How do I write a compelling personal statement when I have nothing to say?

how to write a personal statement
Stuck on how to write an interesting personal statement? Read on for some tips and tricks. Source: Alain Jocard/AFP

I’m graduating from school soon and plan to start university, but I’m stuck with my application. My life is so boring — I haven’t achieved anything like being a Student Council President like the rest of my friends. What do I write about in my personal statement?

Dear Student, 

Congratulations on taking your first step into the rest of your life! Now comes the hard part. 

University applications can be stressful — most of us here at Study International know that first-hand. But don’t panic — feeling stuck on how to write a personal statement is a common problem. After all, a personal statement is likely to be different from anything you’ve written about while in school.

You’ve probably come across plenty of guides on how to write a personal statement, but lots of these are geared towards those who have a list of accomplishments under their belts, just like the friends you’ve mentioned. It’s probably stressed you out, and we don’t blame you.

However, here’s what they don’t tell you: you don’t always have to be an expert pianist or top of your class to stand out in your university applications. 

You just need a great personal statement — and this is something within your power to do.

A great personal statement can make or break your application. Source: Alain Jocard/AFP

Why is my personal statement so important?

Your personal statement is the one chance for you to speak directly to a university you’re applying to. This is your shot to tell your chosen university why the subject you’re looking to study interests you and why you want to pursue it with them. Most importantly, it’s your chance to tell them about yourself in your own words. 

What if I don’t have anything interesting to say?

Firstly, don’t adopt a negative mindset. You aren’t boring just because you haven’t won a national championship at an insanely young age, or have been named best in the world for your A Level results. 

Think about the things you do every day. They probably seem insignificant to you, but you’d be surprised about the skills you unknowingly gain from your hobbies. For example, you might not realise it, but video gaming in your past time gives you plenty of opportunities to think on your feet, to make decisions under pressure, organise and lead a team, strategise ways to accomplish your in-game goals, and more. 

This is backed up by research too: scientists have found that video games improve cognitive function; increase the parts of your brain responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills; helps dyslexic kids improve their reading abilities; and even makes you more open to new experiences.

Now think about this in relation to the subject you’re applying for. If you want to pursue an engineering degree, you can talk about the problem-solving skills you’ve gained from gaming. English students can mention how the rich storylines are inspiring; business management students have solid examples of demonstrable leadership and communication. 

Having said this, you should still speak with your advisor to see if something like video gaming is worth mentioning in your personal statement. Remember that the most common paths aren’t always the best ones to follow, so be creative in how you chart yours!

If in doubt, remember this piece of advice given by an outreach officer at University of Gloucestershire: “It’s an odd thing to talk about yourself, but don’t make assumptions about what an admissions tutor knows about you. Those things that make you different are what they need to know. They make you who you are, so tell us about them.”

How to write a personal statement: Find ways to keep learning

However, finding a way to tap into your existing strengths doesn’t mean that you should neglect other ways you can improve yourself. If you have time between now and your application deadline, you can do a lot of things to spice up your personal statement based on your personal interests and future career goals.

There are lots of online courses you can take within the span of a few weeks, such as a Data Analytics or UX Design course on Google, for example. If you’re pressed for time, Coursera offers a range of short courses you can complete within a day. 

Is your application window in a few months? That’s great! You have plenty of time to gain some hands-on experience. It doesn’t matter how late into the term you are; if there’s a club or society you’re interested in joining, now’s the time to do it. Or if you want to take on a part-time job for a few weeks, or volunteer for a day or two, you should go for it. You’ll probably pick up a range of useful skills between now and then that you can talk about in your personal statement.

It’s a great way to show your uni that you’re still on a journey of self-development, and are constantly looking for ways to learn and grow. (Here’s a secret: universities love to hear that.)

Don’t underestimate your abilities — there’s a guarantee that you’ll have something unique to offer. Source: Fernando Leon/AFP

Mention any difficulties you’ve faced

There are some students who don’t have the best grades or a huge list of accomplishments for a good reason: family problems, financial issues, struggles with their mental or physical health, and so on. 

If you think you fall into this category, you should mention this in your personal statement. This is even backed up by experts from UCAS. It’ll help your uni understand that you’re less active in extracurricular activities for a reason. It could even demonstrate your positive traits, like resilience and inner strength in the face of hardship.

However, there’s a fine line between outlining your personal circumstances and writing out a sob story. You don’t want your university to think that you’re trying to gain a spot out of pity, or that you’re trying to use something bad that’s happened to you as an excuse for not doing things. 

If your circumstances have been genuine roadblocks, then do talk about them; if not, stay clear of this.

Give yourself plenty of time

The first draft is never the one you should submit; you’ll go through three, four, or sometimes even 10 drafts before you’ve got the right one. That’s not accounting for the skills you might have gained in the few weeks between your first draft and the application date, or any new clubs you’ve joined or books you’ve read.

Because of this, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to write your personal statement. This doesn’t have to mean you should start stringing words together straight away; instead, start by creating a mind map about your skills, hobbies, and interests. This might seem simple, but don’t underestimate how much time this can take. 

Above all, be confident in your own abilities and self-worth. Yes, you’ll have to convince your uni that you’re special, but to do this, you have to believe in yourself. The first step is convincing yourself that you deserve a spot in the course you’re applying for and that you can stand out among the rest.

You can do this. Good luck!