What do universities want to see on a personal statement?

by Anita Naik

Applying to university is always an anxiety-ridden process not helped by being asked to write a personal statement that sings your academic virtues and sells you into universities. It's a tricky task that many students find hard to do. If you're one of wondering how best to write it, here's what universities want to see.

Focus on who will be reading your statement

Knowing that admissions tutors will read your statement helps set out what you need to include. Admissions tutors will use this document to determine if you are someone they want on their course and whether you will be an asset to the university. Keep your focus on them when writing your statement, reminding yourself that they will be reading hundreds and hundreds of personal statements, so you want yours to be clear, well-structured and easy to pull information from.

Consider what should be in my statement and why

The majority of your statement should be about your interest in the course you are applying for. Remember, it's a professional application to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest in an area of study. Make sure it's honest and not too vague, as it will set the agenda for an interview or offer. For this reason, make it enthusiastic and to the point. Say why you are interested in a course, and also what appeals about university life. If your career plans are relevant, then mention these too. Also, talk about what you have studied and how this has led you to decide to do this course.

Mention extra-curricular work/hobbies in the right way

While the focus should always be on your academic reasons for study, extra-curricular activities can help your statement. What you do outside of school or college is an excellent way of showing your strengths and why you'd be a good student. Use these activities to demonstrate how you can work independently, manage your time, cope under pressure and more.

This means taking your interests and the skillset you have learned from them and telling the admissions tutor what you gained from your experience. For instance, if you play an instrument or do gymnastics, use this to show your willingness to practice and study. If you love drama and football, focus on how this helps with teamwork, and if it's art, use this to show your ability to think creatively.

Alongside this, you can add in awards like the Duke of Edinburgh and National Citizens Service. While it's only the DofE Gold Award that universities are interested in, mentioning work you did for the Bronze and Silver award and what you got from doing these is worthwhile even if you didn't go on to do the gold.

Be smart about the extra-curricular interests you mention

Don't be tempted to lie in this area, especially about having done the Duke of Edinburgh awards when you haven't or being a sporting hero when you last played tennis or basketball in year 7. Aside from the fact you risk being caught out in an interview, there's no reason to lie. You can add a wealth of real-life information that will still help you.

A part-time job or any entrepreneurship, volunteering, work experience, hobbies, and various interests and travel experiences can all be relevant. Talk about what skills you have learnt from any of the above and how it's benefitted you.

Proofread and get feedback on your statement

Always get teachers, and friends and family you trust to give feedback on your statement. Not just for grammar, punctuation and spelling (use Grammarly for this too) but also for feedback. You want your statement to sound as positive as possible, and getting someone to root out the negative parts can be hugely helpful. Also, if you have used humour, it's worth getting a second opinion on whether it's appropriate or not.

The dos and don'ts of writing a personal statement

· Don't be too over the top with your language.

· Don't be dishonest about your extra-curricular activities.

· Don't use quotes and cliches.

· Don't overcomplicate your statement.

· Don't be too informal and jokey.

· Don't plagiarise other statements you see online.

· Do structure your personal statement so it flows correctly.

· Do be enthusiastic in a professional manner.

· Do your personality show.

· Do proofread your application.

· Do ask teachers for their feedback.

· Do read it aloud to ensure it reads well.