The Personal Statement, or PS. | | DJS

The Personal Statement, or PS.

The UCAS form has two long pieces of writing. One is the Personal Statement, written by you, the other, the Reference, is written by your referee.

The personal Statement for UCAS is where you explain who you are and why you want to study the course. Your application already says what you want to study and what qualifications you have. This is where you explain what else you do, what your interests are, why you want to study your subject.

You have a space to fill with words; about 4-500 words, written in 12-point to fit the space given. Almost the first thing UCAS does with an application is to reduce your A3 form to A4, so the text must be readable, which means you want it typed and that is why most of us apply online.

Please, do not:

  Do not tell university staff how wonderful they are:

  (i) you are writing to five of them so which one is the good one?

  (ii) they already know exactly how good they are

  (iii) you’re wasting an opportunity and wasting words

  (iv) it might be a good thing to say in Chinese, but it is not a good thing in English.

  Do not tell a reader how wonderful you are: “I am a really excellent person” “ Look at my fantastic grades” “I am really good-looking”. They don’t want to know and you are repeating (iii) and (iv) of the mistakes above. Do tell them what you have done and maybe how that has changed your view of the world; you are better off showing by examples of experience that you will fit into university.

There is a simple test: if it reads well in Mandarin when you translate it back, it probably is not good English. You will write your PS many times, maybe once a week until you send it off. Some will be okay, some dreadful, some funny. You need to try different styles, different approaches to the points you want to make. Experiment. It’s worth it.

Do not copy paragraphs from other people. This is plagiarism. The whole idea is to communicate and falsity will be discovered. Making your PS boringly the same as everyone else’s devalues your effort and devalues everyone’s PS. The reference has become largely devalued because they all read the same; don’t let yours fall into the same trap.

Do read the UCAS site on this topic. Be clear about those points and plan how you are going to make your case. You will want a good start and finish and that may take the most work. Find your own way. It may help a little to read other people’s efforts, such as here or here. These may help, but in the end you will have to write your own.

Write it yourself. If you tout it around all your teachers, who wrote it? Staff fall into the same traps, trying hard to make your PS into the best written document possible—but then whose words are on the page? It is really good if you learn from this experience, but don’t try to fool a university; the people there are not stupid and it is quite likely that the person reading your PS this year will be among the people you meet when you get there, so they are perfectly capable of having an opinion on you before you arrive, and so if you don’t live up to the expectations that individual has formed of you, you will be found out—and we will all suffer as the message percolates back through the system. That same problem applies to the reference—it applies to the whole application. What we all want is for an application from one of our Centres, from China, to (always) represent our standards of honesty, accuracy and integrity. In the long run it will do wonders for our image: this situation applies to many many famous schools, but sadly it is one of the easiest images to be lost as one bad example spoils all the others—for years.


This is when you copy words from someone else. The universities have some pretty simple software that checks to see if phrases are repeated across the range of applications received. The computer can check the whole intake quite easily. The tutor for admissions (or the team) then have a report which points out all sorts of things. It is a big read label that is stuck on the application—just before it goes in the bin.

Some of the newspaper reports show the sillinesses possible but, I repeat, the people reading these things process data for a living—they are good at this. So one of the obvious reports will point out the length of a common passage. For example, it is common practice for us in China to put a paragraph in the Reference explaining what the Centre is [“this is a new Centre and <applicant> is in the first cohort to reach A2 level”] and so on. I would expect this to show up strongly; that is not a bad thing, as it points up how many of our pupils have applied to that university—this is a positive thing. Contrarily, when a whole contingent write about, say, collecting money for a particular set of disadvantaged children with hare-lips and each has written about it in a way that suggests they were the leader, it devalues everyone’s application and a sharp admissions tutor will ignore all of these applications. By putting them in the bin.

Do research this (plagiarism) on the net; it is an interesting topic. Those of you interested in information systems, social sciences and politics ought to contemplate some more serious study of the phenomenon, maybe even attempt an essay as practice writing.


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