How Long Should A Personal Statement Be: The Honest Truth

The appropriate length for a personal statement can vary between applications, but there are some golden rules to follow if you want yours to be successful. A brief statement is unlikely to include the relevant content an admissions tutor is looking for, whilst an overly long document is likely to alienate the reader. Both can lead to applications being rejected.

So exactly how long should a successful personal statement be?

A UCAS undergraduate personal statement must be under 4000 characters, which is around 630 words. Postgraduate statements should be around 800 words, as should most Statement of Purpose applications. Where no guidance is given, 800-1000 words (2 sides of A4) is an ideal length.

There is another approach to take when considering the most effective length for a personal statement, which does not focus on word or character count. Check out the detailed points below to better understand how to get your statement right…

Your Statement must Contain all the Required Material

Regardless of word count, your personal statement will be too short if it does not contain all the required material. When institutions or employers list topics or headings to be covered in your application, they expect you to write content to meet these demands, or to clarify why you may be unable to. They also expect the content to be written in the order in which it is requested.  If you don’t do this, then even the longest personal statement is too short.

As you plan your personal statement, it is worth making a tick-list or table that outlines all the required material and then putting notes under each heading so that you know you have met each demand. As long as you include content from each section in your finished document, you can be confident that you have met the demands of the application.

Take a look at the example below. Can you identify each aspect of the required content? Could you write content for each heading, if this was your application?

Ensure you Include Suitability, Knowledge and Relevancy

Your personal statement is too short if you don’t include these elements, which I like to think of as my ABC’s…

A is for APTITUDE. Whether you are writing a personal statement for an academic course, or a suitability statement for an employment role, it is essential that you illustrate your aptitude. You may be clear in your mind about why you are a suitable candidate, but if you don’t commit evidence to paper, you won’t share that knowledge clearly with an admissions team or employer.

A suitability statement should outline your skills, experience and the reasons why an employer should hire you.

Adele Weeks

Begin by analysing the specific skills and experiences that an institution or employer is looking for. These are almost always found within the course or job descriptions. Make a note of exactly how you meet every single criteria and show exactly how your abilities and qualifications match what they are looking for. Don’t just list these, but give examples of exactly why what you have to offer makes you the right fit. See my ‘show, don’t tell’ post here for some more details on exactly how to do this.

Once you have all the notes made, you can edit them down to ensure that they are concise. A great tool to use when you are cutting down your content is Grammarly. If you haven’t used it, Grammarly is a free browser add-on that not only helps you improve your spelling, punctuation and grammar, but also offers some excellent suggestions for developing your material. I recommend this software to lots of the clients I work with; it’s extremely useful for higher study too.

You can click the link below to find out more about how Grammarly can help you:

B is for BROADER KNOWLEDGE. If you have got to the end of your personal statement and you haven’t evidenced your broader knowledge, then it isn’t long enough. The term ‘broader knowledge’ relates to your wider level of detailed understanding in your field of study. Usually this takes the form of courses and lectures you may have attended, wider reading you have carried out and any other academic input outside the realm of your standard academic studies.

If you’d like to find out more about the most powerful personal statement strategies you can use to help you evidence your subject knowledge, check out my detailed post here.

C is for CONNECTION WITH THE SUBJECT. You need to ensure that you evidence your practical connections with your subject. Without this element, your application is definitely too short. You should focus on experiences that show your understanding of the realities of your field of study or ambitions such as internships, work experience placements, volunteering or mentoring opportunities you have taken up. You could even mention school trips or personal visits to areas of relevant interest.

An admissions team or employer wants to know that you have an informed and realistic understanding of the context in which you are about to study or work, and this is exactly how to give them that level of reassurance.

Convince the Reader that you have Something to Offer

Last of all, your personal statement is the wrong length if it does not illustrate your personality and unique value. You should not try to make your content abstract or chaotic in an effort to stand out. Instead, the way you write about your achievements and interests should communicate that you have the right attitude and approach for that course or role.

Your actions should stand out, not the way you write about them.

It can be difficult for many candidates to write about their positive qualities without feeling as though they are showing off, but it is essential that you use the word count available to you to convey your original thoughts and convince the reader that you have something to offer.

Why is this important?

No organisation wants to make an offer to a candidate that will not offer them something in return. Equally, no organisation will want to take a chance on a candidate that may not complete the course, might have trouble committing to the ethos or might struggle with the academic demands. If you can show the reader that you have already faced similar challenges, and had similar experiences, they will have the confidence to consider your application positively.

The Times Higher Education website has a great article all about how to write an original personal statement, and you can check out my blog on just how original a personal statement should be here.

Good luck with your personal statement, and don’t forget to contact me if you’d like some 1-1 support. You’ve got this! D

Research and content verified by Personal Statement Planet.

David Hallen

I've worked in the Further Education and University Admissions sector for nearly 20 years as a teacher, department head, Head of Sixth Form, UCAS Admissions Advisor, UK Centre Lead and freelance personal statement advisor, editor and writer. And now I'm here for you...

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