Supporting Learners Towards Personal Statement Success


The personal statement can be a huge challenge for any learner; how can they sell them effectively in just 47 lines? To make the task a little easier, we’ve rounded up some of the best resources, tips and guidance to help you to support your learners to make the most of every character and give themselves the best possible chance of securing a place on their dream course.

What are Admissions Tutors Looking For?

Admissions tutors will likely read thousands of personal statements each year, so they know exactly what to look for to decide who merits an offer. They will want to see a clear, well-written piece which clearly demonstrates an applicant’s enthusiasm for their chosen subject(s) and their suitability for the course. Positivity speaks volumes and learners should feel confident in writing about the qualities that make them shine!

What to avoid? You’ve probably heard this before, but beginning a personal statement with a quote isn’t necessary; it’s likely that admissions staff will have seen the same words hundreds of times before and besides, they want to hear from the learner in their own words! While admissions tutors like to see a glimpse of an applicant’s personality, humour can also prove risky if a joke fails to land.

How Can I Help My Learners to Get Started?

We all know that sometimes putting pen to paper can be the most difficult way to start! To get your learners on the right track from the very beginning, Advancing Access (a partnership of the 24 Russell Group universities) suggests asking these three questions:

1. Why are they applying for this course?

2. What do they know about the subject(s) and what areas particularly interest them?

3. What personal qualities, skills and experience will help them in this subject and how did they acquire these?

They also suggest that around 70 to 80% of the personal statement ‘should relate directly to the courses applied for and focus on academic interests, knowledge and ability’, so learners should bear this in mind when deciding which content and examples to include.

If learners have extenuating circumstances which may affect their academic performance, such as a long- term illness or caring responsibilities, they may also wish to reference this within their statement, as it can provide some useful additional context for admissions staff. These experiences can often provide useful examples to support an application in other ways; although aimed specifically at young carers, this article from UCAS provides some useful examples.

Encourage learners to write up their personal statement in word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, so it is ready to copy and paste it into their UCAS application when they are done. These applications will generally allow them to keep track of their character count. Additionally, remember that the UCAS website times out after 35 minutes of inactivity, so it really isn’t worth the risk!

How Should My Learners Structure Their Personal Statement?

Goldsmiths suggests that dividing the personal statement into three distinct sections, similar to the planning questions above, can provide a helpful structure. The opening section should introduce the learner, outlining the subject they wish to study and why it has sparked their interests.

Following on from this, the second section should cover the skills they already have, with clear evidence to back this up. It should also cover any particular skills or topics they’re excited to learn about and anything they hope to gain from studying their chosen subject.

Finally, the third section should be all about the ‘personal touch’. Here, the learner can outline extracurricular activities and anything else they have done that is relevant to studying at a higher level or would enable them to contribute to a HEI community. The University of Birmingham has some clear and useful examples to get learners thinking in their online guidance.

When writing about specific skills and experience, the University of Manchester suggests that applicants use the ABC method to ensure all their examples are relevant and show insight. This stands for Activity (what has the learner done?), Benefit (what skills have they gained from this?) and Course (how will this prepare them for their course of choice?).

How Can Learners Add the Finishing Touches to Their Statement?

Learners should be encouraged to allow others, such as teachers or parents, to read their personal statement. They may be able to suggest skills or experience that the learner may have forgotten to include, and will provide a fresh pair of eyes to catch any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors.

Learners should not be disheartened if it takes a number of drafts in order to perfect their statement. They should be prepared to be brutal if needed, removing any information that is irrelevant or outdated and ensuring every point made is backed up.

Finally, learners should give their statement a final proofread once it has been transferred to their online application, just to ensure there are no errant spelling and grammar issues and that the document has copied over without any issues. They should also make sure they save a hard copy somewhere for future reference; if they are invited for an interview the personal statement may well provide a starting point for discussion, so it is important that they can remember what they wrote!

Are There Any Resources That Can Support Me or My Learners Further?

Unsurprisingly, UCAS has a number of useful articles, particularly their ‘ten places to get personal statement pointers’ post; this contains a number of useful links and includes a personal statement timeline which shows learners which steps they need to take and when. They also provide an online tool to help learners to plan out and begin to write their first draft.

Advancing Access has a variety of resources on their website, including conference presentations and webinar recordings, aimed at supporting teachers. You will need to register and create a free account to access the content, but there are no additional costs.

Need More Help?

Have you had any more questions from learners that you’d like a helping hand to answer? If you do, don’t forget that we’re here to help! Just contact a member of our team and we’ll do our best to find the answer for you!