How to write a great personal statement

How to write a great personal statement

When you apply to university, we want to know about you; your motivations, your academic interests, your passions, and ultimately discover whether we think you’ll be the right fit for the course you have applied for. Your personal statement is your opportunity to really sell yourself – but you only have 4000 characters to do it in. Here, we offer you some tips and advice on how to get it right and make the best impression with your application.

Where to start

Don’t let the blank page put you off. Just start writing and try not to overthink it - you can always change and refine your statement later.

You might want to begin by thinking about the following questions to help you make a list of what to include:

  • What do I know about the course and its modules?
  • Why do I want to study the subject?
  • What do I like about the subject?
  • What do I already know?
  • What have I read, watched or attended that is relevant to the subject?
  • What excites me about the subject?
  • What are my academic strengths?

What next?

Start turning your list into sentences. Think about how each thing in your list relates to your subject, and start to form concise sentences. Aim to organise the sentences into paragraphs and form a logical structure to make a case for your suitability for the course.

Aim for one idea per sentence, and one major theme per paragraph. If you can, try to tie it all together with common themes and ideas. For example, you may have learned a topic during your A Levels, then read a book about it and independently researched more about the theory, which sparked some ideas and questions of your own. You may have read a number of books on a similar theme - think about any parallels or contrasts between them.

Draft, draft, draft

Get everything down on paper first. Then go back to draft and start to rework it. Don’t let your personal statement become a long list of ideas – that was your starting point. Think about the most important points you’ve made, and work on those. Remember that sometimes, less is more. At this point, you may have to delete whole sections, so don’t become too attached to what you have written.

When working on your draft, try to be clear and concise – remember, you only have limited space.

The beginning at the end

Often it’s easier to write the main body of your statement first, and come back to the opening later. The first sentence should really show your enthusiasm for the course, so talk about something that excites you.


In conclusion…

Don’t forget your conclusion. Try to tie everything together at the end, and finish on a positive note that leaves the admissions tutor with a positive impression. If you approach your personal statement as a short academic essay about yourself and your motivations, we should be left with a clear sense of where your passion lies and your suitability for the course.


Check before you submit

Before you submit your application, it’s a good idea to carefully proof your personal statement and to share it with someone else – that could be a family member, friend or teacher. You don’t always have to follow their advice, it’s personal after all, but you may find that they have some good ideas and they might spot mistakes you’ve missed.

Checklist

  • Show your passion, don’t just tell us.
  • Be yourself and sound like yourself – you don’t have to use the thesaurus for every word!
  • Make sure you can talk about everything in your personal statement in detail, as you’ll be asked about it at your interview.
  • Link any extra-curricular activities to your study – maybe your part time job taught you time management or communication skills.
  • Make sure it relates to the course you have applied for.
  • Check your spelling and grammar, and use clear, plain English.
  • Avoid sweeping, general statements, make every word count.

Watch this video from UCAS for some more great tips to get you started:


If you choose to apply to Cambridge, we can’t wait to find out all about you!

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing. Last reviewed July 2021. For more information about applying to the University of Cambridge, visit our website.