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Question thread for 2013-14 HERE
The UCAS Personal Statement is an important part of a university application as it is the only opportunity that you have to write at length about why you want to study the course you are applying for and to set yourself apart from other applicants with the skills and experiences you have to offer. For many people this may be the first time they have had to write an important piece of prose about themselves. TSR has a number of good resources to help you with your statement:
Where should I post?
Drafts/content from your personal statement
Any content from your statement, either single sentences or complete drafts should be posted in the private Personal Statement Help forum. Personal Statement Help is a private forum visible only to a selective group of PS Helpers who have all been to university and can review and offer advice on your Personal Statement. For more information on how the forum works please read the Personal Statement Help FAQ.
DO NOT post your drafts or PS content anywhere else on TSR outside of PS Help as there is a risk it may be plagiarised.
If you see anyone posting a full PS or even part of it, please report the post using the ! mark button in the top right corner of the post so that the moderators can remove it.
General questions about personal statements
General questions about personal statements, what they should include, style and character/line limits should be posted in this thread. However this first post will attempt to answer many of them so read this before posting.
Subject specific questions
If your query is specific to a particular course or university you are applying to, for example how important books are to a Law Personal Statement, this should go in the appropriate University and University Courses sub-forum. Regulars in these forums are more likely to be able to answer your specific questions.
Before posting your query or draft have a read of the following:
How long can my personal statement be?
The UCAS form you fill in using UCAS Apply has both a character and a line limit for the Personal Statement section, and your statement must conform to both:
- Maximum of 4000 characters (including spaces). Generally you probably want to be aiming for 3000-3500 characters to allow room for line breaks and still be within the 47 line limit.
- Maximum of 47 lines, as measured on the UCAS Apply form. The only way to check this is to try inputting your statement into the form and it will tell you how many lines you are using. In MS Word Times New Roman at 12 point, with 3.17cm left and right margins gives a reasonably close approximation for the line count on the UCAS form.
Generally speaking, the 47 line limit is more important and relevant than the 4000 characters and so it is important to check when writing your draft how many lines you are using in addition to how many characters. You don't want to perfect your statement only to find it doesn't fit!
If you enter/submit a statement which is too long then the remaining lines or characters will simply be chopped off the bottom of your statement, even if that is mid sentence or mid word.
Formatting in the UCAS Apply form
The Personal Statement section of the UCAS Apply form will convert any text you enter to a standard format (font size and style). You cannot get around the line limit by writing in a smaller font. You cannot use bold, italic or underline text to emphasise as this will not be retained in the final form.
The form also removes any excess spaces automatically, so if you use tabs or spaces to indent paragraphs this will not be retained in the final form. Similarly double spaces between sentences will become a single space. The only way to separate paragraphs is through a linebreak (pressing return twice) and this will be retained in the final form. Each linebreak is included in your line limit, but if space allows it is recommended that you do this as it makes your statement more readable. Remember an admissions tutor looks at hundreds of statements so you want to make their lives easy!
The formatting is unable to recognise non-conventional characters so you shouldn't use é, á and other accents in your statement. Style also dictates that you should avoid characters like & and numbers (1, 2, 3...) should be written in full (one, two, three...). Once you're happy with your statement and have pasted it into your form and previewed it, read it or print it out before you submit it to check that the formatting is as you expect!
So what's the point of a personal statement anyway?
The Personal Statement is your opportunity to talk directly to the admissions tutor and to tell them why you want to study the subject you are applying for and why you think you are well suited to studying it. Everything in your PS should therefore relate to:
- Why you are interested in the subject, and why you want to study it further
- What relevant experiences you have both academically and socially and how these experiences give you the necessary skills for study at degree level
- Your diversity as an individual, demonstrating a wide range of interest and experiences.
In addition to this you hope to demonstrate that you have an appreciation of what is required of the course you are applying for, that you have the ability to write in coherent sentences and can form a compelling and focused argument.
Where do I start?
The first thing to do before you begin writing your statement is to think about what it is that the statement requires (see above) and to gain an appreciation of the style/format it should be written in. Many of the resources on the TSR wiki are useful at this early stage:
Once you have familiarised yourself with the general expectation and style of a PS then you can start to plan your statement. Instead of jumping in and trying to write a first draft, brainstorm your experiences and the skills that you gained from these. Having done this you can write a more structured plan to think about what paragraphs each experience belongs in.
What is the structure of a personal statement?
There is no set structure for a PS, but the most commonly used structure is something like this:
This structure is only a guide and will be dependent both on the subject you are applying for and your own experiences. You may have lots of work experience or you may not and so the exact structure is unique to you.
