University Series | Writing your personal statement

Welcome back to the University Series!

If you’ve read my previous University Series blog “Should I go, Should I not” I want to say a massive thank you! The response to that particular piece was overwhelming so I hope the next coming blog posts are just as resourceful!

In this particular post I’m focusing on “Writing your personal statement” so to make it easier to digest I’ve broken it down into sub-sections below. Your personal statement is meant to be exactly that, a statement! Please keep reading below for an insight on the “Do’s and Don’ts” for creating an eye-capturing personal statement!

So you’re now in the process of writing your statement. The idea of University may still be totally overwhelming and you may not have decided whether or not you want to go just yet (refer back to my previous University Series blog post for some guidance on this!)

Writing your personal statement is extremely important. Whilst for some of you your grades, up until this point might be totally reflective of your academic abilities and paint an accurate picture of the type of student you are and can be; for others they might not.  Your personal statement is therefore your opportunity to sell yourself to the various Universities you wish to apply for through UCAS. It might seem like a lot of pressure, so see this as your shot!

To give my own personal example, I went to a sixth form college in which the teachers totally gave up on me in my first year because I was all over the place. On reflection I have to take accountability for this because I didn’t massively like sixth form, I found A-Levels to be extremely difficult and I also had a lot of personal things taking the forefront of my focus, so I didn’t apply myself as much as I should have.

In my first year, my predicted grades were a lot lower than the final A-Level grades I achieved and because my predicted grades were lower, I had to make sure that my personal statement exceeded beyond my abilities at that particular time. The reason this is quite crucial is because your College or Sixth Form will share your predicted grades with the Universities you choose to apply for, and based on this along with your personal statement is how the Universities decide whether or not you’re suited to their course and institution.

You might be reading this and getting quite anxious. This is not to scare you but to be honest with you about the importance of this process, so take it seriously and enjoy the possibility that in a year from now you could be studying at the academic institution of your choice!

Here are some things to consider when writing your personal statement:

Make sure your personal statement paints a picture of the type of person you are both academically and personally:

Let the University see what type of Student you would be amongst their student board; they want to make sure you’ll be a cultural fit aside from the academics, too! Do some research on the types of societies and activities the University promotes. Consider the specialism of the University as well (for example, I went to the University of Southampton which was and still is one of the best Universities for Humanities within the U.K) and explain precisely why you would be an excellent student within that particular discipline.

Do not waffle

At the time that I went to University, everyone, and when I say everyone….EVERYONE was adding in quotes by notable academics to their personal statement. I tried everything from Shakespeare, to Maya Angelou, and I even quoted a line from one of Wale’s previous albums! All of which were scrapped in the final draft of my personal statement because NONE of them, no matter who they were and what they said, would help to create a strong picture of the person and student I would be. So no waffling. Don’t start adding in words to make it sound more creative, don’t go overboard with the over-emphasis, and definitely do not do what everyone else is doing…and that includes quotes!

Make sure you have a strong opening sentence.

Remember that the individual who reads your personal statement is likely to be reading hundreds or thousands of others. YOUR statement needs to capture the reader from the jump. That means execute exactly what you want to say so that they’re already won over by you. The opening sentence is what will set the tone for the reader and will likely set you apart from various other candidates so precision, delivery and a unique opening sentence to your statement is vital!

I’d recommend getting your friends, family, neighbours, teachers – whoever, to read your statement. If they’re captivated then you know you’re on the right lines! Have a variety of readers, because often getting one or two people to read it through just isn’t enough and the feedback won’t be constructive enough.

Most importantly, make sure that you read it over and over again. If your personal statement about YOURSELF doesn’t captivate you, it sure won’t captivate anybody else!

First draft vs. Final draft

Your first draft and final draft will differ drastically. You might even find that there are very few similarities when you compare the two, and that’s totally OK!

I recommend to write it out, read it over and over again, and gradually you’ll see what things need to be removed, edited or pronounced to strengthen your statement!

Challenge yourself

For a moment I want you to imagine that your degree depends on this, because ultimately it does! I want you to imagine that your statement is in the hands of the person reading it, so thoroughly enthused by all that it entails that they cannot put it down, ultimately placing you in the pile of ‘Yes’ Candidates versus the pile of ‘No’ Candidates. It’s quite brutal and cut-throat to imagine it in this way but unfortunately that is the way of the World.

When you write your statement, challenge every ounce of you. It’s hard to explain how to do this, but I remember clearly to this day when I asked my Grandmother to read my final draft prior to submitting it and she said “Wow, I didn’t know you had this in you” and immediately I knew I’d done my absolute best!

What makes you right for the course?

Why are you best suited to that particular course/degree? What extra-curricular activities have you chosen to get involved in, that make you stand out from the rest?

That could be going on a course outside of your academic studies, visiting the University of your choice and attending course talks, anything which makes you stand out – mention it!

Personally, I knew I had interest in the African Literature module included in my third year, so mentioning that I was educated in Kenya was something I felt would help propel me in comparison to my competitors. I took part in multiple literary and poetry competitions which helped expose me to better my writing capabilities and this was a great example of having an interest in the course outside of my academic studies. Similarly, my Sister’s personal statement mentioned that she attended a summer law school. This exposed her to real cases, attending the inns of a court, attending the high court to partake in a mock trial and witness the day-to-day duties of a qualified lawyer and barrister. Whatever your degree or course, I highly suggest getting involved in extra-curricular activities which prove that you’ve taken a proactive interest in the course you wish to study.

Take academic advice with a pinch of salt!

Universities don’t want to read something that’s been over-engineered. They want to know who you are, so be cautious of the advice you’re given from family when told what to and what not to write, including writing about adverse situations.

Of course, practical advice is important and I recommend everyone to welcome it, however do not shift prominent information about who you are out of your personal statement for the sake of talking about your adverse family circumstances, as a means to suggest you’d be a good student because you’re thick skinned, as an example. Anything which steers the statement away from you and your strengths, cut it out of the statement.

Of course, it might be worth while mentioning that you’re the first generation in your family to go to University. That shows there is a real desire to achieve and succeed beyond what is the societal “norm” within your family thus far, so be honest but don’t be negative. Don’t sell a sob story and don’t turn what could be a success of you, into a total disaster. “I almost gave up” will let the University know you’re prone to reacting negatively when challenged rather than “It made my desire for success strengthen“, as an example…

Equally, you’ll meet an academic adviser who might work with the college that you study at, or who might be outsourced. “Outsourced” put simply means that the College or Sixth Form acquires a teacher from a company outside of your institution, who’s sole role is to support students during the application stage and to provide “practical academic advice”. This is when you need to exercise some sense and recognise when to and when not to, take advice with a pinch of salt.

Academic advisers are likely to advise you on the Universities you should apply to and based on your academic performance thus far, which University you should go to and what they think Universities want to see on your statement. Unfortunately I’ve seen previously that Academic advisers have fallen short on their advice and actually talked people out of going to University because they don’t see them as a strong fit. In the most appropriate way possible, ignore this and do exactly what you want, within reason, and let the University of your choosing be the final decider!

I hope that the above pieces of advice are practical, resourceful, and will help you when it’s your time to write your personal statement! I know how exhausting it can be, but also see it as an exciting period of your life! You get to put into words your strengths, and what better way to boost your confidence than that coming from you directly?!

As always, feel free to leave me a comment below or drop me a message on my Instagram @NotThatKindaCurl and I’m happy to have a confidential chat with you to support you on your journey!



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