How to Write Your University Application Letter (Personal Statement)

Writing a personal statement is one of the most important parts of applying to a university. It therefore requires plenty of time, attention and most importantly, work. To make that process a little easier, take a look at our advice for writing a good personal statement.

What to write about

The scope of a personal statement can be quite broad, meaning some feel a bit intimidated when they first start. But remember, the focus of the statement will be you.

Now writing about oneself will come as a great pleasure for some and a terrifying prospect for others. If you’re in the latter group, we are sorry that you will have to go through this, but writing positively about oneself and in a sense, ‘selling’ what is good about you is a vital skill for a successful career. And after a while, though it may not seem like it, you will come to enjoy it too.

So firstly, why are you applying? It’s important to be honest. Honest writing shines far brighter than platitudes and clichés. What interests you about the subject? What interests you about the college? What are your ambitions? If you are enthusiastic about the course, this will be clear to the reader.

Do not forget either, you get a lot of time to revise your writing, so the first time you try, don’t go back and edit yourself or think too carefully about what it is you want to say; just write. Give it a day or two and look back over what you’ve written. Does it make you feel excited about your course?

Secondly, what makes you the right person for the college and course? So you’re enthusiastic about the course but why are you right for them? List relevant skills, experience and achievements, whether they are from school, work, or anywhere else.

Extracurricular activities

Now this is something that may cause some grief to readers, but it’s good form to include some things you have dedicated yourself to outside of school or work. The reason this may cause some grief is that you may be thinking, ‘I’ve done nothing else worth writing about’, which is wholly inaccurate.

You may feel this way, but if you really sat down and thought about what it is you do, you can paint a phenomenal picture of what interests you, how it has changed you and how useful those experiences have been, no matter how distant they may seem from the traditional understanding of ‘work’.

Typical examples may include:

  • Clubs or societies you belong to (sports, creative, musical)
  • Employment or volunteering
  • Courses you have taken outside of school (including free online courses)

If you still feel like you haven’t done any of these, there should hopefully be some time to begin one or if not, what do you do when you get home from school? What hobbies do you have? How do they benefit you? Be creative and write about your interests in a constructive way.

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International students

As an international student there are a few extra things you should mention.

Why do you want to study in your country of choice? The course? The culture? The language? The food? Again, be honest (though it doesn’t hurt to mention how great you think the college is).

You should mention your language skills, how fluent you are in your prospective language and any courses or tests you’ve taken. If you don’t have any experience, mention that as well and say that you see this as a great opportunity to expand yourself and learn a new language (perhaps also start taking lessons).

Explain why you want to be an international student rather than study in your own country. What are the differences between the two countries? The potential colleges? This is also a good opportunity to prove yourself ambitious and adventurous- institutions love this sort of thing.

How to write it

So these are all ideas for what to put in but how should they be put together?

The structure is ultimately dependent on who you are, as you should focus mostly on your strengths, which is appropriate as each statement should be personal to you.

However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t give you some general advice on how to put it together.

Generally speaking, you want to start with the ideas, skills and qualities you think universities and colleges will value the most. Follow these ideas through, then shortly detail the drier details. You should then end with what you feel is the best example of why this college is right for you.

For example, begin with who you are, and why you are applying. Detail your experience, challenges you have overcome and what makes you super special awesome. Then what it is about the course and college you like the most. The extracurricular activities, then your international student credentials. Finally, finish with why you think you are right for the college.

Some brief writing tips:

  • Be clear. Don’t use five words when one will do. If you feel you’re talking around something, edit and clarify.
  • A new paragraph for every new idea.
  • Generally, you want to move from the outside in. For example, after introducing yourself, you will talk about who you are before moving onto what you want.
  • Try to stand out (which is easier said than done), perhaps via humour. Be a bit bland though to try and avoid causing any offence (not that you would of course).
  • Proofread aloud and ask friends, teachers, family to check. Don’t get too upset if there are lots of problems. Better to find them early and fix them.
  • Don’t plagiarise or steal someone else’s work. For one, universities are generally pretty adept at finding fakes but also, other people’s statements are boring. Yours will be way better.
  • Make sure you stick within the length limits.

And there you have it. After lots of careful consideration and hard work, you should have a piece of writing that sells you as a person. You will also have experience of doing so, which will surely come in handy when you start looking for that job you are after.