Personal statement and reference writing advice

Writing a personal statement

Personal Statements

Personal (or supporting) statements are a standard component of applications not only for full and part time HE study but also for job applications. Adult vocational learners are in a particularly strong position when making applications, because of maturity, life and work experience and focus and commitment to their career. Younger vocational learners also have an advantage over those A-level students with little or no work experience. Vocational learners need to make the most of their work experience, particularly when relevant to the course being applied for.

How to approach the personal statement

Learners need to make sure they avoid just describing their academic experience, but actually reflect on what they have learnt and how this relates to the course they are applying for.

The ABC approach is a good starting point to use:

Action - explain the action - what have they done?
Benefit - highlight how this action had benefited them
Course - link it to relevance of the Course they are applying to

What Admissions Staff are looking for

All admissions tutors will be looking for evidence that applicants:

  • Are enthusiastic about the subject.
  • Are motivated. Have they thought of why they want to go on to HE? Do they understand what is involved?
  • How committed are they?
  • Are they an interesting person? They don’t want people that won’t contribute to class discussions or who won’t get involved in university life. These are the students that are often more likely to drop out early.
  • Have the capability to succeed on their course. They want reassurance that they will be able to obtain the grades required and cope once they are on their course.
  • Are able to write clearly and concisely? They will also be looking for any spelling, punctuation or grammatical mistakes.
  • Can they provide evidence that they are developing effective study skills.?
  • Have some experience of the world of work (particularly for vocational courses).
  • Broad key skills (teamwork, communication, able to work under pressure and meet deadlines etc.).

Admissions staff will use personal statements to:

  • Help them decide who to make offers to and who to reject.
  • Decide which applicants to interview.
  • Develop lines of questioning during an interview.


What to include in a personal statement

Below are some suggestions of what applicants should include in a personal statement:

  • Why they have chosen the course(s): they need to show enthusiasm for their chosen subject.
  • The reasons why that subject area interests them: e.g. relevant books, articles, journals read, conferences, workshops attended, relevant people spoken to, relevant work experience gained etc.
  • Evidence that they understand what is required to study the course, e.g. if applying for Nursing courses, showing that they know how scientific the subject is.
  • Where applicable, demonstrating an understanding of the profession they are applying to train towards (e.g. Nursing, Physiotherapy, Social Work, Law, Architecture).
  • How their current or previous studies relate to the course(s) that they have chosen.
  • How they are developing effective study skills.
  • why they want to progress to Higher Education, e.g. how completing this course will help them achieve their long term career plans.
  • Details of jobs, placements, work experience or voluntary work, particularly if relevant to the chosen course(s) and what they have gained from these experiences that are relevant to their application.
  • Hobbies, interests and social activities that demonstrate relevant skills and abilities.

Common Mistakes made when completing a Personal Statement

  • Beginning with “I have always wanted to study/to be a…” or “Ever since I was young I wanted to...” Learners need to think of an interesting beginning. (see the later section on Personal Statement opening sentences)
  • Describing activities/responsibilities/interests without stating what experiences and skills have been gained and why this is relevant to the course they want to study: don’t tell, show.
  • Getting tied up using complicated words. If they are enthusiastic about their subject it should come through without confusing the tutor with long rambling sentences.
  • Apply for lots of different subjects – it makes writing an effective personal statement impossible.
  • Making a statement specific to one institution – it will not please the other 4!
  • Repeating information that admissions staff can find on the rest of the form.
  • Only using a small amount of the space available.
  • Copying other personal statements available on the web. UCAS use Copycatcher software on all applications.
  • Poor spelling, punctuation etc. If the applicant can’t write 1 side of A4 without making mistakes how will they cope with an extended essay or dissertation?


Personal Statement opening sentences

In 2015 UCAS complied a list of the 10 most overused opening sentences, which students would be wise to avoid:

1. I am currently studying a BTEC National Diploma in ... (used 464 times)
2. From a young age I have always been interested in ... (309 times)
3. From an early age I have always been interested in ... (292 times)
4. Nursing is a very challenging and demanding career ... (275 times)
5. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with ... (196 times)
6. "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only” ... (189 times)
7. Nursing is a profession I have always looked upon with ... (178 times)
8. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in ... (166 times)
9. I am an International Academy student and have been studying since ... (141 times)
10. Academically, I have always been a very determined and ... (138 times)


'UCAS Guide to Getting into University and College'

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