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University Advice ❱❱ What are Universities Looking For in a Personal Statement?

What are Universities Looking For in a Personal Statement?

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Universities are looking for a number of things within an applicant’s personal statement. Many institutions don’t interview candidates; therefore the only information they have about you is in your UCAS application and personal statement. A lot of your information is within your UCAS form; your personal details, grades, predicted grades, references and your personal statement. The personal statement is the only section that you have full control over what is included, whereas the previous sections guide your answers and ask for specific information. The personal statement is the only section that you can sell yourself to the admissions tutor or course leader, even if your grades don’t particularly reflect this. Looking through examples of Personal Statements will give you ideas to write the best Personal Statement so that you will outshine other students, you can even use a Personal Statement Editor!

What are universities looking for in a personal statement?

Universities and higher education colleges are looking for the answers to two main questions:

  • Do we want this student on this degree course?
  • Do we want this student at this university?

The information you give in the UCAS application and what you write about in your personal statement will answer these questions. Although, you will also need to be aware of the UCAS Application jargon, too. 

Universities want students who are certain about their application

The first thing that universities like to read about is how much you want to study at their university. The fact that you have worked through the entire application and written a personal statement shows that you know what you want to do. It displays that you have thought about your decisions, looked at several universities and chosen them. This shows personal dedication, showing you can make decisions.

Universities look for students who are interested in the subject

Prospective candidates need to prove that they are interested in the subject of the degree course. This can be shown by writing about why and how you came to love the subject, your previous qualifications and the reasoning behind you choosing that degree course.

Show how dedicated you are to your academic career

Individuals need to provide proof of how they care about their education through talking about any hardships, and how they overcome them, during their studies. Maybe you found some parts of your Chemistry A-Level difficult, but you took up an extra class dedicated to revision to conquer the difficulties.

Tell them that you are a good investment

Universities will have thousands of students apply to their courses during UCAS season. It can be hard for them to narrow down their decisions and choose which students to take on. Candidates can write about how hard they have worked during their A-Levels and work experiences to show how hardworking they are, and that you won’t drop out of the degree course. Even if you feel that there are areas of your application which fall short, such as, failing an A-Level exam and re-sitting the exam the following year. Although it may feel like you shouldn’t include this in your personal statement, if you tell them why you failed, and re-sat the exam it will display your determination to achieve that grade, and study at university.

Research the degree course and subject area

Universities will not be impressed if a student does not discuss the subject or degree course during their personal statement. When you talk about your career aspirations and what steps you need to do in order to achieve this, it shows that you have researched it well. It is then visible that you are dedicated and understand the subject well, and what the degree course can lead to after.

Universities look for students who can write a personal statement

An obvious trait that universities like their candidates to have is the ability to write well and hold impressive communication skills. Students will need to communicate, through their essays, exams and project work, that they can convey their ideas through their work. It will be obvious through your writing that you are able to write at a university level when you have a successful personal statement.

Universities like students who can work under pressure

Most degree courses are laid out in the same manner, with the last year being the toughest of the three (or four) years. The first and second year will have students gradually progress until they are at Level 6 in their final year, and in their final project. Individuals can talk about how they adjusted to their A-Levels and how they overcome and issues. Universities will not only see that you can work through problems, but that you can cope with the demands of the course due to your past experiences. The final year of a degree can be a difficult year, but students will have progressed academically and emotionally making it easier for them to adapt and work under pressure.

Will you meet the entry requirements?

Institutions look for candidates that will have the right grades for their course. Entry requirements are set, and vary from degree course to universities themselves. It may be that your firm and insurance offers have varying entry requirements, or even that there are two similar courses at a university that have different entry requirements. The necessary qualifications are listed as they are pre-requisites for the course, meaning you need to pass them before studying this subject. Such as, holding Maths, Biology and Chemistry A-Levels to study Biology at university. It may not seem that you need Maths at A-Level to study Biology, but there are lots of mathematical elements featured in the subject, making it necessary.

Showing you have attention to detail

When you are expressing why you want to study that course, talk about specific aspects that interest you. It can be difficult to cater the personal statement to more than one universities, but as you should be applying to similar courses, they can feature similar elements. For example, two different Film Studies degree courses may both have a gender and sexuality module which you find interesting. You can talk about why that module interests you. Just ensure you don’t mention the university by name or modules that only one university features because it will isolate the other.

Universities like students who can talk about their work

Discuss examples of coursework you have completed during your A-Levels or BTECs, as this displays a stronger interest and pride in work that you spent a sufficient amount of time on. It also shows that you understand how it is related to the degree course and relevant to the subject area. Furthermore, you can prove that you have been interested in the subject for a significant amount of time, and throughout your studies at college.

Universities want students who read

We’re not referring to Harry Potter when we say ‘read’. Reading at university is different to what you have previously known. The majority of courses, especially with theoretical modules, will expect their students to read several academic articles, or chapters from academic textbooks each week. These readings will feature theoretical perspectives and analysis that is related to your current work.

If you have already read a textbook, or any academic articles – or even news articles – about the subject, you hope to study then mention it! Admission tutors love students who like to keep updated with current changes to the subject.

Talk about your work experiences if you have them

Firstly, don’t feel pressured into having completed work experience with Steven Spielberg before submitting your UCAS application for your film studies and film-making degree course. Not every student has opportunities to have work experience before university, and that’s okay. There are certain degree courses that ask students to have experience beforehand, but this will be listed in their entry requirements, so check that before applying.

If you have had work experience(s), then talk about them! It shows that you were not only lucky to have relevant experience but that you are dedicated to the subject. Only mention experience that is related to the degree course. If you volunteer at your local stables, then you won’t need to talk about how this is relevant to an English Literature degree course. If you decided to retake your exams during a gap year, mention it!

Show them that you are a responsible young adult

Now you don’t have to show details about your savings account to prove you are a responsible young adult! You can write about how you managed to keep a part-time job or become involved in charity work during your time studying. It could also be that you were Head Girl at Sixth-form or the student representative at your college. Maybe you helped out at Open Days or became involved with the Drama Society for fun during college. All of these aspects show that you have had responsibilities and understood you needed to behave and conduct yourself in a certain way.


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