Handling the personal statement

Who would have thought 4,000 characters could be so daunting? The personal statement is dreaded from students and teachers alike, but it’s easier than you think to get your head around personal statements and lead students to success.

Personal statement: two words that are guaranteed to release groans, sighs, and worry from your students.

Essential for those looking to apply for university or college, the personal statement is actually a valuable tool within the UCAS application process, to be celebrated. And you can help encourage your students to succeed without fearing the power of the personal statement, too.


We’re all unique and this is the main goal of the personal statement – 4,000 characters (with spaces), or 47 lines of text, to promote individual talents, skills, and extracurricular activities.

“The personal statement is a tool of differentiation for university and colleges. It is an opportunity to see students as an individual, and the only chance a student has on their application form to provide information on who they are and their unique abilities, why they’re suitable, and so on,” enthuses Samantha Sykes, professional development executive for UCAS.

“The personal statement gives students their own voice.”

With enough research, time to write and review, the personal statement could be a student’s first step in opening the door to their future in higher education.


Samantha encourages: “Remember to highlight the importance of research, it is the key to making an informed decision.

When a student decides where they want to go, ensure they sit down and go back over the university websites and course pages, and really look at the information available.

“What will they be learning? What modules will they be working on? What skills do they already have that resonate within the course? Lots of information can be found in university prospectus’, online, and on the UCAS website, which can help inform personal statements.”

The more prepared your students are, the bigger the chances of success. Getting ready for exam season partnered with writing a personal statement can be an extremely stressful time for your students, but you can be a strong driving force behind their achievements.


Different courses expect skills, talents and experiences that may not be relevant to every student. Work with them to include information that will make their personal statement stand out from the rest. There are thousands of students applying, standing out and selling themselves is imperative.

UCAS has a blog written for students to discover first hand advice on what universities and colleges are looking for. “We’ve also got resources including a personal statement mind map and personal statement tool, designed to help students get started – that’s often the biggest question we get. Blank page syndrome, so to speak,” adds Samantha.

When it comes to overcoming writers block, Samantha also encourages attending university and college open days.


“Using open days to get information on what students’ should be putting in their personal statement is important,” says Samantha. “Taking the opportunity to ask questions and speak to course tutors about what they’re looking for builds a picture of what students should and shouldn’t be including.”

University and college open days allow prospective students to visit the campus, speak to current students, and most importantly, confirm that they are choosing the right course for them.


After a student has completed their personal statement and submitted their application, it is time to ensure the ball keeps rolling. For students who receive invitations from universities or colleges to attend an interview, provide a portfolio of work or attend an audition, celebrate the exciting news and ensure they act promptly – they wouldn’t want to miss out
on a potential offer.

Keeping an eye on Track, UCAS’ online system, allows students to check the progress of their applications, is crucial, too. Ensure your students continually check their Track status, and respond to any offers before the deadlines provided.

Staying updated and ahead of the game is imperative for students to ensure they don’t miss out on any opportunities.

Before you know it, all the personal statements will be written and applications submitted, and you can breathe a sigh of relief.


Students looking to apply for courses at universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or most medicine, veterinary, dentistry, medicine/science courses should have submitted their application by 15 October of 2018 for 2019 entry.

The majority of courses for both universities and colleges have a deadline date of 15 January 2019 at 6pm for 2019 entry. “I would strongly suggest that teachers and advisers familiarise themselves with the dedicated Advisers section of our website,” adds Samantha.

“This is an area just for them with all the necessary information and advice, and also includes the Adviser timeline, which outlines everything they need to know each month.

“In this area, teachers can access our toolkits which contain resources including PowerPoint presentations to help them support and guide their students through each stage of the application. Many of the resources can be downloaded and edited, which can be easily incorporated into current lessons or careers planning.”

Speak to UCAS for more information.

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