Struggling to put your personal statement together? Read our top tips and download our handy guide to give you a helping hand from start to finish.
How to write your personal statement
Every year, universities receive thousands of personal statements, painstakingly put together by students hoping to be accepted onto the course that will determine their future career.
Now, chances are that the person who knows you best is… well, you. Why, then, is it so difficult to write about yourself in your personal statement?
We asked Arden University's psychology lecturer, Towella Ngambi:
“It's difficult to write a personal statement because we are seeking approval from others,” Towella says. “The reason it’s hard is that we are not clear on the expectations of those who will read the personal statement.”
“Evolutionary psychologists also tell us that we have a 'natural negativity bias' - an instinct is within us all that makes negative experiences appear a lot more significant than they are,” Towella explains. “When we write a personal statement, we are required to brag a little about the positive aspects of our personality.”
“This combined with our negative bias causes our real self and our perceived self to become incongruent and this may be why writing about ourselves is difficult.”
If you’re currently wondering what to cover in your personal statement, or sat struggling to even know where to begin, rest assured that it’s perfectly natural – and you’re definitely not the only one feeling this way!
1. Find out what they’re looking for
When you’ve settled on a course you’d like to study, the course description itself could help you decide what skills and traits to focus on in your statement. Note down any qualities you have which align with what the uni is looking for, along with any examples to back up your point.
2. Create a plan to help you get started
If you’re worried about going over the word limit – or afraid you’ll get nowhere near – make a plan. Jot down what you want each individual paragraph to discuss and assign each section an individual word count until it totals the overall word count.
3. Don’t assume you have to start at the beginning
Although making a good first impression is important, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to pen the perfect introduction to your statement the first time around. Remember, a piece of writing doesn’t have to start at the very beginning – the intro might come easier to you once you’ve written the rest of your statement.
4. Include your pastimes
Don’t neglect your hobbies and non-academic interests in your personal statement if they’re relevant. While ‘binge-watching shows on Netflix’ won’t add any value to your application, pastimes such as team sports and voluntary work could point to sought-after qualities and transferable skills.
5. Discuss the future, as well as the past and present
As well as discussing your past achievements, it’s a good idea to talk about your plans for the future. What are your ambitions? Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? How will the course you’ve chosen help you achieve that? These are all talking points you could consider using to inspire a paragraph or two in your statement.
6. Keep to-the-point
As you need to fit everything you want to say into a limited amount of space, make sure every sentence you write reveals something new. It’s important not to ramble or repeat yourself, so be sure of the point you want to make and use clear, concise language to express it.
7. Avoid humour
While it can be tempting to try and entertain the reader of your personal statement, it’s best to avoid being too quirky or trying to be funny. You have no idea who will be reviewing your application or how they’ll receive any attempt at humour, so keep it professional and stick to the facts.
8. Get a friend or family member to read it over
Friends or family members might be able to identify positive qualities in you that you wouldn’t consider yourself, so why not get them to take a look over your statement? It helps to get someone to proofread and sense-check your statement, too, so you’d essentially be killing two birds with one stone.
9. Don’t leave it to the last minute
If you work well under pressure, chances are you’re used to leaving things to the last minute. We don’t recommend doing this with your personal statement as you’ll miss the opportunity to gain valuable feedback from a tutor and likely end up worried you haven’t done a good enough job once your application has been submitted. Start as early as possible and write as many drafts as you need to.