Dos and Don’ts for Writing a UK Personal Statement

One of the most time-consuming aspects of an application to UK universities, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, is the personal statement. The ATP advisors work with students one-on-one to ensure that they are writing their statement with the ideal tone and content for what the admissions team will be looking for. Here are some of the frequent “DON’Ts” that we see as well as some suggested “DOs”!

DON’T: Include an “attention-grabbing” quote or common phrase at the beginning of your statement. For most applications you are given a limited word or character limit with which to present to the university why you would be the ideal candidate for their program. You don’t want to waste precious space including somebody else’s words, the unis would much rather hear your words.

DO: Talk about what has inspired you to pursue this subject/degree and how it will be crucial for your future career goals. Even if you aren’t sure exactly what your future career will be, list an idea or two of careers that interest you and that the university program would help you to pursue. This shows the university that you have done your research and aren’t applying to programs just on a whim (astonishingly many students do apply on a whim, so admissions teams look to weed out those who are serious). Referencing television shows or other media also isn’t enough cause for applying to a degree in the UK, you need to show that you understand the field and career in “the real world”.

DON’T: Write your statement like you are talking to a friend. While it’s important that your statement reflects your genuine enthusiasm and interest in the subject, it is also being submitted as part of an official application to university. The tone therefore should be a bit more on the professional side (like you are writing a cover letter or submitting a paper for a class). Try to avoid flowery language (very, really, etc.) and ensure your writing is clear and concise.

DO: Utilise your personal statement to highlight the skills and strengths that you’ve developed that will help you to be successful on the degree and in your future career. They aren’t looking to see you just list a bunch of skills though. The best way to do this is to discuss each your academic background and your volunteer/work experiences. You can use this discussion to demonstrate specific skills or to give an example of when you demonstrated a specific strength.

DON’T: Despite the term “personal statement” the universities actually prefer to see little “personal narrative” in your statement. This means that your statement should focus on demonstrating your reason to applying, your preparedness for the degree (prior academics and experience) and ultimate career goals. These should be discussed rather pragmatically. Try to avoid “story-telling” language.

DO: Reflect. In line with what was mentioned earlier about listing skills or strengths, the same is true for your discussion of your relevant academic and work experience. It’s not enough just to state that you have done something; as much could be gathered from a resume or CV. The key to your personal statement is to reflect on those specific experiences and how they have helped to prepare you for the degree you are applying for. If you are struggling to meet the word/character limits and have a lot of relevant experience, it’s best to select one of two significant positions and reflects on those in more depth than to try and list them all.

DON’T: Leave your personal statement to the last minute. Students often need to send 3 to 4 drafts back and forth with their advisor before proceeding with an application. Leaving it to the last minute and rushing a personal statement only serves to hinder your own application. If you’ve written a statement for a previous application to a Canadian school, don’t assume it will work for your UK statements. Some of it might be able to be re-used, but these typically still require significant re-working and additions in order to meet the requirements for a UK statement.

DO: Follow the guidelines that your advisor sends you in the Application Instructions document. Your statement will need to address all of the key areas highlighted in those guidelines so it’s best to get started with those in mind. Once you have a draft written, your advisor will be able to review it and provide direct feedback, but it makes the entire process a lot quicker and smoother if your first draft was written with those guidelines already in mind.

If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK and the application process, please contact one of our Advisors.

Photos courtesy of:
Nick Morrison on Unsplash