Getting Started with your Personal Statement

By Karen Lee

(Published on 8 October 2021)

Supporting students with their personal statements is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my work as an admissions consultant. The personal statement, as part of the UCAS application in the UK, is a unique type of essay that stands between argumentative and descriptive writings. It differs greatly from the Common App essays in the US, which many find hard to grasp.

Why can’t I use my US essays for my UCAS application?

US and UK universities evaluate applicants quite differently. Most US universities adopt what we called a “holistic admission” process: not only do they assess your grades and test scores, but they also consider your extracurriculars and personal achievements. The Common App reflects that focus by phrasing their essay prompts to get students to tell a story of themselves that goes beyond academics.

On the other hand, the UK admissions are by and large about the academic field you are applying to study. Therefore, your personal statement should demonstrate your suitability, passion and commitment for the subject field, which is very different from the US essays in nature and style.

How important is your personal statement?

Universities build a picture of you from all the different information you provide to help decide whether or not to offer you a place. The picture is made up of several different pieces: your academic record, predicted grades, teacher’s reference, personal statement and in some cases, interview performance. That’s why your personal statement is an integral part of your application – it helps the admissions office to fully contextualise your application and get to know you beyond the biographical information and academic data.

While your personal statement is important, it’s not everything: it’s just one part of the overall picture. There are a few ways universities use your statement – it could be used to shortlist candidates for further stages, help decide between two candidates who are otherwise tied, or form the discussion basis of interviews (which are often the case of Oxbridge admissions). Oxford and Cambridge expect to see evidence of students’ wider engagement with areas of academic interest, and the personal statement is the best place to include these!

How should I begin?

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Your personal statement should be centred around your chosen course. Decide what you are applying to study first, and start your statement by explaining why you chose it.
  2. Do not confine your first few drafts to the word limits, as it might deaden your creativity. Put down everything relevant to the field of studies, including your motivation, understanding and aspiration. You can always cut down the words in later versions.
  3. Instead of overthinking the perfect opening, sometimes it is easier to work on other paragraphs first. The first (and last) paragraph will come naturally to you once you have the main content in place.
  4. You should tell the university something new in your statement. Avoid repeating information such as your curriculum and grades, as these are already included in other sections of your UCAS application.
  5. If you’re finding yourself stuffing non-academic interests into your personal statement, remember extracurriculars that are of no relevance to your chosen course will not increase your chances of receiving an offer.

About The Edge

The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off another successful period in which students gained acceptance to schools such as Columbia, Yale, UChicago, and more! Check out our latest Admissions Results!

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