How To Check A Personal Statement: The Best Strategies

No matter how much effort you put into writing your personal statement, if you don’t check it comprehensively, you’re likely to include errors. Not only does this give the reader a poor impression of your academic potential, but the chances are your statement won’t include all the elements needed to make your application successful.

Here are the best strategies for how to check your personal statement before you submit it…

Check your personal statement by ensuring that your spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct whilst retaining your individual voice. Make sure your content is accurate and well-referenced and that each point or paragraph is relevant. Lastly, meet any specific requirements, including length.

Here’s how to break down each of those elements in greater detail…

Get Your Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar Right

Compelling content can be let down by inaccurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, so take the time to get these basics right. Errors here are a clear sign to the reader that you have rushed your personal statement and that you may lack the necessary capability and attention to detail required.

Sometimes that can make the difference between a candidate being offered a place or being rejected, as universities are continually required to maintain high academic standards.

While standard spell-check software is helpful, it can be extremely useful to use more advanced free software packages such as Grammarly. I recommend this frequently when working with applicants in the final stages of developing their content; it costs nothing to download and use the basic version, and not only does it catch a wide range of errors, it also makes far more sophisticated and intuitive substitution suggestions that most word-processing software.

If you’re not sure what Grammarly is, you’re missing a useful tool for not only your personal statement but for broader study too. You can find out all about it here.

Best of all, proofread your work in detail. Start from the end and work backwards a sentence at a time, really focusing on the content. Don’t worry about making it sound formal, just weed out errors and check that each sentence makes logical, grammatical sense. To help you, here’s a very short guide to help you navigate some common mistakes:

Under-graduateundergraduateI think History is important…I think history is important…
Post-graduatepostgraduateAs a student on your physics course…As a student on your Physics course…
Bachelors’ Degreebachelor’s degreeI want to go to University because…I want to go to university because…
Masters’ Degreemaster’s degreeI attended a course at the university of oxford…I attended a course at the University of Oxford…
Common Errors in Personal Statements

Ensure Your Content is Accurate and Referenced

When you include quotes or refer to a specialist or publication in your personal statement, you must reference them accurately. This is key for two reasons. Firstly, the admissions tutor reading your content will soon spot an error and whilst this may not lead to an outright rejection of your application, it will certainly damage your chances.

Spelling names and titles carelessly or incorrectly, or misquoting or misrepresenting the subject by placing their work out of context will also count against your application. If you want more detail on how to manage quotes in your personal statement, check out my detailed post here.

Secondly, in exceptional circumstances, not referencing your sources can lead to charges of plagiarism, with the rejection of your application a possible outcome, even if cheating was not your intention. As the admission team at Durham University indicate on their website:

We also operate a fair and transparent admissions process and as such, need to ensure that all information provided to us is honest and accurate.

Durham University

If you are at all unsure about how to avoid plagiarism in your personal statement, you can find a range of useful strategies here.

Check the Relevancy of Each Point or Paragraph

Every point or paragraph you include in your personal statement should be structured to make a relevant point. Think of each element as serving a specific purpose and make sure that you can identify it clearly when you read it back. You might even plan your personal statement by listing the points you want to make in the order you want to make them, to ensure you’ve achieved this goal.

When you check your writing, it is good practice to ask these questions:

  • Does each point reinforce your suitability for and connection with the subject or role you are applying for? If not, edit and re-write to ensure that it does.
  • Does each point outline personal academic or practical experiences that connect your application with the demands of the course? If not, take the time to make the connection.
  • Have you structured your paragraphs to create a compelling narrative in the mind of the reader? If you’re not sure about how to achieve this, check out the post here.

If there is any ‘filler’ in your writing, you should remove it. It is far better to have less content, and for that content to powerfully communicate your suitability than to include content for the sake of volume.

Make Sure You Include any Specific Requirements

Each course or position will have specific requirements outlined in the supporting documents. If you are using one personal statement to apply for a range of courses, you will need to identify the common requirements and bring them together in a more generalised list.

You need to ensure that you include content that is asked for (such as key skills and knowledge, experiences, evidence of volunteering, qualifications or internships) as well as going beyond the expectations of any description and showing greater depth and suitability.

Look at the example below relating to a Physics and Philosophy degree from the University of York. It shows transferable skills taught during the course and common career outcomes upon graduation. These are exactly the elements you should include in your personal statement; the more an admissions officer or an employer can see clear connections between your application and their offer, the more likely they are to reach out to you positively.

University of York Opportunities and Skills

You can see below the qualification level expected for this same course, but more importantly you can see the subjects that are considered of highest importance. That’s a clear indicator to you that those are the subjects you should be focusing on by outlining your deeper understanding and experience of them. If you can prove that you have exceeded the demands of entry, so much the better.

University of York Physics and Philosophy Requirements

Last of all, make sure that your personal statement is written to the required length. As a rule, this is 4000 characters for a UCAS undergraduate application. Master’s personal statements are usually best when the run to around 800 words. If there is no guide given, then two sides of writing running to no more than 1000 words is usually an appropriate limit.

Do not exceed the word count. You should be able to communicate your suitability, experience and ambition concisely.  

Before you press ‘send’ or hit ‘print’ on your personal statement, it is good practice to ask another person to check it over for you. By this stage, it should be as accurate, concise and relevant as you can make it. Your volunteer should be able to read it and sum up the salient points without identifying any errors, unnecessary content or unclear elements. If you’ve gone through this process and they’ve given you the green light, you’re good to go.

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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