A list of the best words to use in a personal statement

Updated 9 July 2022

You have the opportunity in the personal statement which accompanies your university application to discuss and present your skills, experiences and accomplishments. It is more than solely a list of your achievements, it requires you to be persuasive about why the university would want to offer you a place. When writing your personal statement, some words are more persuasive and powerful than others and choosing using them carefully can create a strong positive impression. In this article, we discuss words to use in a personal statement, the reasons why you might use them and which words to avoid.

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How to know what words to use in a personal statement

It can be difficult to know what words to use in a personal statement. A good personal statement is easy to read, flows nicely, tells a story about your experiences and presents you in the best light. This is why it's important to use words to increase the chances of this happening and therefore your success. You want the result to be a piece of writing that the admissions officer or course tutor enjoys reading and feels they would be happy to welcome you to the university and course. For this reason, your statement needs to be as effective as possible.

Because a personal statement is an academic piece of writing, it can be easy to want to write a lengthy piece. It's important to target it specifically towards the course you're applying for. Make sure every sentence you write is relevant as this can increase your chances of success. You can also tailor your personal statement to show your most relevant experience and studies for the course.

Related: How to write a graduate cover letter (with examples)

What to include in a personal statement?

Your personal statement might include the following information:

  • why you want to study at university

  • why you have chosen to apply for that course

  • why you're suitable for the course

  • your accomplishments and achievements

  • hobbies and extracurricular activities

  • relevant personal circumstances

When writing your personal statement, there are different types of words you might include to address each of these points clearly. You also want to use words that bring the personal statement together and make it easy to read. You're asked to combine a lot of information, so it's important to ensure it flows nicely. Use words which:

  • showcase your accomplishments and suitability

  • describe yourself

  • make a positive impression

  • help your writing flow and be easy to read

Words that showcase your accomplishments

Your personal statement is an opportunity for you to highlight all your experiences, grades, studies, extra-curricular activities and additional projects. When writing about them, you can highlight your efforts and hard work in making the project a success, the reasons why you achieved a certain grade or the hobbies you're proud of. Even though it might feel challenging to write about your successes, it's an important strategy to show that you're suitable for the course. Here are some words that can help you showcase your achievements:

Words to describe accomplishing a grade or project

  • accomplished

  • achieved

  • coordinated

  • completed

  • delivered (for example, a presentation)

  • directed

  • implemented

  • managed

  • organised

  • oversaw

  • participated

  • planned

  • promoted

  • resolved

  • supervised

  • won

Example: 'I organised a group of 3 people to create a presentation. I supervised our progress to make sure we would hit the deadline. Two of the team members had some conflict over workload, so I resolved this by redistributing the tasks. We delivered it on time and received a grade of 90%.'

Words to describe your interests and extracurricular activities

  • created

  • developed

  • enhanced

  • enjoyed

  • experienced

  • initiative

  • interested

  • responsibility

  • led

  • proficient at/in

  • sparked

Example: 'I've always enjoyed working with computers and last summer took that further by taking a course in Javascript. It sparked my curiosity and I began reading books and taking additional courses. 12 months later, I am proficient up to Level 3 and now want to deepen my knowledge and learning by studying at university. This is part of the reason I have applied for this course.'

Words to describe yourself

A course lecturer or admissions tutor are looking for applicants who exhibit the qualities and traits that are likely to add value and be successful at the course and the university. You can use words in your personal statement that showcase your suitability for this. It's a great opportunity to present who you are outside of your academic achievements and grades. You want to give them an idea of the kind of person you are. Here are some words you can use to describe yourself:

  • ambitious

  • confident

  • creative

  • determined

  • flexible

  • friendly

  • honest

  • motivated

  • proactive

  • reliable

  • team player

Example: 'I consider myself as ambitious, determined and motivated. As part of a team pitching a business idea to a panel, I was the person who started the process by organising the dates and times for us to brainstorm and come up with an idea. I am a keen team player and make sure to consider everyone's views and opinions in meetings like this. We were successful in our pitch and came third in the competition.'

Words that make a positive impression

If your application process does not include an interview, your personal statement might be the only opportunity there is to make a case for yourself. It's important that you use words that make a strong positive impression on the reader. These words are also quite persuasive for all topics and ideas you're writing about. You could use them throughout your personal statement to leave the reader with a good feeling:

  • brilliant

  • clear

  • dependable

  • effective

  • effortless

  • fascinating

  • thought-provoking

  • noteworthy

  • secure

  • smooth sailing

  • straightforward

Example: 'On my work experience placement, I helped to organise an event for a new book for an author. The aim was to make it as straightforward and effortless as possible for the author. I assisted with creating the promotional flyers, working out the capacity at the venue and setting up the chairs on the day. It gave me a fascinating glimpse into events management and how important it is to be dependable in those situations.'

Words that help your writing flow and be easy to read

Once you have most of your personal statement, it's now time to make sure that it's easy and pleasant to read. Course tutors and admissions officers might read hundreds of personal statements, so making it a good experience for them leaves a positive impression. It also shows that you're proficient at communication and can clearly explain why you're someone who they might want to accept on to the course.

Start by reading aloud what you've written. It might feel odd to do this, but it's an easy way to make sure everything makes sense and sounds good. It's a great way to discover sentences that don't work or awkward word choices. If it doesn't flow together, this is your opportunity to go back and edit before submitting. You can add in these words and transition phrases to help bring your personal statement together:

  • additionally

  • although

  • besides

  • for example

  • furthermore

  • on the other hand

  • therefore

  • while

  • yet

Example:'To broaden my knowledge outside of my studies, I started reading branding and advertising magazines, including one called "Campaign". This helped me become more aware of the industry in addition to discovering new and innovative campaigns. Furthermore, it gave me insight into what working in these roles would be like and increased my interest even more. This is part of the reason why I'm applying for this course.'

Words and writing techniques to avoid using

As this is an opportunity to pitch yourself to be successful in the course of your choice, it's important that your personal statement presents you in the best light and as authentically as possible. Some words, phrases and writing techniques are less effective and are worth avoiding in your personal statement. Here is a list of words and techniques to omit from your personal statement:

  • Negative words: Try to approach everything you share with a positive and friendly tone.

  • Cliches: These are common in many personal statements and might not help yours stand out positively.

  • Lists: Talking about your accomplishments and hobbies is great in a personal statement, especially when you provide examples for them. Setting them as lists doesn't have the same impact.

  • Unrelated stories: Try to keep your focus on providing what's needed with clarity. Going off-topic and rambling uses up valuable space within your word count that can be put to better use.

  • Jokes and puns: Use humour very carefully in your personal statement as what may seem funny to you might not come across in the same way by the person reading it.

  • Being controversial: A personal statement is an academic piece of writing where controversial topics and opinions might not be best placed to support what you're sharing.

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