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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Top tips on writing a personal statement

Read our guide to writing a personal statement, including how to approach writing it, what you can write about and more.

girl writing a personal statement

Almost every university will ask you to write a personal statement to gain a clearer idea of who you are and why you want to study a particular course. This is your chance to demonstrate your interests and skills to show that you should be considered for a place. If you’re an eighteen year old undergraduate, you have likely never attempted something like this before. When writing extensively about all your qualities, there’s also a delicate balance with not sounding repetitive or egotistical.


Writing a personal statement can seem daunting at first, but we’re here to point you in the right direction with this step-by-step guide. 


How to start a personal statement

The best way to begin your personal statement is with a plan. Your writing needs to be concise and to the point. Universities receive a lot of personal statements, with many indistinguishable from one another. You should take some time to think about what to include. Here are a few tips to help you start:

  • Write out a list of your reasons for choosing the course
  • Why do you think you would benefit from this teaching?
  • Mention any previous experience that relates to the subject


For some courses, work experience is obligatory. However, for others it is valued, but not compulsory. For example, if you want to study veterinary science, relevant experience tends to be a must, such as volunteering at an animal shelter or veterinary clinic.


Remember that your personal statement could be the deciding factor when being considered for a place on your desired course. Think about what each paragraph is trying to convey to avoid waffling. You might even want to ask a teacher, family member or friend about your strengths. Sometimes it can be hard to think of your achievements so a gentle nudge from others might be beneficial. In fact, at most colleges and sixth forms, teachers will have a wealth of experience when it comes to personal statements, so make sure you ask for help if you’re a bit stuck.


Complete all required information

It may seem basic, but fill out ALL the required information about you on the page. By failing to do so, you can come across as sloppy or inattentive to details. From an administrative perspective, missing details makes the lives of admissions staff tougher, and they are the ones with your destiny in their hands. It simply makes sense to appear as favourably as you can without them having met you. If they have to struggle to process your application because you have left out mandatory information, they may simply pass and move onto the next application in their very large pile.


What to include

Most prospective students around the world will be writing personal statements as part of their university applications, but there are a few requirements for international students in particular. See below for the key content you need to include:

  • Proof of English language proficiency (e.g. IELTS/TOEFL)
  • An explanation of why you want to study in that country
  • Why you want to study abroad instead of in your home country
  • Any skills you’ve acquired e.g. music grades, languages
  • Related wider reading
  • Work experience/volunteering/shadowing
  • Trips abroad
  • Clubs/activities you’ve been involved in
  • Career/academic goals

Don’t worry if you haven’t got any work experience, you can still sell yourself in other ways. For example, computer skills, interests and hobbies. Do you regularly visit museums and galleries? Are you part of a sports team? All of this helps to paint a picture of who you are and the points to the skills you might have gained.


Fancy a quick break? Watch our video of graduates reading back through their personal statements:



How should I write it?

The tone of your personal statement needs to be formal yet enthusiastic. Try to avoid humour as this could be off-putting and may be misunderstood by an admissions tutor. You should also steer clear of long sentences as this can affect readability. Aim for clear and concise writing, as this will help the reader to understand your key points.


To check whether your personal statement makes sense, read it out loud either on your own or to someone else. This will help you notice any grammatical or spelling mistakes which you might miss just reading silently. Making these mistakes could suggest that you didn’t double check your work or that you couldn’t be bothered. So, make sure that you triple check and proofread before submitting.


Show personality, but not too much

What you should take away is to distinguish yourself the best you can in your personal statement. You have to get across the individual that you are. While you may be applying for the same course as a hundred other students, you should stick out as unique and be remembered; just ensure it is for the right reasons! Unless requested to do so, do not include an image of yourself, nor anything to make your statement stand out. You will be asked to submit a portfolio of your work if you need to, for particular courses like art.


The tone of the statement should always be formal. Mentioning extra-curricular activities is always encouraged as they help distinguish you as a real person, as long as they reflect in some way the course you are applying to. Charitable endeavours or those activities affiliated with your previous educational community are usually received well. Think carefully about what your activities and personal interests say about you as a potential representative for that institution.


Don’t go wild with a thesaurus

Sometimes keeping things simple is for the best. If you can say something in five words rather than ten, do that. It can be tempting to use a thesaurus or look up synonyms online to appear more intellectual; but if you use too many in the wrong context, a sentence can lose all meaning. This is especially true if English isn’t your first language; if this applies to you, then writing a statement to even a good standard will impress whoever reads your statement (they will be well aware that you are an international student).


Most of all, make sure your statement is easy to read and flows well from one point to another in an order which makes sense. If you use a word incorrectly, it will stand out and be confusing. Written assignments may well be a key part of your assessments, and your statement will indicate if you will be capable of these. The key thing is that the officer enjoys reading your statement, and may one day want to meet you.


When should I start writing my personal statement?

Your school/college/sixth form should tell you when to start thinking about university and when to apply. As institutions can set their own application deadlines, particularly for international students, you should check the website of the university you are applying to first. There is such variation that we cannot provide a single deadline date for your personal statement.


How long does my personal statement need to be?

The word count varies according to each country and even each institution in some cases. In the UK, there is a 4000-character limit which equates to roughly 500 words. In Australia, you should aim for 700 words (approx. 1400 characters) and in the U.S. the recommended length is about 500-800 words. So, in general, a personal statement can be anywhere between one to two pages long, but we recommend checking with the institution you are applying to.


Now that you know more about writing a personal statement, why not start planning yours today!

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