It’s completely normal to have lots of questions about personal statements. Is your personal statement the be all and end all? How long will it take to write? When should you begin writing it? Who should you turn to for help with your personal statement? And what should you do if you’re applying for several different subjects?
We’ve got the answers to your burning questions – including top tips from Emma-Marie Fry and Jonathan Hardwick at Inspiring Futures, a provider of careers information, advice and guidance to young people.
Q. How important is my personal statement in getting me an offer from a university?
A. How much weight an admissions tutor will give to your personal statement depends on the university and the course you’re applying to. ‘Some tutors might use the personal statement to shortlist candidates to interview while others will use it to decide who to give offers to without any interviews. For the latter, the personal statement is likely to be a major deciding factor,’ says Emma, an area director for Inspiring Futures. Emma manages the careers guidance team in London and the south-east and goes into schools to deliver support to students.
But that doesn’t mean your personal statement isn’t important for admissions tutors that hold interviews; your statement will need to make them want to meet you face to face.
Q. When should I start writing my personal statement?
A. ‘Start early – ideally in your summer term of year 12,’ says Jonathan. ‘Admissions tutors are only human and they can spend more time on somebody who applies early on in the cycle than if they wait until the rush at the end.’
‘Procrastination can be tempting but it will make things difficult for you in the long run,’ says Emma. ‘Face it head on and get on with it because you might end up enjoying writing your personal statement after all.’
Q. How long will my personal statement take to write?
A. There is no set amount of time that your personal statement should take to write but it will definitely take several sittings. ‘It can take anything up to eight drafts,’ says Jonathan, a former head of sixth form and now a professional development manager at Inspiring Futures. ‘It’s not going to be something you knock out first time around.’
‘Don’t agonise over it for too long though because, actually, the most important thing is getting your grades,’ he warns.
Q. What research should I do before writing my personal statement?
A. Writing a strong personal statement doesn’t start with writing straight away. You’ll need to take some time to collect your ideas, look into the courses and universities you’re applying to and plan what you want to write about.
‘You need to look into the course you’re applying to. What is it all about? What will you do on the course? What will you get out of it? What do you need to be good at to do well on the course?,’ says Emma. ‘Then there is the planning stage, which involves thinking about what you could write about.’
Take a look at our degree subject guides to kick off your research into the course. Then move on to look at the course descriptions on the websites of the universities you’re applying to.
Q. Where can I get help with my personal statement?
A. If you need help with your personal statement, there are several places you can turn to. These include:
- a subject teacher who is relevant to the course you’re applying to
- university websites, which have a lot of information such as useful further reading
- admissions tutors – you could go to a university open day and speak to them about what they want to see in a personal statement.
Your parents and friends can also be useful people to bounce ideas off and to help you think about what you’ve achieved. Just make sure that your personal statement is in your own voice.
Be sure to make the most of any help offered to you by your school. If your school offers access to independent careers advisors, such as Inspiring Futures, you could speak to them about your personal statement. Or if your school arranges any talks by schools outreach officers from universities, go along and you might even have the chance to ask them a question or two.
Q. How can I write a personal statement if I’m applying to different courses?
A. If you’re applying to different courses, be careful not to trip yourself up in your personal statement by referring specifically to one of the courses and neglecting to mention the others. Jonathan says: ‘Talk in general terms. So if you’re applying to a few different engineering courses, talk generally about wanting to know how things work, solve problems and be analytical rather than how you’ve always wanted to design aircraft wings.’
However, Jonathan advises: ‘Don’t apply for courses that are very different or have conflicting entry requirements.’ Emma agrees: ‘Applying to two courses driven by different values like accountancy and medicine will look indecisive.’
Use our course search to find the courses you want to apply to.
1. How long does it take for my welcome letter to come?
It really depends on where you're applying from. Once the application has been sent to Ucas, it can take around 24-48 hours to process. Once processed, the letter will be generated and sent. This can take two to three working days to be received if being sent in the UK, but up to 21 days if being sent overseas
2. How much does the application cost?
The application fee is £12 for a single choice and £23 for two to five choices.
3. When is the best time to apply?
In short, the best time to apply is by the deadline for your course! For most courses, the deadline will be January 15, 2013. However courses such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine/science had a deadline of October 15, 2012, as did all applications for the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge. There are also some art and design courses which have a deadline of March 24, 2013.
4. How many times should I redraft my personal statement?
There isn't going to be a magic number with this but the key will be getting other people to read it and have their input as part of the redrafting process. Don't forget that your personal statement will be seen by a number of admissions staff during the application process, so it's a good idea to get teachers, parents and friends to have a look over it and offer their thoughts on what you've written.
5. When is the soonest/latest I will receive an offer?
This really will vary depending on the university/college and individual courses. Some universities may make all their decisions at the same time and others may stagger them throughout the year. Or it can be the case that individual faculties within a university may make decisions at different times.
The way in which universities make their decisions is explained in more depth in the UCAS Advisers' blog.
However, if you apply by the January 15 deadline, the latest a university can make a decision is May 9, 2013.
6. When will I hear from courses I applied to before the October 15 deadline? Shouldn't I have already heard?
As above, a decision can be made at any time up until May 9, 2013. In terms of hearing back about an interview, this will vary depending on the university and course. If you're worried that you've not heard back then get in touch with your university for an update on the status of the application.
7. What are the best times/dates to check my Ucas Track for updates? (i.e. When is it most often updated – ever in the middle of the night?)
Track will update throughout the day as and when universities process their decisions. In the majority of cases, Track will update immediately following a university decision. However, depending on the internal systems being used by some universities, the update may happen overnight.
8. Are there any subjects or universities which are particularly fast/slow to respond?
9. Many of my friends already have offers – does that mean there are fewer places left for me?
No. Universities may make decisions at different points throughout the year, so if some friends have already had offers it doesn't mean that an offer wouldn't be made to you at a later date. Also, it's important not to think that one offer being made represents one university place no longer available. Many universities will make more offers than there are places available because they know that not all offers will result in a confirmed place. This can be for various reasons such as not meeting the conditions of the offer, only being accepted as an insurance choice or the offer being declined by an applicant.
10. Can I still change my choices if I've applied?
Yes. You can substitute a university choice within seven days of the date on your original Welcome letter by going to the Choices section of Track and clicking on 'Substitute Choice'. Outside of the seven days, it's not possible to do this.
If you wish to change a course choice but remain with the same university, you should speak to them directly about whether they'd be willing to change this for you. There's no seven-day window in this case but any change would be at the university's discretion.
University application: students' top 10 questions
Ucas expert: university application dos and don'ts
Ucas guide to the personal statement
Try the Telegraph's interactive University Course Finder