Your personal statement – what not to say

Writing a personal statement can be one of the more difficult tasks associated with university applications.

You might be able to write a 2,000-word essay on modern British history in no time at all, or investigate numerical methods of solving equations with your eyes closed, but producing a piece of work about entirely about yourself – your skills, experience and ambition – can be another matter entirely.

The personal statement is one of the most significant aspects of a university application; it’s your opportunity to sell yourself to the institutions you want to attend. In fact, it might be the only opportunity you get, as not all universities hold interviews.

That is why it is important to not only get it right but also to make sure it stands out.

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UCAS has a useful guide to writing a personal statement on its website, including answers to commonly asked questions, video advice from admissions tutors and links to other helpful online guides.

There’s even a personal statement tool to help you think about what to include and how to structure it, with a handy character count to make sure you don’t go over the limit.

But what about those things that you should not include – the irrelevant, the unhelpful and the inappropriate? Knowing what to leave out is as important as what to put in, so here are a few top tips on what not to say in a personal statement:

  • Do not mention a specific university. You should keep the names of individual institutions out of your statement. Admissions tutors will think you only want to attend their university anyway.
  • Take care with humour, such as irony, sarcasm, wit or ‘funny’ quotes. These can be distracting and potentially off-putting to admissions tutors, especially if they do not share your sense of humour.
  • Avoid using jargon and overly complex language. You might think you’re helping your chances by including long words and academic terms, but really you’re making your statement more difficult to read. Admissions tutors want to know about you, so write in a natural and enthusiastic style using simple language.
  • Again, admissions tutors want to know about you; not Voltaire, not Shakespeare and definitely not Homer Simpson. So leave other people’s quotes out.
  • Negative comments. This is your opportunity to sell yourself, so trying to explain or excuse why you didn’t achieve or failed to complete something will only detract from that. Focus on the positive.
  • Clichés. Admissions tutors read hundreds of personal statements, and many will include the same over-used words and phrases that don’t say anything, such as ‘ever since I was young’ and ‘I have always been interested in’. Perhaps the most over-used cliché, and therefore the least helpful to your application, is the word ‘passion’ or ‘passionate’.
  • Incorrect spelling and grammar. This one should go without saying, but a surprising number of personal statements still contain the most basic errors with spelling, grammar and punctuation, often ensuring they are the first to be discarded. Before you hit ‘send’, make sure you are certain it contains no errors; read it through thoroughly multiple times, use spelling and grammar software and ask someone else to proofread it.

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