How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement

If you’re applying to study an undergraduate course in the UK then you’ll know that degree courses are notoriously competitive. One area that is particularly important and can help your application stand out is your UCAS personal statement.

Your personal statement is a crucial part of your UCAS application. It is the first and often the only chance you get to tell your chosen universities why you want to study your chosen course, what your motivations are, and give context to any qualifications, skills and experience you have.

Your UCAS personal statement should be solely written by you and can follow any format you desire. However, based on the experience of our professional admissions tutors, who help more than 90% of students get into their first and second-choice universities, there are some guidelines you should follow. This article goes through the key stages of writing an undergraduate personal statement, including some top tips and how to access support.

Important changes to the UCAS personal statement: Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS.

Before you start, think about the goal of your personal statement

Your UCAS personal statement is essentially your sales pitch to your chosen universities. The goal is to tell them why you would be a great student and how you’d benefit from taking your chosen course. It’s your opportunity to prove to your universities that you would make a capable, passionate and committed university student.

Keep the overarching goal of your personal statement in mind as you write it and make sure that everything you say is supported by an action or example.

Joe’s tip: While it’s important to showcase your personality and interests, make sure that every sentence has a purpose and relates back to that overarching goal. The bulk of your personal statement should be demonstrating how and why your experiences and skills would make you well-suited to the specific course you’re applying for, not just a list of what you have done. Don’t waste valuable characters talking about hobbies or passions that are unrelated to your chosen career path – always keep it relevant.

How long should your personal statement be?

Your personal statement must be between 1,000 and 4,000 characters long. It is best to use as many of the 4,000 characters (approximately 47 lines) as possible in order to showcase all of your best qualities and experience.

Joe’s tip: Your personal statement is part of your UCAS application as a whole, so the deadline for completing it is essentially the same as whichever UCAS deadline your application is due by (either the 15th October for medical and Oxbridge applications or 25th January for all other applications). However, schools often impose their own personal statement deadlines that are a lot earlier. If you feel like you are going to submit a poor quality personal statement to meet this early deadline, speak to your school.

Step 1. What are your motivations for studying your chosen course?

Once you’ve got the goal of your personal statement at the forefront of your mind, start thinking about why you want to study a degree in your chosen subject area. Your motivations for studying your course should be included in the first paragraph of your personal statement. They should also form the basis of much of the rest of your statement, as you should always be tying in your motivations to your existing skills, experience and interests.

Writing down exactly why you want to study your chosen course isn’t always easy. You might have simply always been most interested in this particular subject or there might have been a greater motivation behind choosing it, such as a long-term career plan. Either way, it’s important not to skip this step and really spend time pinpointing the ‘why’.

Joe’s tip: Try to steer away from cliche introductions and catchphrases that may exaggerate or misrepresent your true motivations. Even if you did have a dramatic, life-defining moment in which you realised what you wanted to study at university, it can come across as insincere if you write it in your personal statement. For instance, if you find yourself writing, “I’ve wanted to study [subject] ever since I was a young child…” or “For as long as I can remember…” then really think about how you can make your personal statement represent you and stand out from other applicants.

Step 2. What appeals to you specifically about the course you’re applying to?

Your UCAS personal statement should be clearly targeted to the subject you’re applying for. To achieve this, it’s important that you do plenty of research into the specifics of your chosen courses, including the modules you might cover. Think about how certain topics align with your motivations and long-term goals, and tie all of them together to create a strong, convincing narrative throughout your personal statement.

Joe’s tip: In the UK, you are only allowed to submit one personal statement that then gets sent to all of your university choices (up to five). The problem with this is that each of the courses at these universities will more than likely be slightly different, both by name (e.g. Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford versus Politics and International Relations) and by their contents. Consequently, unless specifically advised to do so, it’s best not to cite specific course names or modules and instead target common themes of these subjects to show you are well-researched while appealing to all of your university choices.

If you are targeting a course which is only available at one or a handful of universities (such as Human Sciences at Oxford) then see what the universities themselves advise. They may understand that your personal statement will be directed towards a broader course focus.

Step 3. What work experience do you have and what did you learn?

Work experience and volunteering are an important part of your personal statement. It’s difficult to get real-life knowledge and experience of how the wider professional world works and the skills you may require in any other way.

