How to help your students write their personal statement

You can help your students stand out with a tailored and succinct personal statement that demonstrates the individual they are.

The importance of a personal statement

You already know how important a personal statement is in supporting your student’s university applications. You understand it’s their chance to get noticed for the unique talents and experiences they have. And yet you see so many of them overwhelmed with the task of writing it.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step process you can use to support students in writing a personal statement they can be proud of.

Chloe Ng – HE Career Coach, Manchester Metropolitan University

'Personal statements give applicants the opportunity to articulate why they’d be an asset to the university. It also helps universities understand and connect with the person behind the grades.'

Encourage your students to prepare

You’ll have heard the saying preparation is key, and that’s important when building a personal statement.

Before a student starts writing anything, encourage them to do some planning by noting down the answers to some simple questions.

  • Why have you chosen this course?
  • What excites you about the subject?
  • Is your previous or current study relevant to the course?
  • Have you got any work experience that might help you?
  • What life experiences have you had that you could talk about?
  • What achievements are you proud of?
  • What skills do you have that make you perfect for the course?
  • What plans and ambitions do you have for your future career?

Now they have a great set of notes and something tangible to get them started.

Using tailored activities

There are plenty of classroom activities, tools and expert-endorsed techniques you can use to help students too.

Try these three different activities to get students in the right frame of mind for writing their personal statement:

Show, not tell activity

Ask your class to contribute ideas about what they think the university admissions tutor is looking for in a prospective student. Hardworking? Committed? Motivated? Now ask them to write an example of how they demonstrate each attribute and to share it with the class. If they get stuck, they might pick up ideas from their classmates and realise they do have a concrete example.

The ‘so what?’ activity

Ask students to write down personal experiences they think would support their university application. Then, in pairs, one student can go through their list of experiences, while the other says ‘so what?’ until the first student can explain why it’s useful and relevant to their application.

The waffle detector activity

Create some long-winded personal statements. Read out each statement and get students to raise their hand when their ‘waffle detector gland’ is set off. Then discuss how it could be improved. Let them practise how to cut things down to be more precise by challenging them to remove words that add no value.

Getting started

Now you’ve helped them with making notes and walked them through some useful activities, you can offer further support by giving advice around each section of the personal statement.

Helping them open their statement

Students will often find the opening of the personal statement the hardest, so giving them simple advice is best here. They need to stand out from the start to keep the attention of the admissions tutor, so they may feel pressure to get it exactly right.

Here are three main pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t overthink the opening. It’s simply about showing enthusiasm for the subject, showcasing knowledge and sharing ambitions.
  2. Avoid cliches. Remember, this opening part is just an introduction so the admissions tutor reading the personal statement can get to know the applicant.
  3. Keep it relevant and simple. There’s a limit on what can be included so no room for long-winded explanations. Why use 20 words when ten can make the same point?

You can also direct students to a full guide on How to start a personal statement: The attention grabber.

Talking about the course

When students are talking about the course and subject, they’ll need to cover four main areas:

  1. Why are they applying for this course? Ask them to think about their commitment to study and where they want the course to take them. Do they have career aspirations this course will help them achieve?
  2. Why does the subject interest them? This is their chance to show their passion and really demonstrate who they are. Ask about their hobbies or volunteering experiences related to the subject and encourage them to include anything relevant.
  3. Why do they think they’ll be great on the course? Their personal and practical skills combined will create a unique picture of who they are and why they’ll be a successful student on the course.
  4. Do their current or previous studies relate to the course? Ask them why they enjoy their current study and how the skills and knowledge they have now can be built on with the course.

Writing the personal statement based on the current builder tool

They’ll now need to write about their personal skills and achievements. Beware, this is where the waffle detector is often needed. They’ll need to be mindful to keep this part relevant and useful, so it complements the rest of the statement.

Here’s some examples of advice you could give:

  • They should be bold and talk about the achievements they’re proud of.
  • If they have a position of responsibility either in or out of school, suggest they include it.
  • Ask them about the things that make them interesting, special, or unique.

Talking about work experience and the future

Work experience and future plans are important in a personal statement. Suggest they share details of jobs, placements, work experience, or voluntary work, particularly if it's relevant to their course.

  • How can they link any experience to skills or qualities that will make them successful on the course?
  • If they know what they’d like to do as a career, ask them to explain how they’ll use the knowledge and experience they’ll gain from the course.

Helping them close their personal statement

It’s always good to connect the beginning of a statement to the end, as it reinforces what they said at the start. The ending should make an admissions tutor remember the applicant.

This final part of a personal statement should emphasise the great points already made and answer the question of why this applicant should be offered a place on the course.

You can direct your students to our full guide on how to end your statement.

Doing the final checks

When your students have finished writing their personal statements, it’s time to make sure they’ve gone through the final checks. This part will make them feel more confident when they submit their statement.

  • Check they’ve proofread their personal statement. They shouldn’t just rely on spellcheckers. Encourage them to read it out loud as that’s a great way to spot any errors as well as checking it sounds like their voice.
  • Checked they’ve asked for feedback. Have they asked friends or family for feedback? Have they asked you to have a read through? Have they taken on board any feedback they’ve received?

More help for students

Your students can also use their personal statements as a base for apprenticeship applications, CVs and covering letters. Read our advice here.

Direct students to UCAS’ personal statement tool to help them structure their ideas.

Show students our full list of personal statement dos and don’ts.