Thousands of students across the UK study the same subjects and have the same predicted grades, UCAS personal statements give applicants a chance to stand out from the crowd and convince the university that they deserve a place more than the other applicants.
The 4000 character personal statement limit may seem stingy but it’s there for a good reason. The limit ensures applicants write concisely and helps to level the playing field. In the 2019/20 admissions cycle over 500,000 students across the UK applied to university, if there wasn’t a character limit admissions tutors would be there forever reading all of the personal statements. Learning to write in a succinct manner is vital for success at university, and writing your statement will help prepare you for it.
It can be difficult to know where to start when cutting sentences and paragraphs, but you need to be ruthless. Every single sentence needs to add value to your application, if it doesn’t it needs to be cut. Here’s 5 easy ways you can reduce your word count.
Get Help Editing Your Statement
Of course you’ll think that everything you’ve included is relevant but getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over your statement can do wonders for cutting down your word count. Ask a TRUSTED friend, family member, or teacher to help edit your statement, they’re likely to be more ruthless than you would be. Under no circumstances should you put your personal statement online on websites like the Student Room for strangers to help you, if someone copies your statement and turns it in, UCAS will flag both of your statements for plagiarism. It would be extremely difficult to prove that you were the original author.
Cut The Quotes
“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business." (Milne,1921)
Quotes are a pet hate of admissions tutors and take up valuable characters. Your personal statement is meant to be exactly that, personal to you. Universities don’t care what Aristotle thinks about Maths, they want to know what you think and what you want to learn more about. The purpose of your personal statement is to let the university know why you’re interested in studying the subject, it’s extremely unlikely you’re interested in a degree just because of a quote.
You may think you’re being original by using a quote, but it’s very likely other applicants will have the same idea. For example, the Nelson Mandela quote “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” was used nearly 150 times in personal statements in one admissions cycle. Admissions tutors won’t read the quote and think that it makes you an ideal candidate for the course.
Cut Extra Words
A really quick way to reduce your word count is to do a search for the words ‘very’, ‘really’ and ‘that’. Your sentences will make sense without the extra words, for example ‘I really like’ can be changed to ‘I enjoy’, and ‘made me realise that I’ would be fine as ‘made me realise I’.
In a regular essay you might introduce themes and narrate throughout, such as saying ‘In this essay I will argue that XYZ’ or ‘This section discusses XYZ’. You DO NOT need to do this in your personal statement, it’s very clear to the admissions tutor that the purpose of the statement is to support your application, they can see what each paragraph is about without you telling them.
Colour Code Sections
Whilst there is no set word limit for each section of your personal statement, there is a rough structure for how many words each section should be with academics being the largest, and extra-curricular activities the smallest.
A quick and easy way of seeing which sections you’ve written the most for is by colour coding each area so you can see the breakdown of your word count. If you realise your extra-curricular activities section has just as many sentences as your academic section, it’s clear that you need to work on cutting down your extra-curricular activities.
Cutting Content & Developing Your Points
You need to make sure each point you make isn’t random and is related to your application. It’s easy to say ‘get rid of any sentences that don’t add value’ but I’m sure you think all of your sentences add value. This method of cutting down will help you to figure out if your points are necessary, but might actually increase word count if you find you need to develop the points.
A quick way to figure out if the sentence is relevant or not, is to ask yourself ‘So What?’. For example, simply saying ‘I play football’ doesn’t really add anything. Lots of people play football, why is this important? Are you applying for a course like Paramedic Science where teamwork is necessary to be successful? You need to say something like ‘I’ve been able to strengthen my team working skills by playing for a football team, this skill is essential to be a successful paramedic’.
If you’re applying for an economics degree and you say ‘I’ve read Freakonomics’ to show you’ve done wider reading - great you’ve read a book - so what? Did you learn anything from the book? Has it made you want to study specific topics?
Lots of courses will have interviews so you can talk about anything you didn’t include, but for your statement you need to be clear and demonstrate you’re the ideal candidate. You can also add up to five work entries on your UCAS application, so don’t worry about including them in your personal statement.