If possible, your experience should be relevant to the course you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying to study Law, have you gained work experience in a courtroom or as a paralegal? If you’re applying to study Journalism, could you volunteer for your local newspaper or a small magazine?

Some undergraduate subjects don’t lend themselves to specific work experience and that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure that you use whatever volunteering or work experience you have to further demonstrate why you would be a great fit for your chosen course. Reflect on what you learned during your placement, what specific skills you developed, and how it has made you a more well-rounded student as a result. Demonstrate to your admissions officer that this experience has reaffirmed your interest in the field and encouraged you to excel in your university course.

Joe’s tip: Particularly competitive courses like Medicine value work experience more than others. If you are applying to one of these courses, it’s important that your work experience is particularly closely related to the subject (e.g. in a GP surgery, hospital, or other medical environment for Medicine applicants) and that you show a consistent, long-term commitment to work experience and volunteering in the industry. If you have been volunteering for a long period of time, make sure you highlight this in your personal statement. You don’t want to give the impression that you have only done one-off days here and there.

If you are struggling to find useful work experience then think outside the box – try and gain relevant experience outside of a work environment. For example, if you’re applying to study Law, you could visit a court and watch proceedings that are generally open to the public. If you’re applying for Physics, perhaps you could attend a selection of free lectures presented by senior academics on topics of particular interest.

Step 4. What relevant skills do you have?

Next, think about what skills you have that would make you a great fit for your chosen degree. Depending on your course, there are some skills that universities will be keeping an eye out for in applicants’ personal statements. For example:

  • If you’re applying for Law, universities will be looking for skills such as logical thinking, the ability to form a clear and convincing argument, and a keen attention to detail.
  • If you’re applying for Medicine, your ability to prioritise tasks considering risks, work and communicate effectively under pressure, and show empathy will be particularly important.
  • If you’re applying for Computer Science, universities will be looking for evidence of your mathematical ability and logical thinking, as well as strong data analysis skills.
  • If you’re applying for English Literature, your essay-writing skills, historical and contextual awareness, and critical thinking ability will be particularly important to universities.
  • If you’re applying for Economics, universities will be looking for a good balance of skills from a range of subject areas, such as strong data analysis and mathematical abilities, a sound understanding of global systems, and essay-writing skills.

Make sure you not only highlight these skills in your personal statement, but explain how you have developed them. For example, has there been a particular work experience placement in which you had to use great communication skills in order to solve a problem? Have you witnessed first-hand the skills required by professionals in your industry, and how have you learnt from that experience? As you can see, all elements of your personal statement should now start becoming woven together to support your overarching goal.

Joe’s tip: Relevant skills don’t always present themselves as obvious. For example, when studying or working, where do you feel particularly comfortable or where does your ability and knowledge stand out? Then, think about why this is, what traits cause this, and how they are transferable to your degree.

Step 5. What wider reading and studying have you done?

While the studying you do at school in relevant subjects is certainly useful from an academic standpoint, your personal statement is your chance to show universities that you have gone above and beyond. Relevant wider reading and studying that you have done in your own personal time shows that you are passionate and dedicated to your chosen field and suggests that you are well-suited to independent, university-level study.

Joe’s tip: If you can, don’t just tell your university that you have done additional reading and studying – show them. You could include relevant subject terms, poignant quotes from books or academics, and insightful analysis of key texts. Doing this will ensure that you don’t have to explicitly point out that you are good at the subject or that you really want to study it because it will be clear from your writing.

Do you need to include your grades in your personal statement?

You do not need to include your educational qualifications in your personal statement. Your chosen universities will be able to view all of your grades in your academic transcript. Including them in your personal statement is unnecessary and simply takes up valuable characters which you could be using to showcase your other strengths, such as work experience, your motivations for applying, additional reading and activities you have done, and more.

Step 6. Do you take part in any relevant extracurricular activities?

Once you’ve demonstrated your motivations for studying your chosen course and the relevant skills and work experience you have, you can include a line or two about any other extracurricular activities you feel are relevant. For example, if you attend any after-school clubs or have any hobbies that you have excelled in, this is the time to include them.

