What To Write In A Personal Statement: The 3 Essentials

The prospect of what to write in a personal statement can sometimes seem overwhelming, and with good reason. A lot is riding on just how compelling and effective it is, you have stiff competition, all after a limited number of offers, and there’s an overwhelming amount of contradictory advice and guidance to get through. So, what should you write in a personal statement?

Knowing what to write in a personal statement includes carefully considering your motivation for studying the subject, along with the reasons why you are a suitable candidate. Combined with your achievements, personal skills, ambitions and value as a student, you’ll have the essential elements.

I’ve broken down each of these ingredients for you in detail below, so you can be sure to craft the perfect personal statement in no time. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out my post on how to start your personal statement, and find out exactly what to avoid here.

Here are the three essential ingredients to include when you’re wondering what to write in a personal statement…

1 Explain why you Want to Study a Specific Subject

When it comes to impressing an admissions team and securing an achievable offer, nothing is more important than clearly evidencing exactly why you want to study the subject of your choice. To do this, you’ll need to have two essential pieces of information ready to share:

  • The spark, catalyst or inspiration for your subject choice
  • The importance of that subject to you, personally and academically

The reader will want to see just how motivated you are and how the prospect of learning more about your subject excites and inspires you, so be confident about making your personal statement both original and personal.

Don’t just describe your passion for your subject. You’ll need to explain where your engagement with it began and analyse why it is so important to you. Here’s a poor example:

The engagement and passion shines through but it isn’t really communicating anything of value. There’s no sense of inspiration and the justifications are quite vague. Here’s a more compelling version:

This applicant has given us a moment of inspiration and made clear, using relevant vocabulary, the importance of the subject. Much better! 

If you’re still struggling with your options, you can find out more about how to make the right subject choices with UCAS.

2 Evidence Your Suitability to Study the Subject

Just because you have a deep-rooted interest in a subject, it doesn’t mean that you will make a suitable or successful student at degree level or beyond. Consequently, you need to convince the reader that you are highly capable, as well as passionate.

You can do this by clearly referencing the ways in which your previous and current experiences of academia make you appropriately qualified to study the subject you are applying for. Remember that when you are considering what to write in a personal statement, showing the admissions team or employer that you have already developed specific skills, to a high level and in a relevant subject, can’t be beaten.

You can find examples of outstanding personal statements to help you here, or check out these personal statement ideas.

Start by researching the kinds of skills and techniques that the courses you are applying for focus on, and then make retrospective links to the content of the courses you are currently studying. Identify specific academic or practical skills that clearly bridge the gap.

Then give examples of how you have used these skills, along with the positive outcomes, to reassure the reader that you will continue to follow this same model in the future. Here’s an example for Psychology:

Used to successfully complete extended essay on social influenceApplied advanced data modelling to determine statistical outcome of biopsychology studyUsed successfully to collate and analyse causes of addiction across gender groupsApplied successfully when preparing and leading a debate on cognition and developmentUsed frequently to develop survey and interview strategies for attachment project
Academic Skills and Evidence Options for Psychology Personal Statements

Another sensible way to demonstrate your academic suitability for higher education is to make sure that your personal statement is outstanding in terms of spelling, grammar, punctuation and clarity. I often recommend Grammarly to the students I work with, as the basic version is free whilst being highly effective at resolving errors and making intuitive suggestions for revision.

It’s also a great tool for university study in general, so it’s worth getting used to using sooner rather than later. You can check out the free version of Grammarly here or hit the banner.

3 Show how you have Pursued Your Subject Interest

Once you have demonstrated your suitability and your academic experience, you need to show exactly how you have pursued your interest in the subject outside of the curriculum you are following. This is an important aspect of what to write in a personal statement because it gives the reader a clear sense of just how dedicated you are to your specific field of study.

This great video touches on this aspect of personal statement development, so is certainly worth a watch…

Start by making a list of the ways in which you have engaged with activities related to your subject outside of the classroom. It might look something like the following list of points, except that yours will have specific details relating to precisely what you did, the value of the activity, what you learned and what your informed opinion was:

  • Wider reading (books, magazines, papers, online articles)
  • Short courses (MOOCs, summer schools, residential courses)
  • Volunteering and work experience
  • Lectures (online and IRL)
  • Practical engagement in clubs/groups/societies
  • Independent projects and private study
  • Private tuition

Once you’ve got your list, you can start to create a powerful personal statement.

If you’ve worked through this three-step plan, you’ll be able to demonstrate why you are a suitable academic applicant, how you have used the skills you’ll be developing on the course, and what additional activities you have undertaken to support your application. These are the core elements, and if used correctly, will result in a compelling and successful personal statement.

I would also suggest including your ambitions, your relevant transferable skills and the value that you would add to an institution, as these elements are key to showing your broader qualities and ambitions. To find out more, check out my post on how to improve your personal statement here.

Good luck with your journey, 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...

Recent Posts