Support for A-Level students

Make your UCAS personal statement stand out

These hints and tips will show you how to make the most of your work experience and activities in your personal statement. Your extra curricular activities and personal interests can help to show universities the following:

  • Your enthusiasm, commitment to and understanding of your chosen degree subject or future career path
  • The key skills you have learned from these activities and how these can be applied to studying at university, such as working in a team, being organised and taking initiative
  • That you are the type of student who will fit in on specific degree programmes and at the university to which you are applying

Most universities want to see the following five skills in their candidates:

  • Passion for the subject
  • Initiative
  • Commitment
  • Team player
  • Well organised

You still need to achieve the grades for your course, but remember that you will be competing with others who may have the minimum grades, as well as others who may have higher.   

Around 70% of your personal statement needs to demonstrate your understanding of the academic requirements of the courses for which you are applying. The remaining 30% can show how your interests demonstrate your passion for the subject, commitment, initiative and other skills.

Your personal statement needs to make you stand out against other applicants.  It needs to tell a story that shows you are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject you want to study and sets you apart from others who are applying for the same course.

We take each area below and show what you can pull out from your life and current activities to demonstrate these. Remember, you need to write your final personal statement as one flowing piece of narrative, just use the headings below to guide you. 

Passion for the subject

You need to be confident in explaining why you love the subject(s which you have chosen to apply for. Remember, this could be tricky if you are applying for several different subject areas at a number of universities.

Find a thread or theme between the courses and then show your passion for this area. For example, if you are applying for both fashion courses and to business schools your personal statement could reflect your desire to run your own fashion business in due course. This way you can combine two different passions and demonstrate experience in both fields which you’re looking to study.

Your personal statement needs to tell a consistent story, so the admissions team look at it and easily recognise that this applicant is serious about working in their chosen field, such as working with children or writing for magazines. Even if you have only just decided on your course and are still not exactly sure about what career you want, your interest in that subject must be convincing.

Some examples of this in action would be:

Graphic Design

Work experience with an advertising agency and a web designer

Entered an art competition

Produced posters for your school’s drama club

Helped your local church to design a new notice board

Designed and made a booklet for a local music concert

Business

At school you were the marketing director for the Young Enterprise business contest, you came up with the idea of personalised stickers for laptops

You were on the school prom committee and did the budget

You undertook work experience with three local businesses

Teacher

You did a two week placement at your local primary school and will be working there for two terms in your gap year

Worked at a summer camp

Helped coach the Cub team at football

Physiotherapist

Been a St John Ambulance First Aider

Did a two week placement at a local primary school and will be working there for two terms in your gap year

At your part-time job in a cafe you are the nominated first aider

Performance

Taken ballet lessons and have been in the school’s annual show every year, with lead performances in most years

Member of a local community group and wrote a play for them to put on, including the choreography for a dance routine in it

Last summer, with three friends, you produced our own mini-movie and put it on YouTube and it has had 1350 hits

History

Work experience at a local museum

Helping an historian carry out research for a book he is writing on the local town

Passionate about the Romans and visited Fishbourne Roman Palace and Hadrian's Wall to broaden your understanding

 

Showcase your skills

Write down all the projects and activities that you are involved with, both in school and outside of your studies. These may include:

  • Painting the scenery for your drama club
  • Playing football every Sunday for your local club
  • Organising a team to enter the regional schools’ chemistry competition
  • Running a faith group class for young children
  • Entering a robot design competition
  • Taking part in a dance display
  • Part-time job in a shop
  • Responsibility for cooking at a summer Scout camp
  • Peer mentoring at school with students in Year 7
  • Baking cakes for a cake stall that raised £145 for charity
  • St John Ambulance First Aider
  • Having a newspaper round
  • Editor of the school newsletter

Let's take some of these examples and see what skills they demonstrate:

Example: Playing football every Sunday for your local club

I got up at 7am every Sunday morning for the last three years to play football for my local team, we have won eight out of this season’s ten matches.

Skills: well organised, team player, commitment, passion for football, sporting skill

Example: St John Ambulance First Aider

I have attended weekly evening training sessions and events for the St John’s Ambulance, where I am a first aider, and have only missed two events in the last year. I suggested that we change the way we organise the rota to help at events, this has made everyone much happier and more reliable at attending events.

