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Durham University


Personal statement

Student studying

How to write an effective personal statement

The first thing you must remember is that your personal statement will probably be the only opportunity you get to "talk" directly to the Admissions staff making a decision on your application. It is therefore vitally important that you make this statement as effective as possible! If you do apply to a course which invites candidates to interview, your personal statement may also form the basis of your interview.

Your personal statement is an opportunity for you to demonstrate why you think you would be a good student for the course you are applying to and why the University should select your application over those of other candidates. It is primarily an academic statement and you must target it very directly towards the subject in which you are interested, though a University will also want to know something about your more general interests.

We recommend that you cover three main areas in your personal statement in the following order:

1. Why this subject?

This section could start with a short sentence and needs to capture the reason why you are interested in studying the subject you are applying for. Some of the most effective personal statements start simply, for example, "I want to study History because…". With this opening statement you are trying to communicate your enthusiasm for the course. You might then want to think about covering these questions and areas:

  • Your knowledge of the subject area
  • What does the course entail?
  • Why does it interest you?
  • What interests you the most?
  • Where could studying the course lead?

2. Why You?

Once you have outlined your reasons for being interested in the course you are applying to, you need to demonstrate why you would be a good student. In this section you are trying to convey your inclination and ability to study that course. You need to be able to show that you have the right background in terms of academic ability and the right interest or inclination, that is, that you know what the course you want to study involves. For example, if you want to be a primary school teacher but have never worked with children of that age the admissions staff will wonder what your inclination to study to be a teacher is! When writing this section you’ll need to think about and quote evidence from:

  • Your academic studies
  • Any voluntary work
  • Your hobbies and interests
  • Things you have learned from books, newspapers, TV programmes and so on
  • Experiences in your year out (if you are having one)
  • Any relevant work experience
  • Particular project work in your studies
  • EPQ (if applicable).

3. Are you interesting and unique?

Finally, you should write about what makes you an interesting and unique person; all those extra things you have done or experienced which will bring something extra to the community of the University you want to join. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you need to reflect on the skills and lessons you have learned and write about that. You may want to cover:

  • What you enjoy doing outside of school
  • Your hobbies, leisure activities
  • Sports you participate in
  • Other sorts of extra-curricular activities
  • Significant responsibilities you hold, at home or in clubs or societies
  • Special achievements
  • What you have learned if you have had a job.

Remember to mention these parts of your life, and if appropriate the skills that will help you with the course.