What Not To Write In A Personal Statement: Expert Advice

Hopefully, you’re surrounded by people who can help you with exactly what to write about when you’re putting together your application, but sometimes you need to know what not to write in a personal statement, in order to make it as successful as possible.

So, what should you not write in your personal statement?

Do not write content in your personal statement that is factually inaccurate, grammatically incorrect, or that does not fully evidence your suitability.

Do not include exaggerated or overly academic vocabulary in an attempt to impress or write at length about your childhood or the work of others.

Sound like a lot of things you can’t include?

Don’t worry, I’ve broken the three main points down in detail below. Once you know what not to write in a personal statement, you’ll be able to write a compelling and successful application…

What Should you not put in a Personal Statement?

Before we break down these three key areas in a lot more detail, here’s a quick and helpful list of the top ten things you should not put in a personal statement:

  1. Unresearched claims or inaccurate information
  2. Lies, exaggeration or unoriginal content
  3. Errors in spelling, punctuation or grammar
  4. Irrelevant material or unnecessary filler
  5. Hobbies and interests that do not add value
  6. Stories from your childhood
  7. Content that is not focused on your suitability
  8. Commonly used vocabulary or quotes
  9. Description rather than evaluation
  10. Lists of any kind, especially qualifications

Check out my in-depth post on what to avoid in a personal statement here, or if you’ve already got started and want to check your statement for errors, this guide to how to check your personal statement is a great place to start.

If you’re ever in any doubt about what to include, just remember to check your ABC’s. If whatever you want to include fits the model, go for it…

Do Not Write About Your Childhood or Your Passions

When it comes to what not to write in a personal statement, your childhood and your passions come right at the top of the list.

It’s not that you can’t write about them at all, but you must make sure that if you do, you keep the reference brief and highly relevant.

Your Childhood is not Important to the Reader

Admissions tutors do not want to read about your childhood in a personal statement. They want to know about the person you are today, not the person you were a decade ago. It is also a signal that you do not have enough relevant material to include and that your application may lack real ambition.

Look at the examples below. The first is a paragraph from a personal statement that places much too much focus on the applicant’s childhood. The second example gets the balance right.

Although the second example doesn’t outline the countries the applicant visited, the depth of their connection with Modern Foreign Languages shines through, as does their knowledge and opinion.

You Can’t Be Passionate About Everything!

If there is one word that frustrates admissions officers more than any other, it is when applicants use the word ‘passionate’ in their personal statements…

  • “I am passionate about Engineering”
  • “My volunteering experience shows how passionate I am about Events Management”
  • “I am dedicated to my true passion, which is molecular Biology”

The basic dictionary definition of ‘passionate’ is “having very strong feelings or emotions”, and whilst you might well enjoy Archaeology, being passionate about it has become the shorthand of cliché. The problem is that when everybody uses the same word, it loses its meaning.

‘Passionate’ has moved from meaning ‘consumed by’ to signalling that the writer has a limited vocabulary and an unrealistic level of connection with their field of study.

Why not use these alternatives to ‘passionate’ in your personal statement:

Alternatives to ‘Passionate’ in a Personal Statement

Check out my post here and learn how to improve your personal statement, or think about using Grammarly to help your writing reach a greater level of accuracy and readability. You can check out the free version of Grammarly here or hit the banner.

Do Not Write Content if you Can’t Evidence Value

Ironically, making unqualified statements in a personal statement just doesn’t work. Every point you make must be targeted to add value to your application.

If you can’t evidence the value of an experience, qualification, skill or piece of knowledge, you should not be including it.

Without evidence to develop the context of the comment and, subsequently, the understanding of the reader, a descriptive statement will just take up space in your application and have a negative impact overall.

Here’s a three-point example. The first sentence does not include any evidence to develop the point made by the writer. The second attempts to analyse why the experience was of value, whilst the last point evidences the value with context.

Check your personal statement for moments that resemble the first point, and change these to more closely match the last example where possible.

  • I enjoy sports and am the captain of the basketball team at school.
  • My engagement with sports has helped me develop my teamwork skills. As captain of the basketball team, I have to motivate and support my teammates when we play.
  • As captain of the school basketball team, I am an accomplished team player. The experience has developed my communication and active listening skills, and I am used to taking responsibility for making decisions under pressure. Additionally, I have become adept at balancing my academic work with my sports commitments in order to meet deadlines, preparing me well for the demands of higher education.

Check out the skills you should include in a personal statement here, or read my post about outstanding personal statement examples to get even more inspiration!

Do Not Write About the Achievements of Others

Your personal statement should be all about you.

It isn’t an opportunity to reference as many other people as possible in an attempt to appear well-read or educated.

Writing about the achievements of others can be valuable if you take a sentence to convey their contribution and use the rest of the paragraph to give your informed thoughts and show how that piece of knowledge is of value to your application.

However, writing the equivalent of an academic essay instead of a personal statement might show that you have read a book or understood a topic, but it does not illustrate your opinions, ambitions, suitability or value to the reader.

Have a look at this example…

On the surface, it looks compelling – three different sources and a sense of argument. But what does this example actually tell you about the writer?

What are their thoughts on the topic?

How has the knowledge gained propelled them to act?

How will their experiences inform their next step in terms of study or make them a suitable candidate for the course they are applying for?

If you don’t make the connections, you can’t expect the reader to, so always prioritise writing about yourself but from an informed and relevant perspective.

If you’d like to, you can check out my post on even more powerful personal statement strategies here.

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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