Refugees and asylum seekers: Your personal statement

A guide to help students who are refugees or seeking asylum write their personal statements.
Relevant to

Although no one refugee experience is the same, as someone seeking refugee protection you will have probably gained many additional skills and strengths that are highly valued in higher education.

UCAS has worked with Student Action for Refugees (STAR) and their group of Equal Access Activists to help you identify your key strengths and transferable skills as you apply to university or college. This can be used to help you write your personal statement interviews as you apply to higher education, and could also help you prepare for interviews for jobs or volunteering opportunities.

For many refugees and people in the asylum system, gaining experience in subjects and taking on extracurricular activities while also navigating the asylum process or adjusting to life in the UK can be very challenging.

You might feel you’re missing out on opportunities to build an impressive personal statement, but managing the complexities of restarting your life in the UK will certainly have helped you develop a range of important skills and characteristics. Thinking about what these are will give you a great starting point for your personal statement.

Below, we will help you identify your key strengths and skills by exploring your own experience. You will probably think of lots of others when you start!

You don’t have to go into lots of detail about your circumstances or experiences (or share anything you don’t feel comfortable talking about) – just focus on the skills you use. Don’t forget to use this alongside UCAS’ personal statement tool to help you structure your ideas.

Getting started

Think about the skills and characteristics you will need for different aspects of your studies – make a list for:

  1. Studying in general – what sort of skills do you think will help you to be a successful student?
  2. Your chosen course – what specific skills and personal characteristics do you think this course requires, especially one that leads to a profession or career? Use the course description for ideas.
  3. Non-academic situations – it’s not all about what happens in the classroom. What other skills and characteristics will help you settle in – for example, your day-to-day activities or social life?

Take a look at the responsibilities, skills, and characteristics below to help you. Remember these are just to get you started, and you may have others you’d like to add.

Actions and experiences (I do)

  • Practical: E.g. making appointments, learning a new language, learning about entirely new systems.
  • Financial: Managing a tight budget, learning how to prioritise financial needs.
  • Emotional: Enduring distressing experiences, handling difficult situations, dealing with challenging decisions, learning to overcome and recover from difficult past experiences.
  • Legal and professional: Making appointments with legal representatives, attending court, managing important paperwork, understanding legal procedures, navigating legal systems, legal aid, and other legal services.
  • Personal: Developing skills, gaining qualifications, volunteering, and seeking professional experience.
  • General: E.g. managing your own/your family’s needs, prioritising self-care, finding hobbies/pastime activities.

Skills (I can)

  • Attention to detail.
  • Calm under pressure.
  • Financial management and budgeting.
  • Managing challenging situations and behaviours.
  • Resilience.
  • Adaptability.
  • Stress management.
  • Advocacy.
  • Decision-making.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Taking on big responsibilities.
  • Understanding complex information.
  • Enduring hardship.

Personal characteristics (I am)

  • Hard working.
  • Hopeful.
  • Bravery.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Perseverance.
  • Courage.
  • Determination.
  • Independence.
  • Resourcefulness.
  • Self-awareness.
  • Ownership.
  • Commitment and dedication.
  • Responsive to changing situations.
  • Patient.
  • Open to diversity and difference in people, environment, and culture. 

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