How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement With Examples

This ultimate guide covers everything you’ll need to brainstorm, outline, and write an outstanding personal statement for college applications.

Download your free UCAS Personal Statement worksheet

As they begin to plan their Personal Statement, students may feel intimidated. It’s not easy to summarise your academic interests and personal ambitions, especially when you’re competing for a place on a course which is popular or has demanding entry requirements. In particular, students will likely come up against any or all of the following challenges:

Time pressure

Students, and indeed teachers and counselors, must undertake the planning and writing of the personal statement whilst juggling other commitments, classes and deadlines, not to mention revision and open day visits!

Because there is already a lot of academic pressure on students in their final year of secondary school, finding the time and headspace for the personal statement can be hard, and can mean it gets pushed to the last minute. The risks of leaving it to the last minute are fairly obvious – the application will seem rushed and the necessary thought and planning won’t go into making the personal statement the best it can be.

Sticking closely to the Personal Statement format

The character limit which UCAS sets for the personal statement is very strict – up to 4,000 characters of text. This means that students have to express themselves in a clear and concise way; it’s also important that they don’t feel the need to fill the available space needlessly. Planning and redrafting of a personal statement is essential.

Making it stand out

This is arguably the greatest challenge facing students – making sure that their statement sets them apart from everyone else who is competing for a place on any given course; in 2017 alone, UCAS received applications from 699,850 students. In addition, UCAS uses its own dedicated team and purpose built software to check every application for plagiarism, so it’s crucial that students craft a truly original personal statement which is entirely their own work.

Begin By Answering Starter Questions

  1. Write down your “WHY.” Why did you choose the specific course you’re applying for? What particular event in your life stimulated your interest in it?
  2. How did you learn about your course of interest? Do you have family members or significant figures you admire who have related professions in the field?
  3. Read the course descriptions. What skills and experiences does the course demand?
  4. Which of these skills and experiences do you have? Where did you develop them? If you have any certifications, awards, or memberships to highlight your skills and experiences, much better! Doing so will help prove that you are a suitable applicant.
  5. What future career path are you looking to pursue? What are your goals? Stating your dreams and ambitions plainly and your motivations behind them demonstrates your sense of purpose.
  6. Did you experience difficulty during your education? If you experienced mental or physical health issues that affected your performance, it’s best to include them in your personal statement. Financial difficulties are also essential to point out.
  7. What are the characteristics you have that sets you apart from the other applicants? Why should the admissions committee consider you?

After answering the questions stated above, you now have a solid idea of how to write a personal statement. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, and the 4,000-word count limit just yet. Let your ideas flow and start writing!

How should I write a personal statement?

To get into just a little more nuance—if you have a ton of time until your deadline, and you don’t mind maybe throwing away entire drafts and starting over, then feel free to just dive in and write.

For a montage, outline 4-7 ways your thread connects to different values through different experiences, and if you can think of them, different lessons and insights (though these you might have to develop later, during the writing process). For example, how auto repair connects to family, literature, curiosity, adventure, and personal growth (through different details and experiences).

We’ve seen way too many students not write about the things they need to explore in a first draft because they were worried about word count. If your first draft of a 650-word essay is 800 or 900 words, cool. You’ll have to cut eventually. But that’s the easy part (you generally just hit “delete”).

And it’s actually easier to write a good first draft if you’re not worrying about writing a good first draft. We know that sounds contradictory. But what we mean is that a first draft is good if it gives you a clear sense of where to head with your second and third drafts. That’s its job—to help map where you go next.

Linked to that, a strong opening and ending are things you can more easily develop once you’re clearer on your content and structure. So, for a first draft, if something cool comes to you, great. But if not, don’t let it stop you from drafting.

Jump in and spend some time getting your ideas down on paper. Remember your first draft is just a chance to mess around with different topics and thoughts. It doesn’t have to be anywhere close to perfect. If it helps, just think of it as a brain dump. Once you’ve got all your ideas somewhere, you can start to reorganize and make them more coherent.

If you want to build a better opening, check out a bunch of options to play with there (we’d recommend experimenting, even if you have something you like—through exploring, you may find something even better).

Reading out loud will help you notice problems you maybe missed when reading it in your mind. And reading from a stranger’s perspective will help ensure you aren’t relying on things in your brain that need to be on the page (but aren’t).

You might also try reading it to a trusted family member, teacher, or friend. They might be able to give you some constructive feedback to make your piece more relatable or accessible for other people. Just keep in mind that some people may have a good sense of what makes for strong writing in general, but not necessarily what makes for a strong college essay specifically.

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Three personal statement examples (with analysis for why they worked)

This essay does a great job of using the Montage Structure to incorporate a bunch of different aspects of the applicant’s life into one coherent piece. You’ll notice that they use the TV show Cheers and the characters in it as a clothesline off which to “hang” their interest in computer science and graphic design, LGBTQ+ community allyship, and generally endearing nerdiness. This is a really clever way of bringing together seemingly disparate topics. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but tells a lot about the author and how she thinks. It also gives her a very clear structure for her essay. Each paragraph is devoted to one Cheers character and (more importantly) expounds on the ways the author connects to that individual. The essay has a clear purpose despite lacking a linear narrative.

Also notice that the author doesn’t necessarily have a super clear idea of what she wants to do, career-wise. However, she still incorporates specific details about how she’s synthesized computer science and artistic design in various clubs and events. She doesn’t explicitly have to tell us what her future career is for us to get a sense of what interests she might pursue in college. This is a prime example of how you can write an outstanding personal statement even if you don’t totally know what you want to do in college and haven’t faced a significant challenge.

Off the bat, one of the biggest things that stands out about this essay is the level of detail in it. In the intro, the author evokes very visceral images of blowing balloons in the summer, extra spoonfuls of ghee on rice, and riding bikes on rooftops. The more you can drop the reader into your world and engage their senses, the better. You want people to be able to identify with you so that they have a clear sense of who you are as a person. It also helps you stand out. The more specifically you write, the less likely it is that anyone else could have written it. That’s what this whole personal statement thing is all about—showing what you can uniquely bring to the table.

The other great thing about this essay is that it ends in a different place from where it begins. This shows insight and growth. The author goes from questioning her instincts and judgements to seeing her inherent value. She begins to gain confidence and see the positive ways in which she can contribute to the conversations she’s a part of. This transformation is important because it’s a hook that keeps people reading. They don’t know where the essay is going to take them, so they keep reading to see where the author will end up. It also demonstrates the applicant’s growth and ability to self-reflect, which are always great qualities to highlight in college essays.

This is another creative example of how you can go about writing a montage essay. The author uses her “mom vibe” to her advantage and discusses how her interest in attending to the people (and world) around her has influenced different spheres of her life. Notice how well the first line hooks us into the story. It’s short, sweet, funny, and visibly distinct from the denser paragraphs below. When you’re writing, think very carefully about your first sentence and the work it’s doing to rope your reader in. That first sentence is your first impression on readers, so you want it to be a good one.

One last standout aspect of this essay is the way it uses questions. In it, the author poses a lot of big and (oftentimes) unanswered questions. This is great because it highlights her natural curiosity and shows her mind in action. She doesn’t have to answer the questions for them to speak volumes about her personality and interests. Don’t feel like you have to resolve everything neatly by the end of your essay. That would be unrealistic, and ultimately, pretty uninteresting. It’s okay to pose questions for the sake of sheer wonder. In fact, it’s better than okay—it’s great. Nerd out a little. Have fun with it.

With all these writing/brainstorming strategies and example essays, the personal statement shouldn’t feel too intimidating anymore. Now you have all the tools you need to start writing an amazing essay.


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