5 Tips for writing your UCAS personal statement

As well as being a science teacher and tutor for a very long time, I’ve also been involved a lot with helping Sixth Form students complete their UCAS applications and personal statements – especially for science subjects as well as medicine and veterinary.

If you’re currently struggling to write your personal statement, or supporting a student who is, these are my top five tips from the experience I’ve had. Although I’m particularly aiming these at students applying for science, engineering or medical courses, they apply to anyone!

Provide evidence for your attributes

It’s common for students to write a big list of all the things they want universities to know about them – they’re reliable, intelligent, hard-working, a great communicator, resilient… These are all great attributes, but anyone could write this – where is your evidence? Match up your personal achievements and activities with what it says about you.

For example, a part time job you did alongside your A Levels can show that you’re reliable and good at managing your time. Sporting activities could be evidence of you working as part of a team. Make sure you don’t pick things that everyone does, like using your coursework as an example of working to a deadline!

Don’t focus too much on ‘soft skills’

This is something that happens all the time in applications for medicine. You’ve spent countless hours volunteering in hospitals or care homes, you’ve worked with children, fundraised for charity and just want to show the admissions tutor how much you literally ooze compassion for those in need. The thing is, although it is important for medics to have compassion and empathy – medicine is a challenging course and profession. What evidence do you have about your academic ability or how you handle pressure and stress?

Apply the ‘so what’ rule

You don’t get many words to sell yourself, and you need to make the best impression you can. Read through every sentence and ask yourself ‘so what?’. What purpose does that sentence serve – what does it tell the person reading it about you? Does it clearly put across what you want to, and is it repeating anything you’ve already said somewhere else? This is a good time to get friends, family and teachers to do this for you, but make sure they are honest – there’s no point holding back just to avoid hurting your feelings!

Talk about the future as well as the past

You may have been quite the academic high-flyer in secondary school, but you need to show that you have actually researched the course you’re applying to. Why did you choose this course? What did you do recently that demonstrates your interest in this subject – no one wants to hear about your science fair prize in year 9 when you could be talking about a recent project, article you’ve read or online course you’ve participated in. Find examples to prove that you understand what the course entails, and consider what you might want to do with your degree afterwards – what’s your five year plan? 

Make sure it sounds like you

There is so much pressure to write a ‘perfect’ personal statement that there’s a real danger it ends up sounding nothing like you. In particular, you should avoid overreliance on tools such as thesauruses and AI to help write your statement. Don’t use too many words or over the top words like ‘passionate’ or ‘astonished’. Nobody believes that you have ‘always been fascinated by engineering, for as long as I remember’ and your fall down the stairs as a five year old is not a good enough reason to apply to be an orthopaedic surgeon! If you do look at other people’s examples or use AI prompts, be VERY careful – your statement will be automatically checked and quickly rejected if it’s found to be not your own.

Claire Costello-Kelly

Claire Costello-Kelly

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