Personal Statement Plagiarism: Avoid It In 5 Simple Steps




Plagiarism in personal statements isn’t common, but being accused of it is often a worry for applicants. Where plagiarism does occur, it is likely that it will detrimentally affect the application, with rejection being a very real outcome. With so much depending on a successful application, how can you avoid being accused of plagiarism in your personal statement?

Personal statement plagiarism can be avoided if you focus on writing original content and you acknowledge your sources and quotations throughout. By doing your own research, relating personal experiences to your application and writing your own statement, you will create original, unique content.

I’ve broken down the details of each of these elements below, so you can get a fuller understanding of exactly how to avoid being accused of deliberate deception in your personal statement. If you want to download the UCAS guidelines on fraud and content verification, you can find all the relevant documentation here.

Do not use Content Created by Other People

As you begin writing your personal statement, the chances are that you will be presented with a range of pre-existing examples, ‘model’ responses and extracts all designed to help you understand the kind of style and content you are aiming for. There are numerous examples of this here. The difficulty, when you have immediate access to a range of well-written content, is that sometimes it seems better than anything you believe you can create for yourself.

This is where some applicants can be tempted to copy and paste content into their personal statements. Aside from the fact that this will almost certainly result in a weaker personal statement, as it doesn’t genuinely reflect your experiences and ambitions, there is a high chance that including already published material will flag your work to plagiarism software.

It is also worth bearing in mind that if you are given unpublished examples of effective personal statement content at school or college, the chances are that previous applicants may have used similar content, and that your peers might use it too. Levels of similar content from as little as 10% have flagged plagiarism software in the past, so writing content from scratch is the only way to be certain of creating an original personal statement that won’t flag any alarms. If you want to search for a range of resources to help you develop your academic writing, check out the deals on these guides.

Acknowledge Your References and Quotes Throughout

Using quotations in your personal statement can be a highly effective way to convey authority, research and depth of knowledge. You can find out more about exactly the right ways in which to use them in this post. However, when it comes to plagiarism, it is important that you make sure you acknowledge quotes or references that aren’t your own words.

Look at the quote below. It might be similar to something you have read in an industry publication or heard in a lecture. Let’s imagine that it encapsulates the way you feel about Economics as a field of study, and you think it would be a valuable piece of content for your personal statement.

Having a command of both programming and systems analysis is crucial when in pursuit of a higher level of understanding of international commerce.

Sandra MacKenzie, Senior Investment Partner at Hoff Finance

A suitable way to incorporate this into your personal statement without plagiarising the content would be as follows:

A similar passage, but one which would be an example of plagiarism, might look like this:

Relate Personal Experiences to Your Application

Another important way to avoid any accusations of plagiarism in your personal statement is to make sure that you write from your own personal perspective. It is vital to link each point you make with clear, valid examples that illustrate to the reader that you are a unique applicant. If you use pre-written formats or templates, or use generic phrases and examples, the chances are that your content will not only fail to help you stand out, but will match the content written by other applicants.

Admissions teams look for evidence of original perspectives and ambitions, and the more you can evidence the connections between your personal experiences, your skills and the specific demands of the course, the stronger your personal statement will be. Equally, there is no chance of it containing content plagiarised from another source. This post shows you exactly how to come up with an original, compelling set of unique ideas for your personal statement.

Take Time to Write Your Personal Statement Yourself

There are two key elements here. Firstly, you should make sure that you plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to research and write your personal statement. One reasons that applicants become tempted to use generic or plagiarised content is due to time pressure; a deadline looms, and in a panic, they mix their own content with a version they have found online. Inevitably, this will lead to charges of deception and unoriginality, and there is a high chance that your application will be rejected.

By facing the challenge positively, and following the advice here, you’ll avoid falling into this trap.

Getting someone else to write your personal statement for you is unethical. It’s a bit like copying someone else’s essays and handing it in with your name at the top.

Lucy Parsons, Life More Extraordinary

The quote above, from Lucy Parsons, clearly justifies the requirement to write your own personal statement. Partly because to not do so is unethical and potentially fraudulent, but also because writing the personal statement successfully is a key indicator to a university (and to the applicant) that they are well suited to the demands of the course.

If you persuade or pay someone else to write it for you, you are unlikely to know whether that person is themselves committing an act of plagiarism. You might find that they have copied the content they send you from a previous application, and your application might be rejected on that basis.

Working alongside a reputable expert, and making use of the support services provided on this site can be valuable, because the aim is to get the best out of the applicant through guidance, advice and collaboration. Asking someone else to write your personal statement from scratch certainly ticks the plagiarism boxes.

Structure Your Story Clearly and Don’t Write Lists

Order your content in a way that seems appropriate to you, that takes the reader logically through your motivations, experiences and ambitions, and develops compelling arguments in a way that promotes your application. You can find out more about how to do this here. Creating an original structure will help you avoid plagiarism as the form and content will all speak with your own original voice.

Quite a lot of plagiarised content available online and in hardcopy has been created to meet a range of imagined ‘tick boxes’ of the kind of content that is assumed to be required. As such, it can often read like a list of accomplishments, skills or opinions, without offering any personal connections or a sense of logical development. To avoid writing in this way, use a wide range of sentence starters, content and ideas to keep your personal statement original and effective.


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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