How To Improve A Personal Statement: Top 3 Effective Tips

Once you have a working draft of your personal statement, improving it can be challenging. Maybe you feel that it needs more content, finesse or relevancy, or that it is lacking in impact, and you are not sure how to make the next draft better than the current version.

But what exactly are the top tips for improving a personal statement?

The most effective ways to improve a personal statement are to ensure that it reads clearly and concisely and to check that every point or example is both relevant and personal. Highlighting the value of your co-curricular achievements and experiences is also extremely valuable.

I have outlined each of these top tips in greater detail below, so that you can apply them to your own writing.

1 Remove all Repetitive and Extraneous Content

Writers can be sentimental when it comes to keeping content that doesn’t earn its place, but the best approach is to be ruthless when editing out repetitive and extraneous content.  Even if you have put time and effort into developing a well-written paragraph, if it does not add value to your application, you need to remove it.

What kind of content earns its place in a personal statement?

Any content that clearly demonstrates your academic or practical suitability for the course or role, or material that connects your skills and experiences with the demands of the application, is worth keeping. Continue to refine this kind of content until it is written purposefully and concisely.

Look at the examples below. One passage is repetitive and full of unnecessary adjectives and connectives. The other passage makes the same point far more powerfully, with fewer words, allowing the writer to include a wider range of compelling content.

2 Make Each Example a Relevant and Personal One

Show me what you can do; don’t tell me what you can do.

John Wooden

Think for a moment about whether your writing tells the reader what you’ve done in the form of a list of experiences, skills or qualifications, or if your writing shows the reader the relevancy of those experiences to your application. If your personal statement reads like a list of achievements rather than an explanation of how you meet the criteria for entry as an individual, then you’ve probably got the balance wrong.

By making each example of your preparation relevant and personal, you are connecting the demands of the course with your own achievements and illustrating to the reader that you are a perfect fit. 

The table below contains four different examples of an applicant’s experience, and all of these might be relevant for inclusion in a personal statement. When they appear in the first column, they seem impressive but disconnected from the value they give to the applicant. In the second column, the same content has been phrased to make the impact more personal, and potentially to connect with the demands of the course.

Disconnected Examples that ‘Tell’Personal and Relevant Examples that ‘Show’
I attended a course on Advanced Psychological Profiling at Cornell University.Attending Cornell’s course on Advanced Psychological Profiling gave me the opportunity to develop analytical and critical thinking abilities and the ability to effectively analyze statistical data, preparing me for the demands of the course.
I achieved my Class 1 Certificate in Financial Management.Having achieved my Class 1 Certificate in Financial Management, I am familiar with the fundamentals of corporate finance including risk management and capital budgeting. I believe this experience will allow me to complete your Global Finance module successfully.
I volunteered weekly at a food bank.I am determined to make a tangible difference to the communities in which I live and work and intend to build upon the skills I have developed during my regular volunteering experiences when completing your Charity Initiatives module.
I play football to a high level and enjoy martial arts.As a keen sportsperson, I have developed several cooperative and motivational abilities. The significant leadership and communication skills gained from captaining my local football team will allow me to successfully complete the Entrepreneurship in Business aspect of your course.
Show Don’t Tell Examples

If you aren’t sure about your own content, try this same method; create a table, add factual or ‘tell’ content in one column and then see how best you can rewrite it as ‘show’ content in the next. If you would like more of a guide on how to check your personal statement in detail, you can check this post here.

3 Maximise the Value of Your Wider Experiences

The experiences that you have outside of formal education are vitally important to include in your application. Making sure that the reader knows that you are a well-rounded applicant with multiple transferable skills relevant to your application is key. However, applicants frequently underestimate the value of well-written co-curricular content, often replacing it with less relevant material they consider to be ‘more academic’.

Whilst it is true that admissions officers and employers will not want your personal statement to focus exclusively on your hobbies and interests, including this information should not be a token gesture or appear to be an afterthought. As the team at UCAS says:

Admissions tutors encourage applicants to produce a personal statement which distinguishes them from others. Talking about your interests and hobbies, in a way that supports the rest of your application, can help serve this purpose.


Including this kind information is valuable if it meets the following criteria…

  • It evidences transferable skills that will be of obvious value on the course you are applying for. If you play hockey in your spare time, you can evidence physical stamina, the ability to work under pressure and the value of teamwork, which could easily be relevant to your application. If you volunteer at a charity shop, then you can evidence responsibility, interpersonal and communication skills and punctuality.
  • It reinforces your ambitions for the course or a subsequent career. If you volunteer at a local farm and help run workshops for visiting children, then this is an ideal element to mention if you want to become a teacher, for example. If you are a member of a climbing club, you will have picked up skills and experiences relevant to a career in geology. Remember to make these connections clear.
  • It helps you stand out positively from your peers. Whilst they might not link directly to the context of your application, if you have completed a global challenge, volunteered helping refugees, represented your country at sports or been selected as a delegate at a student convention, referring to these experiences will positively highlight your drive and individualism.

If you are still searching for ideas for your personal statement, then you can check out my detailed post here. It’s full of great ideas for writing some compelling content that helps your statement stand for all the right reasons.

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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