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What is a Personal Statement?

The personal statement is your opportunity to show the universities you are applying to that you are the ideal candidate for their course.  It should be all about you – why you’re interested in the course, what makes you unique and what makes you stand out.  With only one personal statement for all your choices, it’s important that you use this opportunity to show why you’re better than everyone else applying and why we should choose you.

But where do you start?  What do you say?  What should be your opening sentence? There are good and bad personal statements, so read our guide to help make yours the best it can be. 

How to write a personal statement

Before writing your personal statement it’s worth doing a bit of research to find out what your choice universities are looking for and what will make you stand out from the competition.

Whilst “personal statement” makes it sound like it’s a biography about you, some of the best personal statements we’ve seen are more like a mini essay related to the course. Think about what areas of the subject you enjoy and tell us what you understand about them; we want to know your thoughts about them and why you think that. Show us your passion, knowledge and skills by demonstrating your engagement with the subject. Think about how you can back up what you say and that you can critically engage with your subject. If you got excited about a course because of an article or book you read, or a lecture you went to, tell us about it! 

Most of the statement should be about the subject you want to study, but we also like to hear a little bit about what you get involved in outside of your studies. We know that some of our applicants work part time, have carer responsibilities or perhaps are involved in high level sport, music or drama, for example, and it’s exciting to see applicants who are successful with their studies whilst also balancing other demands on their time as there’s a lot to get involved with at Durham. If you have relevant interests to your course then we’d like to hear about those too, for example if you’re applying to an education course and have been involved in tutoring other students. 

There are loads of UCAS resources you can use to help get you started, including a personal statement mind map and worksheet.

Dos and Don’ts

You’ve only got 4000 characters, including spaces, to convince us we should choose you, so make every word count. These do’s and don’ts should help you along the way.


  • Stay focussed and relevant.
  • Be specific; use examples and give evidence.
  • Be authentic, enthusiastic and persuasive.
  • Avoid generic and obvious statements.
  • Ask someone you trust for ideas and feedback – they might think of something you don’t!
  • Draft your personal statement then copy and paste into Apply.
  • Check your spelling and grammar and make sure you proofread.  Read your personal statement out loud or ask friends and family to read it for you.
  • Try for a memorable, strong opening, an engaging middle, and tie up the key points you want to make at the end.
  • Think about what you’re saying and what it says about you. Sell yourself! 


  • Repeat yourself, and avoid repeating words close together. 
  • Write a chronological history – instead think about the structure and what you want to feature at the start. 
  • Waste characters! You only have 4000 so don’t include things like lists of your qualifications – we can see those in the qualifications section of your application already. 
  • Use ‘I’ all the time. 
  • Use clichés 
  • Copy. UCAS has software that will detect if your personal statement has been copied from someone else’s and they’ll let all  the universities you’ve applied to know. 
  • Expect to get it right first time.  You’ll need several drafts before you’re happy with it.

Writing an excellent personal statement needn’t be scary if you remember to be focussed, enthusiastic and genuine. We want something that tells us all about you and the contribution you can make to our community.

Substitute Personal Statements

It is not necessary to write an additional personal statement, however we have a tool just for Durham applicants which allows you to submit a substitute personal statement if the Durham course you’re applying to is very different to the one in your UCAS personal statement. 

For example, if you applied to four Chemistry courses but you also applied to our Natural Sciences course (even including Chemistry, but with other subjects too), or perhaps you have applied to Medicine at four other universities but chose Anthropology as your fifth choice with us.

We ask that you: 

  • Use no more than 4000 characters (including spaces) to match the UCAS personal statement length 
  • Use plain text – don't use bold, italics, underlining 
  • Submit it within three days of your application to Durham being acknowledged.  
  • This is because until we have your application from UCAS we won’t be able to match the statement (and the system won’t let you upload this); it can take UCAS a few days to process all the applications they’ve received.  
  • If you reach three days without acknowledgement, you can still try to upload the personal statement – if it works then we have your application and the statement will be matched to it. 
  • Read the guidance for writing a personal statement on this page 
  • Use one of the following browsers when uploading the statement: Safari, Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 (some users of Internet Explorer 11 have had difficulties uploading their statement).

Submit a substitute personal statement


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Similarity in Personal Statements

UCAS checks all personal statements with their Similarity Detection software (CopyCatch) to ensure your work doesn’t contain the same or similar text to websites, another applicant's personal statement, or other documents. When a personal statement is detected as having similarity to one of these sources, UCAS provides us with a report highlighting the similarity and an indication of what the text in the statement is similar to. 

Once we are notified that an application contains text similar to elsewhere, we will use information from UCAS and from the applicant to determine the seriousness of the similarity found in the personal statement and departments will then make an academic decision which is communicated to applicants through UCAS as normal. 

Each applicant whose personal statement is flagged to us by the UCAS Similarity Detection Service will be contacted by the UG Admissions Team to offer the opportunity to explain how the similarity occurred. 

For those admitted as a student, Durham University takes all forms of Academic Misconduct, including 'plagiarism' or 'copying' very seriously and submitting work which is not entirely a student's own can lead to expulsion from the University. We also operate a fair and transparent admissions process and as such, need to ensure that all information provided to us is honest and accurate. 

If you have submitted an application to us and you have been notified that UCAS has detected similarity in your personal statement, you can contact us directly to explain the similarity though.


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