How To Write A Personal Statement: NO MORE STRESS!

Writing a successful personal statement doesn’t have to be stressful.

Even if you’ve left it until the last minute and you feel as though it’s a huge mountain to climb, you can still create a killer application if you stay calm, focus and follow my quickfire step-by-step guide.

Understanding how to write a personal statement and keep it stress-free requires thoughtful research and planning, breaking down the task into small goals and editing with precision. Being informed about the content and the process will greatly reduce any anxiety around completing your application.

You can check out my detailed personal statement strategies or figure out how to start a personal statement here, but I’ve broken the stress-free system down into a quickfire 10-step process in detail below…

1 Remove Distractions From Your Workspace

The first technique for how to write a personal statement in a stress-free way is probably one of the hardest but most essential.

You must remove distractions from your workspace and create yourself an environment in which you can concentrate and fulfil your potential.

The top causes of distractions for students include:

  • Technology (mobile phones, gaming, social media). Turn off your phone and focus!
  • Internal distractions (thoughts, worries, alternative ideas, doubt). Practice some box breathing, and acknowledge that you can come back to your thoughts later on in the day.
  • Disorganised resources (your things are a mess). Organise your laptop, physical desktop and paper files before you start.
  • Working for too long (and getting lost as a result). Break up your work times into short breaks, with rewards)

Other people (friends, family, colleagues). Try to isolate yourself and make sure others know to leave you alone. Work in a different location if possible.

2 Gather all Relevant Resources and Leave the Rest

Before you commit to the process of developing your personal statement, you need to bring together your research and resources into one place and put everything else aside.

This might mean getting all your screenshots and notes into one document or collating paper files into one folder, ready for use.

You will not reduce stress if your files are disorganised, but most of all, you can make the process of writing your personal statement a positive one if you know you’ve got everything you need in one place, in order.

Referring to five different folders, three devices, and a pinboard is a recipe for chaos.

3 Divide it into Manageable, Achievable Sections

When a task looks like it might become overwhelming, you can reduce the anxiety you feel by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable sections.

The same goes for how to write a personal statement.

If you can identify the key areas you know you need to include and tackle them individually, you’ll feel a lot better about your progress, and you are likely to complete each section in more depth and detail.

The table below is my suggestion for how you can break your personal statement down into eight small, easily achieved sections. By making notes under each heading, you will break down the overall task into something far more achievable.

Inspiration or motivation for studying your subjectPrevious relevant academic experience and accomplishmentsWider reading and research into your subject beyond the curriculumDetails of work placements or industry experience
Research into the course components or structureTransferable or related skills that will be of value on the courseOutline your ambitions for the course and the workplace beyondHow will you be of value to the institution or employer?
Dividing Your Personal Statement into Manageable Sections

4 Decide on Academic Examples you Want to Include

An admissions team will want to understand the level of your academic capability, so take the anxiety out of developing your personal statement by making clear decisions about the examples you want to include.

Do not just list or repeat your qualifications. Instead, consider examples of moments when you have applied academic skills and gained further knowledge as a result.

This might be the successful completion of a research project, an essay award, the creation of a piece of effective software or the publication of your work.

Admissions teams highly rate evidence that you have been able to apply your knowledge, as that closely resembles the model used in higher education.

Discover more about how to improve a personal statement here.

5 Identify Experiences Showing Transferable Skills

When considering how to write a personal statement in the most stress-free manner possible, you should identify the wide range of transferable skills you have mastered and make notes on how they are relevant to your course and subject choices.

Transferable skills (often called ‘soft’ skills or ‘people skills’) like resilience, leadership, organisation and active listening are sometimes seen as less relevant in a personal statement, but that’s only true if they are not discussed in context.

If you can demonstrate how you developed them, the value to yourself and others and the relevancy to the course you are applying for, then they can be very powerful elements to include.

You check out how to use these elements to create original personal statements, but according to Forbes, the transferable skills of most value are:

  • Multitasking
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Technical Knowledge

6 Make a List of Important Keywords and Vocabulary

No one wants to read a list of words out of context, but when you are looking at how to write a personal statement, you must consider including both the vocabulary of your subject and any keywords from the application information that is available to you.

Just make sure that you achieve the right balance between your original content and subject terminology.

Depending on the subject you plan to study, you might have a range of specialist vocabulary at your disposal.

From Mathematics to Computer Science via Music, each discipline comes with its own language, and you need to show that you understand how to use this vocabulary in context. Make a list of the top 10 pieces of vocabulary that relate to your field of study, and then work them into your writing, where appropriate.

Each institution will be looking for specific skills and will outline unique content, which is also wise to reference.

