What To Include In A Personal Statement: 10 Quick Tips

Sometimes, you just need to know exactly what you should include in a personal statement, from how to write about your academic progress to whether to mention your passion for martial arts.  This post gives you exactly that – it’s a quickfire guide to the personal statement essentials.

So how do you know what to include in a personal statement?

You should always include evidence of your motivation and ambition in a personal statement. You should also include evidence of your academic knowledge and potential, your practical engagement with the subject and your relevant transferable skills.

But what’s the next step once you’ve explained why you want to study a particular subject? Here are 10 quick tips for exactly what to include in a personal statement…

Personal Statements: Academic Knowledge Tips

First and foremost comes the academic evidence that underpins the rest of your application and gives your personal statement depth and legitimacy.

When you’re thinking about what to include in a personal statement, you must consider these three points…

1 Don’t List Qualifications; Demonstrate Knowledge

Listing your qualifications without giving any context or showing just how the knowledge you have is relevant is a big mistake that I often see in personal statements. Your pending results and achieved qualifications are important, but without elaboration and detail, they’re not very helpful.

You’re likely to enter the data on these elsewhere in your application, so don’t waste space repeating them.

The key thing is to show the reader how you have used that knowledge and what the value of your academic understanding is.  

Here’s an example…

2 Evidence Your Wider Reading and Research

When it comes to what to include in a personal statement, evidencing the depth of your research and wider reading is key to receiving an achievable offer.

Universities look for candidates who have engaged in reading beyond the set curriculum, and if you can show that you have the skills to undertake accurate academic research using online or IRL libraries, then they can be reassured that you have the foundational skills needed to start the course successfully.

So, do make sure that you refer to books, articles, lectures or other sources that you have accessed outside of your taught program, but also refer to what you have learned from them in relation to the demands of the course you are applying for.

Don’t write…

I read ‘Broken Societies’ by A P Mann and watched a documentary on social change on YouTube.

Unsuccessful Applicant

…instead, write…

Having read ‘Broken Societies’ by A P Mann, I discovered that communities with accessible childcare facilities were more cohesive and successful than those with fewer resources, leading me to deepen my understanding of the impact of social inequality by watching Dr Luba’s TED talk ‘Why Social Inequality Exists’. This knowledge will be particularly valuable during my undergraduate study of Sociology.

Successful Applicant

You can check out my post on outstanding personal statement examples for some more detailed information right here.

3 Use the Vocabulary of Your Subject

Something that many applicants miss is the value of using the specific vocabulary of your subject.

So, rather than using generic language, think of your personal statement as an opportunity to have a one-way conversation at a higher academic level. Use specific terminology that will allow the reader to see that you have a strong understanding of your subject.

Don’t just throw in words to sound clever; you haven’t got the space available to do that.

Your vocabulary must be properly contextualised and used accurately.

If you use the right terminology when you’re evidencing your knowledge, it’s likely that your writing will become more concise and direct, which will actually give you more room to write more content.

Why not check out my post on what makes a great personal statement for more details?

When it comes to vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure, I often recommend that students make use of Grammarly.

The basic version is free, and it can be an invaluable aid, not only for proofreading your personal statement, but for creating impactful and compelling points. It’s a great tool for writing accurately and concisely, and if you get used to using it now, you’ll already be ahead of the competition at university.

You can sign up for the free version of Grammarly here, or hit the banner below for more details.

Personal Statements: Practical Experience Tips

When it comes to adding value to a personal statement, it’s important to include evidence of your practical engagement with the subject. This isn’t just because universities want to see evidence of energy and dedication.

It’s because one of the key differences between school and higher education is having the ability and vision to apply theoretical concepts practically.

Here’s how you can demonstrate that you already have this skill…

4 Prove Your Connection to the Subject

Make sure that your personal statement illustrates that you have undertaken practical work directly related to the subject you want to study. Even if you don’t think you have this experience, you probably do.

Here are a few examples…

Field trips and visitsResidential tripsWorkshopsExperiments and data-gathering
Any educational trips taken to venues, organisations or settings directly related to an aspect of your field of study.Longer stays at locations specifically for the purpose of discovering more detail about a discipline or subject.One-off or regular additional sessions where you apply your skills practically, extending your subject knowledge.In-class or IRL opportunities you have taken to test relevant ideas or gather original data under controlled conditions.
Performances and rehearsalsClubs, groups and societiesVolunteeringWork placements and internships
Recitals, performances, exhibitions, conferences or presentations you have participated in that extend your knowledge level.Any membership, past or present, of an organisation that further deepens your subject-specific knowledge and understanding.Long term or single instances of volunteering in a related field, but only if you have gained and applied relevant knowledge.Any engagement with business or industry related directly to your subject, focussing on widening your understanding of the sector.
Examples of Practical Connections with Academic Subjects

As always, make sure that you do more than just list the experience, but discuss its impact and value, and make sure the reader sees clearly how it relates to the demands of the course they are offering.

