How to write a personal statement as an international student

  • 6 min read
How to write a personal statement as an international student

Writing an impressive personal statement is a crucial part of the university application process, and a great way of improving your chances of being accepted.

Before you can experience the amazing advantages of studying abroad, you must convince the admissions tutor that you deserve a place at your dream university.

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What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is a short essay that explains why you want to study at a university and why you’re suited to your chosen program.

It’s your chance to prove you’re a worthy applicant and shout about your interests, achievements, experience, and aspirations.

How to start a personal statement

Your personal statement should grab the reader’s attention from the outset, so getting to the point quickly is key. Open with a concise sentence that captures who you are and your motivation for studying the course you’re applying for.

Don’t waste time trying to impress the admissions tutor with fancy clichés or gimmicks; they’ve seen it all before. You’re more likely to make a memorable first impression if you communicate your enthusiasm and excitement from the start.

Kicking off your statement with somebody else’s quote is a risky move. The admissions tutor isn’t interested in what somebody else thought or said; they’d rather know what you believe. Your statement could lose its authenticity if you rely on the words of others too much.

You don’t have to start the writing process at the very beginning either. Rip up the rule book and leave the opening paragraph until last. Starting somewhere in the middle can help to get your creative juices flowing. Once you’ve got some ideas down on paper, you might find writing the introduction easier.

What to include in your personal statement

  • Why you want to study abroad: Studying abroad is a big decision, so you’ll need to prove you’re ready to take the leap.
  • Why you want to study in this particular country: Tell the admissions tutor why their country is the best place for you to pursue your dreams.
  • Why you want to study this course: Passion is the key ingredient in successful personal statements. If you can demonstrate a genuine interest and love for the subject you've chosen to study, your chances of being offered a place will increase.
  • Your long-term career goals: Discussing what you want to achieve after graduation will illustrate your commitment to your field as well as your ambition.
  • Your language skills: Talk about your grasp of relevant languages and the results of any language proficiency tests you’ve taken.
  • Relevant work experience: Mentioning any placements or internships you’ve completed in the same field as your studies will help you stand out from the crowd.
  • Voluntary work: Include any volunteering projects you’re involved in, as well as the useful skills and life lessons you’ve picked up.
  • Hobbies and interests: Whether you enjoy sports, baking, or gardening, you’ll have honed some transferable skills that are worth mentioning. Linking your extracurricular interests to the course you’re applying to will take your personal statement to the next level.
  • The documents requested by the university: You might be asked to include forms and references as part of your personal statement. Failure to submit them could result in rejection.

How long should your personal statement be?

The required length of your personal statement will depend on where you choose to study, and whether you’re applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate program.

For instance, if you want to study in the US - the world’s most popular country for international students - you’ll have to adapt the length of your college application essay to match the word limit of each institution.

If you opt to study in the UK, your personal statement will be a standardized length: a maximum of 4,000 characters and 47 lines. You’ll submit your personal statement through a centralized portal called the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

It’s always worth double-checking the word limits of the university you’re applying to before you begin writing. Becoming familiar with the requirements will help you plan and structure your statement more effectively. It’ll also demonstrate your eye for detail and your ability to follow instructions.

How do you structure a personal statement?

There’s no right way to structure your statement, but creating a logical argument that covers all the information required by the admissions tutor is vital. This basic framework might help you craft your essay:

  1. Introduction: This section should address your reasons for wanting to study the program and how it aligns with your future career goals. Emphasize what you enjoy most about your subject, and the topics you’re excited to learn more about.

  2. Your academic record: Write about your academic achievements in related subjects and how the knowledge you’ve gained has prepared you for this course.

  3. Your engagement with the field: You need to prove that you have a genuine interest in the subject outside of the classroom. Talk about your favorite books, competitions you’ve entered, events you’ve attended, or extra courses you’ve pursued.

  4. Professional skills and experience: Tell the admissions tutor about any relevant work experience or volunteering opportunities you have under your belt. Discuss how the skills you’ve picked up have equipped you for higher education.

  5. Extracurricular interests: Show you’re a well-rounded person who can balance your studies with your social life. Mention the hobbies and activities you enjoy in your spare time, and the transferable skills you could apply to your program.

  6. Conclusion: Wrap up your personal statement by reinforcing why you should be offered a place. Reiterate why you’re an ideal candidate, and the aspirations you have for your time at university.

How to write a good personal statement

To give yourself the best chance, you’ll need to write interestingly and accurately. Here are some top tips for making your application shine:

  • Be the real you: Admissions officers want to get to know the person behind the paper. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, or exaggerate any of your achievements. If you do, you run the risk of getting caught out in an interview.
  • Get the basics right: Poor spelling, grammar, and structure can ruin a personal statement. By getting the basics right, you’ll already be one step ahead.
  • Proofread: Once you’ve proofread your piece, get your friends, family, and teachers to cast their eyes over it. They might point out things you haven’t noticed before and offer useful feedback.
  • Don’t rush: The best ideas often take time to develop, so it’s sensible to start working on your statement well in advance of the deadline. This gives you time to go through several drafts before the submission date.
  • Don’t copy or buy: It’s okay to look at examples of personal statements online, but don’t be tempted to copy or buy them. Your statement will be passed through an online plagiarism checker and any similarity issues will be flagged.
  • Find out what your university is looking for: University websites and course descriptions tell you about the kind of candidates they’re seeking. Tailor your statement to match these skills and characteristics.