Suppose you were applying for a degree in Criminology in the US or the UK. Check out the admissions details below, and look at the words I would copy and include in my personal statement:

You might not need or want to use all of them, but using the vocabulary of the course you are applying for is an effective way of compelling the reader to make a positive connection between your personal statement and what they have to offer.

7 Write Using the ABC Method and Ignore Word Count

A quick and easy way to de-stress the process of writing your personal statement is to make sure that each paragraph (or even each sentence) follows the simple ABC pattern.

You can check out more of my advice about personal statement paragraphs here.

  • Make sure you identify an Activity you have engaged in and clarify its relevance to your application. How did that activity help prepare you for higher study of a specific subject?
  • Explain how the activity, skill or experience was of Benefit to you. What was its value? What exactly was the value in terms of your growth?
  • Clarify the way in which the experience has made you more suitable for the Course than your peers.

Don’t worry about word length or character count in the early stages; just focus on getting notes under each heading, and trust that you’ll get to the editing stage in good shape…

8 Be Ruthless in the Edit and Keep it Concise

Editing can be challenging, but it is one of the components of your application that will allow the reader to see your academic strengths.

You can learn what to check in your personal statement here, as well as what to avoid!

Hopefully, you’ll have lots of content that pushes the length of your personal statement far beyond the recommended amount. That’s fine and shouldn’t be a cause for anxiety.

The skill is in editing out the irrelevant content and retaining that which evidences your suitability. Look at the following examples. Which seems most concise and attractive?

Just remember a single important rule when editing; if a point doesn’t add value to your application, or strengthen your suitability for a subject, don’t include it.

I can use Python to code at a high level

Concise Candidate

…is far more compelling than…

I believe that I have the potential to be an excellent student as I was able to attend a course in my own time on Python and from there I developed some of my own ideas which my tutor said were really effective and will prepare me really well for the course, I hope.

Unedited Candidate

9 Proofread for Accuracy, Relevance and Value

By the time you get to the stage where you are ready to proofread, you should be feeling confident about your personal statement.

It should have gone through a robust process of research and development, and if you’ve gathered material under the headings in this post, the relevant material should be present.

Now you can relax and enjoy the process of checking that it is in the best possible shape it can be before you submit it.

There are three key elements to ensuring that your personal statement is thoroughly proofed:

  • Check that each point or paragraph is accurate in terms of its content, that it is relevant and that it adds value to your application. If in doubt, remember your ABCs in point 7. 
  • Check that your spelling, punctuation and grammar are perfect.
  • Check that you have not omitted content which would be of greater value than the content you have chosen to include.

The first of those points is down to you unless you are working with someone who is helping you develop your content.

Making sure that you are writing in a way that is relevant, concise and that evidences your suitability is vital, but if you’ve followed the process here, you’ll be on the right track.

Make sure that any quotes are properly attributed and that publications and individuals are referred to correctly.

Checking that your spelling is correct isn’t always straightforward, and sometimes it can be almost impossible to write in a personal way and yet maintain an appropriate level of accuracy in your grammar.

I often recommend Grammarly to the students that I work with, as it has a fantastic spell-check function, but more importantly, for hassle-free personal statements, makes some highly effective suggestions for revising content. You can check out the free version of Grammarly here, or hit the banner to find out more.

Lastly, I always recommend asking someone you know and trust to read your personal statement and offer feedback.

It can be frustrating to be reminded of an important element that you may have forgotten, but better to be reminded of it before you submit your application than after you’ve pressed ‘send’.

10 Submit Your Personal Statement and Forget It

One of the things that frequently causes applicants anxiety actually comes once they have submitted their applications.

The stress of waiting for a response from a university or employer can deeply affect some people, even if their personal statement was of an excellent standard, their application accurate and their qualifications in line with course requirements.

The truth is, with very few exceptions, there is no way to judge how long it will take a university to respond to you with an offer.

There are final deadlines, by which you should have had a reply from all of your choices, but there are no formal deadlines for individual institutions, and even different faculties within the same university are likely to respond at different rates.

You can check out the UCAS timeline here.

The result of this is that you might have to wait a long time before you receive your offer or have any communication at all from the universities you have applied to. At the same time, your peers might hear back much more quickly, even if they are applying to the same institution as you.

There is no deeper significance to this, and not hearing back straightaway does not mean that a university is not interested in making you an offer.

Once you’ve submitted your application, the best thing you can do to ensure that your goals for higher education are achieved successfully is to forget about your application and get back to the business of developing your subject knowledge and exam technique.

In the end, you’ll hear back, and all that will really matter is how well-prepared you are to make good on your ambitions.

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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