Skills: well organised, commitment, initiative, interest in health and physiology

 

Example: Baking cakes for a cake stall that raised £145 for charity

I suggested that our class raise funds for a local charity after they came and did a talk to our school. I got approval from the Headmaster to hold the stall and organised the event from start to finish, designing flyers to advertise the sale, designated jobs to my classmates, handled money on the day and kept tally of what was sold. We raised a total of £145 for the charity.

Skills: initiative, team player, organised, leadership, passion to help others, financial responsibility, business sense

Example: Part-time job in a shop

I wrote a CV and dropped it into 20 shops in my local town to see if they needed part time staff. I successfully got a Saturday job, which I’ve held for the last two years, and I’ve never had a day off sick or missed a shift. I’ve also recently been promoted to a supervisor role. I also offered to help do the window displays, I did some sketches and discussed them with my manager and she used all my ideas for the next display.

Skills: initiative, organised, committed team player, passion for design

Example: Peer mentoring at school with students in Year 7

I was trained within school to support younger children in Year 7 with their classwork and any other problems they may have, they could approach me at lunchtimes to ask questions and get help. This also helped the teaching staff know if there were any problems within the year group which they should be aware of.

Skills: responsibility, approachability, reliability, caring for others

Example: Editor of the school newsletter

I worked with other students to write, research, produce and compile items for the school’s termly newsletter. As Editor I selected news items for the newsletter and proofread the content before publication.

Skills: leadership, responsibility, meeting deadlines, creative writing

Example: Entered regional schools’ chemistry competition

I found out about a competition online then went to my Science teacher and got her to let us enter competition. I submitted the application form, got a team of six class members together, led the research in the project and we were semi-finalists in the competition.

Skills: team player, well organised, team player, leadership, understanding of chemistry

Writing your personal statement

When you write your personal statement you need to start with an outline structure. List information that you need in your statement, create a Mind Map (PDF, 22.9Kb) or Spider Diagram (PDF, 19.8Kb) to help you sort the information then use headings to start your writing off:

  • Why do you want to do the course?
  • What do you know about the subject?
  • What are your future career aims?
  • Any relevant work experience which can demonstrate particular skills or ability relating to the subject you intend to study
  • Achievements, such as Duke of Edinburgh Award, mentoring, voluntary work, awards won as part of of teams or clubs
  • Skills, as outlined in the examples in section two
  • Extra-curricular activities, particularly highlighting how they are relevant to the degree subject
  • Closing paragraph

What is the university looking for from your personal statement?

  • Why the course interests you, in relation to your academic and life experiences
  • Your career aspirations
  • Any work experience relating to the course you intend to study, what you learned
  • Extra-curricular activities and how these link to the course you’re interested in
  • Demonstration of skills and experiences; diplomacy, problem solving, initiative
  • Positions of responsibility you have held; school council, voluntary work
  • Details of any gap year plans, if relevant

 Top tips for writing your personal statement

  • Find out as much as you can about the courses you wish to study. Use the UCAS website (https://www.ucas.com) and university websites
  • Use point size 12 and a clear, easily readable font choice (such as Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond or Calibri)
  • Be honest. If challenged at interview about something on your CV, could you explain it?
  • Don't ramble to fill up space
  • Don't start too many sentences with "I"
  • Write in your own words, not copied from the internet
  • Correct grammar and punctuation. Remember there is no grammar or spell check on UCAS form so do your work in a word processing document first
  • Substantiate evidence of knowledge and interest in the subject, such as through attending lectures, wider reading, documentaries, relevant work experience and activities related to the subject you wish to study
  • Don't leave gaps in your education history, if it has been disrupted it's best to explain why
  • You can be light-hearted at times, but be careful of using humour
  • Don't just list what you're interested in or do, you need to explain it
  • Back statements up with evidence
  • Be positive and use keywords and phrases
  • If talking about group projects talk about what YOU did, not what the group did
  • Finally, get someone to proof read and check your personal statement before you submit it

Good luck!