However, be aware that you only have so many words in your personal statement, so everything you include should be impactful and support your point that you’d be an excellent student in your chosen subject. When it comes to extracurricular activities and hobbies, unless you have competed at national level or won an award, really consider if it would be beneficial to include it in your personal statement. Only include it if you have characters to spare!

Step 7. Think ahead to any potential interviews

Some competitive universities (such as Oxford and Cambridge) and courses (such as Medicine and Law) routinely interview candidates as part of the application process. Your UCAS personal statement will be an important deciding factor in whether you get offered an interview with your chosen university. However, if you’re invited to attend a panel interview, your statement may also be used as the basis for questions to ask you and topics to discuss.

If you know (or suspect!) you will be asked to attend an interview, make sure to look at each sentence you have written in your statement and think about what questions you could be asked about at your interview before you submit your application. If you are able to expand on the sentence or talk more about the topic then keep the sentence in. If you’re unable to go into any more depth, consider removing it or reframing it in a way that will make it easier for you in the interview.

Joe’s tip: It should go without saying, but always tell the truth on your personal statement. That applies to your work experience and volunteering, your extra reading and studying, and anything else that relates to your skills and interests. You could be asked questions on anything you write in your personal statement in your interview, and you don’t want to get caught in a lie! Nothing will put off a university more than if you are caught lying in your application.

Step 8. Summarise why you are well-suited to the course

The final paragraph of your personal statement should summarise everything you’ve described throughout. You should conclude by stating why you think you’d be well-suited to your chosen degree course and why you would make a great addition to the university’s student body. You do not need to include any new examples or information here. Rather, you should summarise the key points you’ve already made and tie them back to the overarching goal and the motivations you established at the start of your statement.

How can you get help?

Your personal statement is an important part of your UCAS application, so it’s a good idea to get professional help to make it as compelling as possible. Our personal statement tutors can help you by:

  • Identifying where you need support in a free discovery call
    Our experts offer a free discovery call to understand your goals and needs. From this, our experienced tutors will formulate a plan of action, including helping you build your personal statement from scratch (or supporting you if you’ve already started!) and working with you on a regular, one-to-one basis.
  • Putting together a plan
    You should plan at every stage of your university application – including for your personal statement. Which universities and courses you’re applying to, what experience you have, and other contextual factors will all impact how and what you should write in your personal statement. Your statement also impacts other areas of your application which you’ll need to plan for, including admissions tests and interviews, all of which our admissions tutors can help you prepare and plan for.
  • Helping you develop your skills and academic profile
    A great personal statement relies on great skills and experience. Our tutors can advise you on what you can do to help build your academic profile and ensure that your personal statement stands out for all the right reasons.
  • Giving a statement of review on your personal statement
    Once you’re in touch with one of our personal statement tutors, you can submit a draft for review. Based on many years of experience helping students refine their personal statements and get into top universities, our experts will provide detailed feedback with action points advising you on how to improve it. Nobody, not even a tutor, is allowed to make direct changes to your personal statement, and it is ultimately up to you what you write and whether you make changes based on any feedback you receive.
  • Proofreading for grammar
    Though it might seem obvious, proofreading for grammar before you submit your UCAS personal statement is critical to your application’s success. Grammatical mistakes – even small ones – could detract from the contents of your statement and prevent assessors from focusing on all of the fantastic skills and work experience you have. Use a document that has a spelling and grammar checker incorporated in it to avoid mistakes, and always ask a tutor, friend or family member to proofread it before submitting.
  • Wider application support
    Our team can also help you with your wider university application, including improving your grades, preparing for any admissions tests, and providing interview training. Get in touch with us to start your admissions tutoring today.

FAQs

What should I include in my personal statement as a mature student?

The term ‘mature student’ usually refers to someone who is going to university after spending a period of time out of full-time education. Most mature students will have previous educational experience and qualifications, so if this is the case, you can talk about what you learnt, which areas you excelled in, and why you have chosen to return to education.

If you have any large or unexplained gaps in your education or professional history, make sure you also address these in your personal statement. Your university will be keen to know that your chosen degree is not just a back-up, but that you are serious and committed, and that it is part of your academic or career plan.

How long should my personal statement be?

Your personal statement must be between 1,000 and 4,000 characters long. It is best to use as many of the 4,000 characters (approximately 47 lines) as possible in order to showcase all of your best qualities and experience.