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How to write the perfect personal statement

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So you’ve picked what you want to study and where you want to study it. Great! Now all you have to do is convince your chosen universities that you are a perfect match, and you’ve only got 4,000 characters to do it… Oh, and you’re not alone – more than half a million students apply to university through UCAS every year – so how do you stand out from the crowd? Don’t worry, writing your statement isn’t as difficult as it might seem when you’re staring at an empty Word document. Here are some top tips on how to write the perfect personal statement.

Girl writing on notepad


Do your research

University course webpages or prospectuses often mention the qualities and skills that you’ll need to study the course, or might graduate with once you’ve completed it. If you can demonstrate any of these already, or at least show a desire to gain them, you’ll be showing that you understand what is required of you. Try to think of examples where you’ve used these qualities in other areas of your life, perhaps at school, college or work, or in extra-curricular activities, and explain how these have shaped your understanding of the subject.

Charlotte Earl-Sinha, Admissions Tutor in Pharmacy Practice & Clinical Therapeutics here at Sunderland adds: “For Pharmacy applicants, I look to see if students can show me the personality traits that I would expect a pharmacist to exhibit, for example, empathy, a positive and mature attitude, caring nature, problem-solving abilities, awareness of health. I am not necessarily looking for work experience in the pharmacy world, although that would be an added bonus, but anything that can demonstrate that they have a thirst for knowledge and a genuine interest in caring for others would always be looked favourably upon.”


Show a genuine interest

Universities want to make sure you’ll enjoy their course, so no matter how clued up you are on the subject, if you don’t convey a real passion or enthusiasm in your chosen field, their admissions team may have doubts about whether it’s the right course for you. You could be dedicating three or more years to your course, so you’ll need to show that you are fully committed.

Charlotte says: “I would always say that what I am looking for in a personal statement is a genuine (not gushing) interest in the subject area, and examples of what attracted the student to the course and ultimately the profession to which they are going to enter.”


Keep it simple

Don’t try to overcomplicate your personal statement to try and show how intelligent you are. A university will value genuine enthusiasm over a passionless dictionary regurgitation. You’ll need to convey an understanding of your subject, but you only have 4,000 characters to use, so don’t waste these on unnecessarily long words or explanations. Universities know what their degrees are about; they want to know what you understand and enjoy about the subject.

You also need to bear in mind that if you focus too much on your subject, your personal statement is likely to end up sounding just like everyone else’s. You are what sets your personal statement apart, so make sure you focus on your experience and what you want to achieve, and avoid being too generic.

Paul Jameson, of the Student Recruitment team here at the University of Sunderland adds: “Remember you are applying for a place on a course at university, not the end job you’re hoping this will lead to. Although important to mention these ambitions within your personal statement, Admissions tutors are looking for examples of how you’d make a good candidate for their course.”


Get a second opinion

You don’t need to write a perfect personal statement at the first attempt, and you don’t need to do it on your own either. Your teacher, tutor, work colleague, a parent or carer, or even a friend may be happy to give a first draft a read to make sure you’re not forgetting anything – perhaps a strength you hadn’t considered or some experience you’d overlooked. Make sure once you are happy with it, that you also have a final version run past someone else; they’ll be better placed to spot any simple errors or typos that you might have missed.

Bear in mind that some courses may require a more specific personal statement. For these courses you might benefit from seeking further advice.

At the University of Sunderland, we offer 1:1 UCAS support sessions at our City Campus, which you can book a session on by contacting our Student Helpline on 0191 515 3000 or student.helpline@sunderland.ac.uk.