A powerful personal statement can turn a merely good application into an outstanding one. Conversely a bad one can turn an outstanding application into something decidedly average! A top class personal statement can make the difference between an offer and a rejection. 

University applicants are everywhere

It is highly likely that the course you want to pursue will be oversubscribed. The aim is to receive an offer. The UCAS form should clearly lead the admissions tutor to that outcome - from the choice of institution to course choice, right grades to teacher reference and onward to personal statement. In short, it must all be congruent. An admissions tutor has hundreds, if not thousands, of application forms to read and make a decision on every year. You've no doubt seen the admissions statistics in the prospectus for your course - competitive describes it well. Your application form will get a maximum of 1 to 2 minutes eye-time. The window of opportunity to get an offer is slim so make the most of it.

The personal statement serves the same purpose that the covering letter does to the CV or an application for the job. It moves your application form beyond a mere and endless line of exam grades and 'A' level subjects by giving a narrative to them. A personal insight into your identity, motivations, values and passions. The statement should be clear, concise and lively. It should be composed of 3 parts - similar to a short essay - with a beginning, middle and an end. This structure ensures your statement flows. As a general rule of thumb, the split should be about 65%-35%, academic to non-academic.


  • Why have you applied to do that course? Your motivations, so to speak (do a brainstorm). What is it about that course that interests you? You need to have done some reading around your subject - this is mandatory. Your subject will have themes, big debates, pick on these. Mention what interests you and why.
  • Show a willingness to actually study this subject at a higher level - 3 years is a long time - your course is what will get you out of bed in the morning at university. Why are you studying this? Is it for yourself or for your parents?
  • Your reasons for your subject choice at AS/A2 - relate this to the course you are applying to. For example - in Economics, I found games theory and prisoners dilemma to be fascinating as it showed how individuals can achieve the best possible outcomes in negotiation situations.


  • Work experience and how it is relevant to your degree: Unless you actually want to be an academic, university and employment prospects are intertwined. Degree-related internships/work experience shows initiative, commitment and real thought.
  • Career goals post university: What will this degree allow you to do? I presume you want to use the knowledge you've gained over the 3 years. If you are applying for Geography, you could say it's a prelude to pursuing RICS/RTIP professional qualifications.
  • Gap year: Please follow Tip 6 and 10. Spending a year travelling may be appealing. Alternatively, I would recommend a gap year scheme which combines work and travel - money and fun. Examples would be Year in Industry (www.yini.org.uk), Deloitte Scholars Scheme and Horizons (Accenture) Gap Year scheme.
  • Extra-curricular: If you were captain of the debating society, please write this, but NOT just this - what did it teach you? For example, 'I was captain of the debating society, I chaired a debate on x, I learnt how to summarise and convey my arguments cogently and rebut spurious claims...this will prove useful in seminars.' A part-time job may have taught you time management, money and relationship skills.
  • Special Personal Achievements: Such as first aid, sailing certificate and musical instruments.
  • Hobbies/Interests: Please do not list the 50 things you did since age 5 and all the fancy holidays you have been on - no one cares. Pick 1 or 2 things important to you, say why and what you get out of them.  Use them to sell your character and strengths.
  • 2 to 3 sentences max! Sum up everything you have said thus far and tie it all together. I quite like: 'In finality, my application conveys my academic prowess, commitment, research and passion to pursue advanced studies in Economics.'

8 Actions You Can Do Today

1. Some subjects you may have chosen to do at university may not be taught at 'A' level or perhaps the degree has very different content, for example - philosophy. The 'Readers and Writers' series, 'A very short introduction' and 'Teach yourself' books are excellent. You start with these broad, introductory books, some topics will interest/strike you. You then look these up in the big detailed books. Why read War & Peace when you can read the abridged edition? Work smart.

2. Mould A level subjects. In History, we had a module requiring an independent research study. I was applying to read Economics & History so I did a study on inflation in 16th century England.

3. A lot of single honours courses are very oversubscribed. A joint-honours degree could increase your chances of getting a place, especially if the other half is slightly odd. Take a close look at statistics for previous years.

4. Ask a friend/someone independent, whose opinion you trust, to glance at your statement for 30 seconds - what is memorable? Which parts they are drawn to?

5.  Be specific. Do not say I enjoyed x as that helps no-one - say why! What specifically about the experience did you like, learn from and how will it help you at university?

6. SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) must be impeccable. Ask for help, there is a lot available.

7.  Be critical about yourself. Let us assume you applied for Anatomy at Bristol. The website says - 440 applicants for 44 places - so the question you should ask yourself is why should a tutor choose you over 9 others? What makes you so good? To assist you, honestly answer the questions in the main article. Think about the competition, what do they have that you don't? Once you've got that figured out, you can now take action to better them.

8. Every experience should be ABC - Approach it, Bridge it to yourself and then Convey it.

Read our collection of personal statement examples to help get your statement off to a great start today.