UK vs US Personal Statement Openers

Our previous blog post addressed how UK and US personal statements differ. This post will explore these variations in the form of sample openers to UK and then US personal statements.

UK Personal Statement Openers


AVOID these openers:


1. ‘From an early age…’

What’s the issue?

This is a very overused opener for a UCAS personal statement! Avoid clichés!

 2. An inspirational quote e.g.: ‘Pure mathematics is the poetry of logic’ – Albert Einstein

What’s the issue?

Since you only have 4000 characters, it’s best not to quote in your personal statement and to use your own words. Although some admissions teams might be impressed by a well-used, unique quote, they often sound clichéd.

3. ‘My mother was a …, which inspired me to pursue a career in…’

What’s the issue?

This is a very overused opener. Although making reference to a family member, friend, or another person in your life who inspired you to choose the course to which you’re applying is acceptable, try not to use it as a starting line.

4. ‘I am currently studying A-Levels in History, English and Geography and I am writing an EPQ.’

What’s the issue?

Frankly, this is a boring start! Incorporate the subjects you’re currently studying more naturally into the main body of the text.

 5. ‘I want to study Geography at university because I enjoy learning about the world.’

What’s the issue?

Again, this is quite a dull way to start your piece of writing. Think of an interesting, but clear, reason why you want to study this course at university. Go into more detail than just one sentence. Remember, your whole personal statement should be informing the admissions team of why you’re passionate about your subject, through academic and other means.


GOOD openers:


1. Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE):

‘Upon the opening of any quality newspaper, one would find that economic and political news dominate the headlines, but upon deeper reading it can be seen that the foundations of all human thought and actions have been shaped by philosophical theories. The unification of these three subjects is one of the reasons why I want to pursue PPE at degree level.’

Source: Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) Personal Statement –

What’s been done well?

Succinct, engaging and to the point, this opener is very effective. With just two sentences, you can say a lot!

 2. Financial Mathematics:

‘In the financial sector, decisions must be made in split seconds that can result in either vast profits or significant losses. The collapse of Lehman Brothers, demonstrated to me the vulnerability of all businesses as the size and level of profit does not matter as poor decisions can still create loss. Making financial decisions is intriguing to me as I ultimately would like to apply my mathematical ability into a career in finance.’

Source: Financial Mathematics Personal Statement –

What’s been done well?

This is engaging while demonstrating comprehension of, and interest in, the subject. It also makes reference to personal career ambitions. While you don’t have to reference your future career goals in your UCAS statement, it can be a useful point of discussion.

 3. History:

‘My interest in History was first sparked during a remembrance service at the Menin Gate. Hearing the bugles bellow out the ‘Last Post’ to a crowd of thousands, instilled in me a deeper appreciation of the past, and the sacrifices that were made to sculpt the world we live in today. The development of creed across time is something that intrigues me. Outside of school I have developed my knowledge of such manifestations through immersing myself in Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, and also reading about Callicles in Plato’s ‘Gorgias’. I found it intriguing that the development of societal structure and legitimate governments differ in various civilizations, whether this is through the Qing dynasties’ centralisation of power or perhaps classic republicanism in the days of Cicero. Moreover, I have taken an interest with the works of Locke and Hobbes on the structure of the perfect state. The disparity between differing ideologies is an imperative part of History for me, as it stretches across society as a whole.’

Source: History Personal Statement – Oxford University –

What’s been done well?

Offering a high level of analysis, knowledge of and engagement with the subject, this personal statement opener is impressive. The anecdote is unique and well-placed.

 4. Biochemistry 

‘In the sciences, every answer raises a new question. The field is one of infinite possibility and this is what most attracts me to it. Studying biochemistry would allow me to understand in detail the complexity of life and how different systems within it interact. To me, it explains the beauty of life, how it can be broken down into various chemical reactions and by studying the chemical composition and structure of separate biological molecules, I hope to gain a more cohesive understanding of life.’

Source: Biochemistry 10 Personal Statement –

What’s been done well?

This is the perfect length. The opening paragraph is clear and introduces the student’s interests. Importantly, it leaves them space to elaborate in the main body of the text.


US College Essay Openers


These openers are taken from Harvard sample personal essays. Note that these are very different in style and tone from the more conventional UK personal statements above.

1. Breaking Tradition

‘“Not everything is black and white.”

My mother tells me this almost every day. But my piano begs to differ. On its 88 keys I can see the ghostly imprints of perfectly aligned fingerprints. I’ve played classical music for years, where wrong notes are wrong, and right notes are right. But everything changed when I discovered jazz. Now jazz…jazz tells a different story. When I play “Have You Met Miss Jones,” I improvise, as I am the one scripting the music, creating a conversation between two lovers. My fingers no longer imitate, they create.’

Source: Breaking Tradition – Harvard –

What’s done well?

This opener is engaging, framing the body of the essay while exploring a formative experience of the author.

 2. Life As Art

‘“Paint this vase before you leave today,” my teacher directed as she placed foreign brushes and paints in my hands. I looked at her blankly. Where were the charts of colors and books of techniques? Why was her smile so decidedly encouraging? The sudden expectations made no sense.’

Source: Life As Art – Harvard –

What’s done well?

The use of dialogue draws the reader in, while the honesty in this opening paragraph means the reader can narrate on a personal level. the writer leaves space to elaborate on their progression as an artist and their ability to overcome frustration and persevere. US universities appreciate some personal humility on the part of candidates.

3. Finding Meaning in Education

‘Eleventh grade. This is a combat zone.

The American Studies classroom is adorned with shiny gold stars, glimmering like military medallions. They are a powerful reminder of the war cause—the preservation of the American meritocracy, threatened by the authoritarian oppressor on the other side of the pentagonal room. The stars are intended to reward students who put forth effort in class, but I know that Coach Jones, as a skilled expert in proxy wars, hands my nemesis Kierra two rows of the stickers just to spite me.’

Source: Finding Meaning in Education – Harvard –

What’s done well?

From the very first line, the writer grabs the reader’s attention. This offers an interesting perspective of how the writer views their education. Metaphors are used effectively. However, the writer will need to give the reader a sense of her personality in consequent paragraphs.

4. Communication Through Music

‘Clear, hopeful melodies break the silence of the night.

Playing a crudely fashioned bamboo pipe, in the midst of sullen inmates—this is how I envision my grandfather. Never giving up hope, he played every evening to replace images of bloodshed with memories of loved ones at home. While my grandfather described the horrors of his experience in a forced labor camp during the Cultural Revolution, I could only grasp at fragments to comprehend the story of his struggle.’

Source: Communication Through Music – Harvard –

What’s done well?

This piece is intriguing, providing a hook in the form of a contrast between the ‘clear, hopeful melodies’ and the sombre image of her grandfather in the forced labour camp. Placing the onus of the introduction on a different individual is interesting.


Writing the personal statement is an important part of your UK university/US college application. Don’t struggle alone – contact our team today for assistance with the process!

Happy writing!