Finding examples of outstanding personal statements can be challenging.
Unless you know what makes a good personal statement, you can’t easily judge the content. Seeing excellent examples of finished statements can cause you to become discouraged, and you might even be tempted to include unoriginal content, which is likely to see your personal statement rejected.
So how can you use UCAS personal statement examples and develop an outstanding personal statement?
Personal statement examples should only be used to guide and improve your own original writing. When you learn to recognise the elements that add quality to an outstanding example, you will be able to apply those same elements to your own personal statement, creating a compelling document.
You can find the best personal statement examples, advice and writing strategies to get you started below, or you can check out my post on starting a personal statement the right way here.
What Makes A Personal Statement Outstanding?
Each personal statement example should be unique and should reflect the experiences and ambitions of the writer in relation to the specific context of the application. However, the fundamentals of an outstanding statement apply, regardless of the field of study or type of application.
In my experience, outstanding personal statement examples have four common qualities to them. Just remember the acronym PREP, and not only will you have the foundational elements you need, but you’ll remember them in the right order, too.
P is for Planning
No personal statement can be outstanding unless the planning that has gone into it is thorough and informed. In order to achieve this, you should start work on your document well in advance of the admission deadline, and make sure that you have divided your planner into logical, well-considered categories that work for you. You can find my guide to these planning elements here.
The planning phase includes investigating course choices, talking to teachers, colleagues, friends, family and industry professionals and making notes about your own interests, skills and ambitions. It is also wise to develop a logical structure for your statement at this stage, so that you know you have included the relevant key elements.
R is for Research
Once you have a series of headings in a logical sequence, and you have made some notes of the key content for each, then you should carry out some deeper research. Research falls into three main categories:
- Research the specific taught content of each course you are applying for, along with the descriptors and guidance offered by each institution. Make sure that you note down keywords, common modules, destinations and any opportunities for contribution to the wider life of the university or company. Referring to these elements is a great example of how to create an outstanding personal statement.
- Research key practitioners in the field you are applying to. Who are the decision-makers, leaders and commentators? How do your opinions compare with theirs? Gather quotes, facts and arguments. What are the opportunities and challenges in the subject, both in higher education and in the workplace? Fully research (and read) publications related to your subject, in addition to any set texts you are required to read for your current course of study.
- Research opportunities for progression after you have completed the course. Regardless of whether you intend to continue in education, plan to complete an apprenticeship or internship or enter the workforce directly, researching the opportunities available to you upon completion of the course and referring to them in your personal statement, is a vital strategy.
E is for Evidence
Once you have planned and researched one personal statement, you need to illustrate very clearly that your knowledge, relevant skills and experiences are a clear match with the demands and expectations of the course or role. If your research has been thorough, you should be able to see several immediate examples. Create a table, similar to the example below, with the requirements of the course in the first column, then list examples of your own relevant experiences in the next.
What should a personal statement include? Well, think of this as a tick-box exercise. If the course involves handling big data, show that you have experience of this, or an allied and equally relevant activity. If the institution demands that you be a flexible student, be strategic and show how you have achieved this previously. You should provide as much specific detail as you can at this stage, prior to editing your draft.
|Research and independent study skills
|Carried out my own research into the impact of cryptocurrencies on the traditional stock market and presented my findings as part of an Extended Project Qualification.
|Worked with a group of peers to study and record the changing speed of light waves in liquids, solids and gasses, prior to participating in a formal presentation of results.
|Leadership and networking
|I chaired the school’s newly formed charity organisation, managed the volunteers on the fundraising program and successfully engaged the support of local businesses through social media.
|Fluency in foreign languages
|During a work placement in Spain, I was able to speak fluently in both Castilian and Latin-American Spanish. I worked successfully in a bilingual environment throughout, working with international clients.
P is for Polish
All the research and compelling content in the world will not result in an outstanding personal statement if you do not ensure that the final draft is polished, concise, well-edited and accurate. It can be challenging to achieve this when you feel very close to the material; it is all too easy to lose sight of the details of your writing when you have read the same sentence 100 times.
However, examples of personal statements with poor spelling, punctuation and grammar are not going to impress an admissions tutor or employer, even if the actual content matches the course demands.
To polish your final draft, you should check all spellings are correct, especially key subject vocabulary, names and publication titles you may have included. You should ensure that each sentence is grammatically correct whilst retaining your individual voice and check that you are using punctuation in such a way that each point is concise and compelling.
For more detailed guidance on how to achieve this, check out my post here, or think about using a free software tool like Grammarly. I often recommend Grammarly as a powerful tool for checking and improving these elements, and many students use it for proofing their personal statements and keep using it as they enter higher education. It’s great for proofing essays and notes. Check out the free version here or hit the banner below.
How to Improve the Content you Already Have
Connect your abilities and achievements with your research and reading. If you have taken the time to develop content that reflects your detailed understanding of your subject or field, then you should evidence appropriate amounts of this in your personal statement. However, it is also vital to link your own achievements and experiences with these to create a tangible connection in the mind of the reader.
Imagine you were applying for a Politics degree, and as part of your preparation you had read ‘Broken Heartlands’ by Sebastian Payne. Just stating that you had read it would be of little value. Giving your opinion of an argument within it would be better, and this is the level that most candidates achieve. However…
If you can evidence that not only have you read, analysed and considered the book, but also show the value of that process to your application, you’ll be closer to writing an example of an outstanding personal statement.
