What Is A Personal Statement? A Quick And Easy Guide

When you’re applying for a job or a university course, you’re almost always required to write a personal statement.

In fact, it’s hard to ignore the buzz about how important a good one can be for securing an offer.

But what is a personal statement?

A personal statement is an original document written by an applicant, summarising their academic knowledge, personal and professional experience, motivation and suitability. It must reflect the applicant’s engagement with a subject or discipline and convey their potential value to an institution.

You can think of a personal statement as a kind of advertisement for your qualities or as an extended CV that clearly shows an admissions team or employer your skills and experiences.

So, if you’re just starting on your personal statement or want a better understanding of exactly what a personal statement is, this is the post for you!

I’ve written more about exactly what a personal statement is below, or you can discover my post on powerful personal statement strategies here.

What is a Personal Statement and Why Write One?

A personal statement is like a one-sided interview that you have the luxury of preparing for in advance and in which you are not asked any challenging questions.

In that sense, it’s a shop window for your talents that conveys the very best aspects of your personal, academic and professional journey so far.

Sometimes a personal statement will be a factor in deciding whether to offer an applicant an interview. However, in most cases in higher education, it takes the place of the interview process and offers candidates a chance to share their views, experiences and motivations.

It is important to take the time to write as strong a personal statement as possible, following the advice on this site. You are in a competitive environment when it comes to making any kind of application, and very often, the only distinguishing feature of an application is the personal statement content.

If one applicant has a polished, detailed and compelling version, and you don’t, they’ll be far more likely to get an achievable offer.

There are lots of situations where applicants have no choice but to include a personal statement as part of the submission process, and sites like UCAS and Common App will not allow an application to proceed without a document upload.

With the stakes that high, it pays to get it right.

What Does a Personal Statement Do?

A personal statement tells your individual story in a way that qualifications alone can’t do. It gives the reader an insight into your history, experiences and motivation, but perhaps, most importantly, it gives them an insight into your personality and the likelihood of your suitability.

A personal statement can often be the deciding factor when determining whether an applicant receives an offer.

When faced with several candidates who are equally qualified, the reader (whether they are an employer or a university) will use the personal statement to establish the applicant’s strengths.

15 Elements in a Compelling Personal Statement

Here’s a list of the top 15 elements that readers look for in a great personal statement and that help them to make offers to successful candidates:

  1. The applicant’s ability to write in an academic style (concise, balanced, well-referenced, original but informed, formal, relevant, and clearly structured)
  2. The applicant’s ability to engage and communicate in writing
  3. The applicant’s ability to undertake and employ academic or practical research beyond the curriculum
  4. The applicant’s capacity for self-awareness and reflection
  5. The applicant’s transferable skills and the ways in which they have been developed and employed
  6. The applicant’s understanding of the role, subject or course for which they are applying
  7. The applicant’s capacity for managing workload and initiating independent study
  8. The applicant’s motivation and drive, shown through a commitment to their own learning
  9. The range and relevancy of the applicant’s preparation for the role or course
  10. The applicant’s approach to health and well-being, and the development of interests beyond their specialism
  11. The applicant’s individuality and personality
  12. The applicant’s ambitions and the strategies they have put in place to meet their goals
  13. The applicant’s awareness of their own current limitations and areas for further development
  14. The applicant’s awareness of contemporary, cultural, political and historical contexts in relation to the role they are likely to play within a social network or community
  15. The applicant’s level of interest in the role, course or subject on offer

Check out my post to find out about the key role transferable skills play in a personal statement, and this is my guide to just how personal a personal statement should be.

What do I Write in a Personal Statement?

There are five key elements that you must write in your personal statement if you want your application to be successful. They are relevant academic knowledge, evidence of research and reading, engagement with the subject, evidence of transferable skills and your value to the institution.

If you are not sure where to begin, then start by making notes under these headings, even if, to begin with, you don’t feel that they are all completely relevant.

It’s better to have too much content than too little when you are putting an early draft together.

The order in which you include them is less important than ensuring that they are all present.

For a detailed guide to how to structure your personal statement, you should check out my Personal Statement Template eBook, which gives you all the expert advice you need…

Final Advice for Awesome Personal Statements

Make sure that you write from the heart, that you include the achievements and skills that you believe have prepared you for the course or role you are applying for, and don’t be afraid of writing about the people or experiences that have inspired you.

Unbelievably, applicants sometimes forget to write about why they want to study a particular subject at a higher level, so do include this kind of information alongside the more formal elements outlined above.

For more information on what to avoid in a personal statement, check out my post here. Alternatively, you can read my post on some top personal statement ideas and get some inspiration for your own successful application.

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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