How Original Should A Personal Statement Be?

The balance between evidencing valuable skills and using a formal tone whilst writing a personal statement with an individual voice can be hard to achieve.

A wildly original or oddly constructed personal statement will alienate readers in the same way as vague, generic material, so it is not surprising that applicants can be unsure about the ratio of original and traditional content.

Here is precisely how original a personal statement should be…

A personal statement should always be completely original in content. The qualifications, experiences and conclusions referred to must be the work of the applicant and not exaggerated or falsified. Unoriginal or plagiarised content will be identified, leading to the application’s removal.

The good news is that an original personal statement is entirely achievable with careful planning and creativity.

Just follow these simple steps, and you’ll be writing some unique content before you know it…

Prioritize Your Achievements And Suitability

The order in which you structure your personal statement is one of the most effective ways to stand out as an original and unique candidate.

By prioritising what you consider to be your most important and relevant achievements, you’ll give a reader a clear idea of your character and unique voice.

Imagine you have four key points to make throughout the body of your personal statement:

  • Your academic achievements and knowledge
  • Your wider reading and research
  • Your volunteering experience
  • Your work shadowing

The table below shows how placing these in a different sequence can influence the reader to consider your application and by extension, your personal qualities and priorities differently…

Paragraph Structure 1Paragraph Structure 2Paragraph Structure 3
Academic AchievementsWork ShadowingVolunteering
Wider Reading and ResearchWider Reading and ResearchWork Shadowing
Work ShadowingVolunteeringAcademic Achievements
VolunteeringAcademic AchievementsWider Reading and Research
Potential Applicant Type:
Academically focussed candidate highly invested in research.
Dynamic independent learner with solid study skills and a problem-solving approach.
Potential candidate for postgraduate study.
Potential Applicant Type:
Engaged and energetic academic student with an interest in putting theory into practice.
Potential mix of learning styles with a cooperative bias.
Socially minded with a philanthropic bias.
Potential Applicant Type:
Values the benefits of community and personal connections.
Vocationally minded, with a focus on developing networks and utilising knowledge.
Less invested in research, more practical application.
Achievement & Suitability Paragraph Structure

These are only illustrations, of course, and they don’t have a value attached to them.

The candidate in column 1 might seem ideal for one kind of academic course, but the candidate in column 3 might better meet the demands of more practical or creative courses. The order in which you prioritise your content needs to correlate with the impression you want to give to an admissions officer, in addition to the demands of the course.

Check out my post here if you’re interested in reading more about how to structure your paragraphs.

You Should Evidence Your Unique Qualities

Your personal statement should also be original in that it should convey aspects of your own life and experience that other candidates can’t possibly duplicate.

The reader wants to gain a clear sense of precisely who you are through the wording on the page, so don’t be reluctant to include elements that are important to you. These might be a memory from your favourite holiday or an essential aspect of your life such as your cultural heritage or family background.

Regardless of the statement structure you’re working with, including a selection of carefully chosen personal reflections can create empathy in the reader, leading to greater engagement with your application overall.

This will only be successful if the examples you give are contextualised with relevancy which is immediate and of value.

Just writing about your favourite meal, for example, weakens your personal statement, but recalling the visual impact of the meal and explaining how it inspired the use of colour in a design portfolio would make a compelling piece of content.

Use Vocabulary That Stands Out In A Positive Way

Several words and phrases are well-known for being overused in personal statements every year.

Examples like ‘passionate’, ‘fascinated’, ‘team player’, ‘ambitious’, ‘love’, ‘I also’ and ‘I think’ are commonly considered to be unoriginal, especially if they are used repeatedly or without evidence

The first example below is simply written and rather unoriginal:

Poor Example of Vocabulary

Instead, you could try:

Good Example of Vocabulary

You should also ensure that your personal statement is written with an appropriate balance of subject-specific terminology.

The more you can illustrate a strong command of the language you would be expected to use during the course you are applying for, the more confident an admissions team will be that you will flourish.

Be careful not to lose your individual voice and list a series of long words, however.

Use the vocabulary appropriately and correctly to evidence your knowledge, not because you think it makes you sound clever.

If you’re struggling to find the correct vocabulary to use, then it’s always worthwhile using free editing software like Grammarly. The basic version has everything you need and is easy to use. Most of all, it adds value to your application and will help you with college and university assignments. You can check out the free options here or hit the banner.

If you are in doubt about which vocabulary to use, investigate the terminology in the course or job literature and make links between your content and the terminology used to describe the ideal candidate.

You can find a great video about this from the University of Sussex by clicking here.

Do Not Copy Content From Other Sources

Lastly, it’s essential to keep your personal statement as original as possible because copying content from elsewhere, failing to acknowledge quotes from other sources or using pre-written templates as the basis for your content is likely to result in your application being rejected.

Although it will seem tempting to use an effective passage of writing you’ve found online or to pass off someone else’s work as your own, all major institutions have software that will filter this out.

You can find UK guidance on plagiarism here at UCAS or here for the Common App and Turnitin.

More importantly, your personal statement should be exactly that – personal to you.

Institutions and employers make offers based on the words you provide, and if those words aren’t yours, then the opportunity shouldn’t be yours either.

It’s important to gain input and feedback from people you can trust and whose views you respect, but your words should be used to reflect your suitability for the course or role you are applying for.

Don’t forget that if you want to write an original personal statement, you’ll need to make sure you’ve included all the important elements.

My Personal Statement Template eBook gives you all the information you need to quickly create a compelling and dynamic personal statement, whatever course or institution you’re applying for. You can find out more about my Personal Statement Template eBook by clicking here or hitting the image below.

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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