A short passage might look like this…
Evidence the value of relevant transferable skills. This can often provide you with great personal statement ideas.
These are the kinds of experiences and skills that are often overlooked by applicants or are added in haste in the final paragraph. In fact, these are exactly the skills that universities and employers are looking for. The secret is to make them relevant to your application. Here’s a poor personal statement example:
I play lots of sport and really enjoy it. It’s a good break from school and means that I am fit and sociable.An Unsuccessful Applicant
The example above gives the reader a few pieces of relatively unimportant information; the fact that the writer plays and enjoys sport and that it keeps them fit does not make this candidate stand out, and consequently does not add any value to the personal statement.
What if the same applicant had written it like this:
It has a much higher character count, but the value of the content is also significantly higher by comparison. The writer has shown that they can commit to demanding schedules, that they have reserves of energy and resilience, that they are aware of the need to apply transferable skills to academic study and that their claims of being ‘a good team player’ are legitimate.
As personal statement examples go, the second is far more compelling than the first.
Use sophisticated and subject-specific vocabulary. It is important to use the language of the subject, course or role in your personal statement. Not only does it illustrate to the reader that you have a sound understanding of the fundamental language and terminology you are likely to encounter, it also connects your application firmly to the expectations of the institution, giving them a palpable sense of your suitability.
Do not use so many keywords that your writing loses a sense of your own voice or becomes descriptive, especially a UCAS personal stetement. This process is not focused trying to sound overly intelligent or academic. Just ensure that when you have the opportunity to use the correct term and evidence your understanding of the specific vocabulary of your field of study, you take it. You can check out my post here for some examples of how keywords from course descriptors can be used to inform and deepen your own writing.
Feedback should be a dialogue rather than one-way communication.University of Greenwich Education Team
Share your content and gather constructive feedback. Although it can feel awkward, sharing examples of your personal statement with those you trust is an important strategy when it comes to generating an outstanding version.
Not everyone you share it with will have the same opinion, but gathering feedback from people whose opinions you value, and who are informed about the contents, can often give you a new and valuable perspective on your own writing.
I would not recommend giving people access to a shared digital file, as the potential for all your readers to make significant and conflicting changes at once is high and will only result in confusion. It is a better strategy to allow each reader access to a different copy of the same document, and then gather and combine their constructive feedback.
Do not focus on proofreading for minor corrections at this stage. In fact, there are three important questions you need to ask of each of your readers, and these are the only headings that you should gather feedback under:
- Which elements of the personal statement do not clearly evidence your suitability for the course or role? In other words, which sections do not add obvious value?
- Which elements of the personal statement do not make the connection between your experience, the demands of the course and your ambitions for the future?
- Which elements of the personal statement are largely descriptive rather than informative?
Before you get the feedback, make a new document structured with these three headings. Then add in each set of feedback you get, building up a range of responses for each one. You will become aware of some common themes in each section, so once you have all your feedback, group them together. Then, break down the key sections to improve or actions to take, and apply to the personal statement itself.
This process will make managing the feedback much less challenging form an organisational perspective, and will also aggregate the collective opinions from your readers rather than allowing a single loud voice to dominate. If you want a bit more detail on how to manage this process, you can check out my post here.
Personal Statement Examples to Inspire You
Now that you have a more informed idea of what you can do to develop an outstanding application, and you know how to improve the content you already have, you will be better able to recognise the value of some personal statement examples.
Of course, the real value is to then recognise and apply that understanding to your own work.
The two examples that follow move from poor to outstanding. Have a read and then relate the comments to your own personal statement, regardless of the subject or specialism.
I would consider the personal statement example above to be of a poor standard. On first reading, you might feel that judgement to be a little harsh, because the writer has got quite a lot of elements right. They have:
- Created a personal connection with their choice of course
- Outlined the motivation for their choice of career
- Mentioned relevant academic subjects positively
- Recognised that the role is challenging
- Reflected on their relevant work experience
- Talked about wider interests and their value
- Given a reason for study at a particular institution
However, if you read the example more closely, there is almost no evidence in this passage to indicate that this candidate is suitable for the course:
|No clarity about ambition (nurse, doctor, surgeon?)
|Simplistic reasoning (wanting to make people feel better, wanting to be respected)
|Overly descriptive, un-edited and repetitive (needs to be concise and clear)
|No sense of the value gained from the work placement
|Unclear connection between the mention of Chemistry and watching nurses vaccinate patients
|Simplistic vocabulary (loved, enjoy, really like, passionate)
|No relevancy to the majority of their examples (no tangible evidence of knowledge)
|No evidence of reading or research
|Meaningless final sentence that does not evidence any specifics
By contrast, look at this example of an outstanding personal statement. I have only focused on a small section, to illustrate the necessary tone and style:
This is an outstanding personal statement example. The writer has evidenced their knowledge and understanding of the subject and connected their research to their practical experiences. They use appropriate vocabulary without losing their individual voice, leading to a great personal statement.
Additionally, they have linked their interest to their sense of ambition and made clear and informed references to the course demands. They have also demonstrated the ability to work outside of the demands of their current course of study, making them an ideal applicant for higher education.
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.