about specific details, the format of the UCAS personal statement is far more open and standardized.
The personal statement is your opportunity to show what you’re like, to talk about your interests and to demonstrate your commitment to your chosen course. You should spend time fine-tuning this one document, as it could be the difference acceptance and rejection.
The UCAS personal statement has a 4000-character limit, so you only have limited space to show how blooming great you are.
In terms of what to write about, UCAS breaks this down into two key areas:
First, why you are applying, your ambitions and what matters to you about the subject and going into higher education. Second, you should discuss what makes you a suitable candidate: any relevant skills, experience or achievements gained from education, work or other activities.
UCAS offers a couple of helpful resources to get those juices flowing: the personal statement mind map and roadmap and personal statement worksheet should help you to begin planning and eventually writing your piece. This video from Jane Marshall at Imperial College for UCAS also helps to break down the process by walking you through it.
Breaking the process down with these tools and the tips below will help to turn writing your personal statement – which can seem like it has a huge amount of weight attached to it – into a more manageable process.
By far the most important thing to remember when approaching this exercise is to be truthful about yourself and your interests, calmly ordering all of your many skills and achievements to marshal them in support of the value that you bring.
On UCAS’s website, you can find course descriptions for the subject for which you’re applying. Allow this to guide you when it comes to writing your own statement, as it will provide a framework for the skills, experiences and qualities you should mention. This should help you to be as specific as possible about what it is you would bring to studying your chosen subject.
In the UK, you are providing one essay for each course you apply to. Not all universities offer the same courses, so, while you can prioritize preferred institutions if you want to, you should be mindful that the same statement is going everywhere. This means it is wise to avoid mentioning universities and courses by name, and, in places, to be a little more general in describing yourself if you are applying to a wide range of courses.
While extra-curricular activities do matter, especially for subjects where it is important that you have rounded interests, what is of primary importance for all subjects is that you demonstrate your commitment to and proficiency in your chosen subject. This means bringing all the evidence of your ability and dedication to that subject up to the top of your statement, and making sure that you lead with what drives that passion. Unlike the US, as most applicants will be aware, students in the UK tend to focus on a single subject from day one, and the statement needs to reflect this.
If you are applying from elsewhere, you do need to answer a few extra questions in the body of your statement. You should mention why it is that you want to study in the UK, whether that be an enjoyment of British culture or respect for its higher education institutions. You should demonstrate your English language skills (and any tests) if applying from a non-English speaking country, and you should mention what it is about being an international student that appeals.
Lots of students get stuck on writing that perfect witty opener. Don’t bother. Of course first impressions count and you should be trying to be sincere throughout, but admissions tutors will be reading the whole of your statement and the body of the text will provide space for you to show what you’re like. Then, if you need to, you can go back and rewrite that opening.
Once you’ve written your statement, you need to upload the text into UCAS’s own system. The character limit is 4000 and there is also a 47-line limit – but word processors may calculate this differently to UCAS, so you can use their personal statement tool to make sure you’re meeting the format’s requirements. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the window times out after 35 minutes of inactivity, so avoid additional stress by writing it first and simply uploading it.
Go get ‘em!