Ensure that you fully check the PS requirements for every university as some have very strict requirements.
LSE PS Help: here
UCL PS guidelines: here. Take note of the guidelines for applicants who are studying a language at A level/Higher. If it is your 2nd/3rd/xth language you MUST say this in your PS.
Most universities give subject guidance for what they are looking for in the PS somewhere on their website. Ensure you take note and use it.
How much of my statement should be extra-curricular activities and how much academic?
The rule of thumb is that your statement should be approximately 2/3 academic and 1/3 extra-curricular. Your application is for an academic course and so should focus primarily on your academic abilities and experiences. Extra-curricular activities show diversity and provide a good opportunity to discuss the transferable skills you have developed. However, these should still be discussed with regard to how these pursuits make you well-suited to studying the course. These hobbies should not take up more than 1-2 short paragraphs in your statement.
Can I include quotes in my statement?
You can, but use them sparingly. Using a quotation doesn't make you intelligent and it's not personal to you. Universities are not interested in what Aristotle/Wittgenstein/Einstein/Luther King said about the world - they want to know what YOU think, so it is often best to use your own words. It's quite possible that many other applicants have used the same quotation and your 'unique' quote is far from it. As a general rule, quotes should only be used where they are used to show an interest in the subject and should actually be discussed in the PS. Don't just put a quote in because you like it or because it sounds intelligent. You might like to look at this thread, especially post #15, for more advice on this.
How important is work experience?
The importance of work experience depends on the course you are applying for. If you are applying to a course like medicine or another vocational subject then relevant work experience is very important and should be used to highlight the skills you have shown and developed which are important on the course (bedside manner for example in the case of medicine). For a more theoretical subject like mathematics it is very hard to get relevant work experience and it is not expected.
Can I mention my module marks in my statement?
There's nothing to stop you mentioning module marks if they are particularly good, but things like this are actually better going in your reference from your school which accompanies your application and you can ask them to mention it. Other things which are better in your reference:
- Extenuating circumstances as to why you did badly in a particular module/GCSEs/AS levels
- Reasons why you didn't take particular courses (for example because your school didn't offer it).
- Background of your school - if your school wasn't the best and you were surrounded by troublesome classmates don't put it in your PS, get it mentioned in your reference.
Applying to universities to study law is difficult enough without taking into account the UCAS personal statement word limit.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?! There is a word limit for the UCAS personal statement?”
Technically it’s a character limit, but yes, in short there is a limit to the length your UCAS personal statement can be. But it’s nothing to worry about. In fact wouldn’t you rather have a limit than be constantly worried that you’ve rambled far too much and focussed on non-important matters?
Dealing with the personal statement character limit
Regardless, the ‘word’ limit is 47 lines of text, or 4000 characters. This equates to (roughly) 500 words. UCAS recommend that you write out your personal statement in a word processor before copying and pasting it into the online application. This is because some word processors get different values if they don’t include spaces in their character count.
So, 4000 characters to sell yourself and earn your place on a competitive law course. Easy, right?
What to include in a law personal statement
In short, you should address two broad points in your personal statement – why you are applying for law and what makes you suitable.
When writing your personal statement remember that you need to address up to five universities. Generally, prospective university students tend to apply for the same course, or similar courses, so checking prospectuses and course profiles for the qualities universities look for in candidates.
For example, to study law at the University of Nottingham, students must “wish to study law as an academic discipline”. Therefore, you must outline in your personal statement what interests and motivates you to study law at university. The university also outline how you can “specialise in areas of law according to your own interests and future career plans”, prompting you to explain what areas of law you find most interesting, and where you see your career heading after you’ve finished your degree (*cough* vacation scheme and training contract *cough*). This covers the ‘why you are applying’ point.
As for what makes you suitable, as well as talking about your academic record and work ethic, you should also spend a bit of time speaking about your extracurricular activities. Universities want to take on students who have a personality, not just A* machines. Link your activities with valuable legal skills such as leadership, timekeeping (for all those 9am lectures) and the ability to work as part of a team.
Using your words wisely
“But how can I communicate all of my achievements and ambitions in just 500 words?” Being succinct is a skill. You will have word limits throughout your university studies, so see this limit as your first test. It also tests you to cut out information that isn’t wholly relevant.
UCAS personal statements are a toughie, but drafting and redrafting is part of the process, and you won’t get it absolutely spot on first time. Remember to stick to the limits and don’t forget to proofread!