Quotes In A Personal Statement: What You Need To Know

There is a great deal of debate around the use of quotes in personal statements, with assumption and misinformation rife. Unless the application guidelines specifically prohibit the use of quotes in a personal statement, you are free to use them, but only if they add value. Here’s the answer to how you should use quotes in a personal statement…

You can use quotes in a personal statement to evidence your wider reading and subject knowledge or to put your personal experiences into context for the reader. Quotes can also help you compare opinions, define positions and engage the reader when used appropriately.

There’s lots of detail on how to use quotes for each of these purposes, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, below…

Use a Quote to Evidence Wider Reading and Knowledge

Using a quote to show that you have undertaken and understood an aspect of wider reading related to your application is a powerful way to engage the reader. You need to make sure that the quote is relevant and that it actually demonstrates that you have read a book or article, not that you just used the first result that came up when you Googled it. Evidencing that you have a comprehensive understanding of the sector or industry into which your subject falls and the contemporary challenges within your field of study is vital, and using a brief quote to support your own original opinion is an ideal way to do this.

Look at the image below.

I’ve used the search term ‘quotes on Geography’ and immediately I have a range of options from which to choose.  Maybe I think the first one looks good; it’s a relevant quote, and a well-known source. The problem here is that thousands of other people will do the same, and including this quote doesn’t show any evidence of a depth of knowledge or understanding in the eyes of an admissions officer. It is also far too long for most personal statement length limits, and you may end up with too much of your content being someone else’s words.

It would be far more compelling to have read a significant book on contemporary geography, and to be able to use a specific, relevant quote from somewhere within that book. That would show wider reading and knowledge, but also a far higher level of commitment to your intended course of study than a quick internet search.

Use a Quote to Contextualise Personal Experience

A quotation can be used to convey an aspect of your own life experience more convincingly than a simple description of a moment or encounter might. If you have been inspired by a person in real life, online, in a storybook, in your research or in popular culture, and it’s relevant to the point you want to make, then use a quote. Some examples of the kinds of quotations that might underpin a powerful point in a personal statement might be…

Everyone has the right to compassionate healthcare, free at the point of delivery.

Someone Inspiring

Perhaps you attended a lecture in the past, or heard a speech that you’ve always remembered, and words similar to the ones above motivated you to pursue a study of Medicine. You might well want to use the quote to introduce and outline your commitment, your focus or your ambition.

You can make a difference to the world if you study hard.

A Parent or Grandparent

Maybe you had a parent or grandparent who gave you this piece of advice and you’ve never forgotten it. Perhaps it plays a part in your desire to study Engineering or Physics. If so, it might be a legitimate quote to use to introduce your connection with the subject.

To read is to enter another world. To write is to open the door to that world for generations to come.

Your favourite Author

This could easily be a quote from the introduction to a childhood book that might have prompted your creativity or inspired your imagination. As a consequence, this could be a wonderfully relevant quote to use in a personal statement related to the creative arts or literature. Any quote can be compelling to the reader and illustrate your connection to a subject or industry if it genuinely acts as a relevant link between your experiences, the course and your academic ambitions.

Use a Quote to Compare and Contrast Viewpoints

If your personal statement is one which could successfully utilise opposing viewpoints to show understanding and wider research, then quotations can be an excellent way to evidence a depth of understanding whilst writing in a concise way. Don’t use too many quotes to achieve this, as you will end up with a personal statement that seems repetitive and tells the reader more about the quotes than about the applicant, but judicious use of this technique can certainly be effective.

Suppose you are writing a personal statement related to Theatre Studies. To show your understanding of key practitioners and artistic movements, as well as your own approach to practice, you might begin with a comparative quote. Maybe something like…

Comparative Quotes

You could then go on to discuss your own experiences in more detail, relating them to the demands of the course. By comparing other perspectives through the use of quotations, not only do you show a depth of understanding, but you provide a context for your own approach.

If you want to illustrate opposing viewpoints whilst also offering a relevant opinion, your passage might look something like this…

Contrasting Quotes

Mistakes You MUST Avoid When Using Quotations

Now that you have some examples of the most effective ways to use quotes in your personal statement, it is worth finishing with a consideration of the mistakes to avoid when using quotations…

Do not use quotes if they cause your personal statement to pass the word limit or veer off-topic. They should be avoided if too much of your own voice is lost, or their use becomes repetitive. Quotations that are commonly used, used without relevance or used inaccurately will harm, not support your application.

If you would like some advice on getting started with your personal statement, then check this post out, or use this resource to develop some excellent sentence starters.

Last of all, don’t forget to check out Grammarly. It’s a tremendously effective, free software application that helps you get your spelling and grammar to a precise and accurate level. I often recommend it to the applicants I work with, especially if the are plannin gto move in into higher education, where it is an essential for essays and papers. You can check out the benefits here or clik the banner.

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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