Check out my post here for some more awesome personal statement strategies.

5 Show how Your Experience Relates to the Course

It’s vital that you demonstrate the ways in which the experience you have had is directly relatable to your proposed course of study and to show clearly how, having had that experience, you are a more suitable candidate.

Read through your content and, for each moment of description, add some relevance…

If you want to discover exactly how to check your personal statement, check out my post here.

6 Explain the Value of Practical Experiences

When you’re writing about a practical experience, it’s important to outline its value to you.

This shows an admissions team that you understand the experience in relation to your subject and that you have an awareness of the potential of that experience in relation to your learning.

Think of it this way… how has the experience better prepared you for higher education compared to someone who hasn’t had the same opportunity?

Examples might be:

  • An online course has given you a better understanding of a specific aspect of your field of study
  • A performance has given you the opportunity to master your nerves and focus your preparation
  • Working in a team at summer camp, and winning an award, has given you a better understanding of how to use research in practice

Personal Statements: Transferable Skills Tips

Transferable skills are extremely important elements when you’re considering what to include in a personal statement.

You can read my full post on these very specific transferable skills here, and get a fuller idea of the wide range of ways in which they can be of immense value to your application and to your success on the course of your choice.

In short, a transferable skill is a quality you possess that isn’t directly related to your field of study but adds value to your ability to navigate life.

We’re talking about things like punctuality, wellbeing, organisation and social engagement.

Here are three quick tips for making the most of them in your application…

7 Analyse Relevant Transferable Skills

Most importantly, you must make sure that you include the transferable skills that are most likely to relate to and enhance your choice of subject. So, if you are applying to read Chemistry, how will your maths skills be of value (and can you give an example from your own experience to evidence this?)

If you’re applying to read Sports Sciences, how will your understanding of nutrition and biology support your future studies?

If admissions teams can see these links made clearly in your personal statement, they’ll have the confidence to make you an offer.

8 Evidence the Benefit of Transferable Skills 

It’s not enough just to show the links between relevant subject skills.

It’s also important to encourage the reader to recognise the benefit of more obvious transferable skills. Like before, think about how they will demonstrate your suitability and dedication to a field of study.

You might outline ways in which being organised will help the quality of your practical work in Biology, or analyse the way that your capacity to learn independently will underpin your dissertation.

Equally, expertise in note-taking and revision methodology might be of great value for a specific course, whilst confidence in public speaking might be vital in a degree like History and Politics.

9 Broaden Your Skills Remit

The last tip in this section is key and is often missed by applicants who run out of room in their personal statement and sacrifice the mention of broader transferable skills.

However, these can really make a difference if you can show the value of their inclusion.

You might have gained stamina and self-discipline from competing in martial arts. How will that be of value in a university setting? Perhaps editing the school paper has given you an eye for structure and detail. Maybe your study of Art History will be aided by your scrapbooking experiences?

Importantly, you mustn’t just describe the experience.

You must consider the value of the transferable skill to your application.

Admissions tutors don’t really care if you can play the piano to a high standard (unless you’re applying for a Music course). What they are interested in is the eye-hand coordination this may have given you if you are applying for a degree in Fashion and Textiles, for example.

Here’s an example of a description without too much value attached to it…

A better version would be…

Bonus Personal Statement Tip: Add Value!

Last but not least, we come to tip 10, which is all about value.

You must remember that value in a personal statement needs to be demonstrated from two perspectives.

First, you need to outline the value of the course, campus or institution to you as an individual. Second, you need to clarify the value you will add to that institution, faculty or community.

10 Demonstrate Your Value to the Institution

There are three ways that you can illustrate your potential value to a university (or an employer).

Sometimes applicants find this aspect of what to include in a personal statement challenging, as it can feel boastful to talk about your own qualities and potential, but it’s important that you put your reservations to one side.

Admissions teams want to see your ambition and excitement for what you’ll bring to their organisation, and successful candidates often include the following…

  • Ways in which they have already made a tangible difference or contribution to their local or school community by mentoring others, acting as a prefect, sitting on the student council or running academic or lifestyle support groups.
  • Ways in which they have contributed to the social or sporting life of their school or community and will continue to do so as an undergraduate.
  • Ways in which the opportunities offered by the university (academic, pastoral and co-curricular) connect with their goals and ambitions. This indicates a high level of engagement and contribution to the life of the institution, as both parties are well-aligned.

If you’re ready to start your personal statement, then check out my great post on how to begin. Equally, you can find out exactly what to avoid in your personal statement in my post right 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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