How to ace your UCAS application and personal statement

For current A-Level students, the UCAS application window is fast approaching.

It is a necessary process for those who wish to continue their education at university, but often a dreaded one, as many struggle to write their personal statements.

Farmers Weekly spoke to Liam Dowson, head of student recruitment at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, to get his advice for writing a successful application and choosing the right course for you.

See also: Why student vets are not going into the industry

Top advice

  • Research the uni website, particularly course specification and module options
  • Attend open days
  • Show interest in the course with relevant experiences
  • Follow the ABC rule: Activity, benefit, course
  • Check out the students’ union page


For those considering going to university, the first step should always be to carry out research to find out which university, and course, is the right match.

Liam recommends taking time to look on university websites, paying particular attention to the course specification and module options.

He says: “An agriculture course at one university could actually be quite different to an agricultural course at another university.

“You need to look at the course content, at what the themes are within the course, what modules you will be studying, the pathways you will go on, and whether this matches your interests.”

While initial research can be done online, Liam advises attending a university open day to get a sense of what it would be like to be a student there.

“We do find that going to open days is the best way to get a feel for a place. It gives you the chance to talk to the staff and students, and have a look around all the facilities, whether that’s the classrooms, the labs, accommodation or student bar.

“We find that students tend to get a good feel of a university even within 10 minutes of being there,” he says.

Student life

A key part of finding the right university is being able to see yourself studying and living there. To get a flavour of life on campus, Liam suggests looking on Instagram at the students’ union page.

“Our students’ union has got an Instagram page, and as a university we don’t get any say in what they put on there. It is all entirely authentic and student-led.

“I look at that and think it’s such a great insight into what it is like to be a student here, because they’re posting student content of all the societies, clubs and trips that they go on. You get a really good sense of what student life is like.”

Personal statement

The personal statement is the part of the UCAS application that students often find most difficult.

It is a short essay which gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their interests and achievements.

Here to take the stress out of the process, Liam has a tried-and-tested formula for writing a strong personal statement.

“There is no right or wrong… because it is specific to the individual. But what we want is to read through and see that the person is genuinely really interested in the course and has a real desire to come and study here.

“A good way to demonstrate this is to talk about experiences that are relevant to the course.

“This could be work experience, where you can talk about what you’ve learned and enjoyed, and how it is going to help you in the future.

“It could be wider reading that you’ve done, or perhaps a summer school or taster course that’s run by a university that you’ve attended, or it could be webinars and Ted talks.”

The key is to take these experiences and explain how they have been beneficial, rather than writing them as a list.

“It’s slightly cheesy, but there’s something called the ‘ABC rule’ that you can follow,” says Liam. 

“A stands for Activity, so if you’ve done something, that’s great. But B stands for Benefit, so you need to explain what the benefit of the activity was. What have you learned from it? Think about how has it helped you, and what insights you have gained.

“C stands for Course, so the final step is linking this back to the course. Why is it relevant to what you want to study?

“If you can cover those three elements, then you will have a good formula for a strong personal statement.”