UCAS personal statements: applying for a mixture of courses (2023 update)

I’ve written this article to try and help UCAS applicants who are not fixed on one specific course or subject.

If you’ve read my ’20 things’ and/or ‘How to write a killer opening’ articles, you will have got the message that admissions tutors are very keen to hear about why you’ve chosen the course, the reasons you’re so enthusiastic about it and maybe what aspects of it you especially want to learn more about at uni.

This assumes that you know exactly what you want to study, because you can only write one personal statement in your UCAS application.

But what if your five choices are not all the same?

With around 35,000 courses listed in UCAS, it’s hardly surprising that some applicants will have difficulty in narrowing their choice down to one specific subject.

Some students genuinely want to apply for two or more different courses, or for a blend of single subject and joint or combined courses. Others will want to go for a mixture of joint or combined courses in which one or both subjects are not the same. It isn’t even unheard of for a student to apply successfully for five quite diverse courses in one application.

If you’re one of these students, take care and seek advice. But equally, don’t panic and don’t be put off applying.

How can you get around this? Well, my advice would be to consider one of the following approaches:

If there are only slight differences, or if you’ve chosen joint or combined degrees with slightly different subject combinations:

This shouldn’t be a problem. Just try to make everything in your personal statement as relevant as possible to all five choices. If you’ve included some joint or combined degree courses, make sure that each discipline or subject is addressed in some way.  

If there are big differences between your course choices:

It might be possible to blend your statement in a way that everything you write still provides appropriate evidence of your wider skills, interests or the way you think, even though some of it will not be directly relevant to some of the courses you’ve chosen. This might be risky, but see below.

Or you could take the honest and transparent approach and openly explain why you’ve chosen different courses, providing reasons or evidence for each. This might be risky too, but see below!

Whichever of those approaches you take, one of the key considerations will be the extent to which the courses and universities you’ve chosen are oversubscribed or undersubscribed with applicants (or neither). In other words, if some or all of your choices are popular courses at unis to whom lots of applicants aspire, the risk will be much higher. Conversely, if your choices are mainly courses that nobody else you know is applying to, or at unis that nobody else you know is considering or even heard of, then it’s more likely that they won’t be put off if some of your statement isn’t directly relevant to them. The risk will therefore be lower.

In that context, I’m reminded of the words of an admissions tutor from the science faculty at a popular university who told me that it’s very rare for them to reject applicants because of their personal statement. And let’s be completely honest, there are some courses at some unis where the personal statement is not taken into account at all, as long as your predicted grades are reasonably close to what they want.  

That said, if some or all of your choices are competitive courses that receive many more applicants than there are places available, then that will probably be a different matter. In this case, an application that comes across as not being 100% committed and relevant is more likely to go on the rejection pile.

If just one of your choices is completely different from the others:

In this scenario, some unis might even consider a separate personal statement sent directly to them. It quite often happens that admissions staff will agree to this if you contact the university directly and simply ask. On the other hand, they might not accept it in any circumstances. So don’t assume anything. Make enquiries, or seek advice from teachers or advisers, before adopting this approach.

Another possible solution to this kind of situation is that an admissions tutor for the ‘different choice’ course might advise you just to include a subtle hint somewhere in your statement.

There are also three specific circumstances where choosing one course that’s different from the other four might be unavoidable.

Firstly, if you’re applying for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Medicine courses, you’re restricted to a maximum of four choices and your statement really needs to be 100% focused on them. In this situation some courses at some universities will be happy to be your fifth choice, despite your statement not being directly relevant to them. But equally, some won’t be happy at all. I have met numerous admissions tutors in the past who are more than happy for their course to be a ‘fifth choice’ in this scenario, but I have also met some who are not. One of these was a Chemistry admissions tutor at a popular Russell Group uni with whom I spoke at an open day. I asked how they would respond to a Medicine applicant who put them as a ‘fifth choice’ and the unequivocal reply was: “We would reject them”.

Secondly, if you’re applying for a unique or unusual course that’s only offered by one or two universities, then it’s quite likely that admissions staff will be used to advising on this issue, so check them out.

Thirdly, there might be a specific personal reason why one of your choices is different from the other four. I personally remember a good example of this. It was a student who wanted to study Speech & Language Therapy but for family reasons didn’t want to move away from home. There was only one uni within daily travelling distance that offered Speech Therapy, so she therefore wanted to apply to them whilst also applying for English degrees at four other unis that were reasonably ‘local’. She contacted the Speech Therapy uni and they agreed to accept a separate personal statement from her, while the statement on her UCAS application was focused 100% on English. She is now a speech therapist.

Get advice from the horse’s mouth!

If you’re worried or in doubt about any of this, the best way to seek advice is to get it from the horse’s mouth – the unis themselves. A lot of courses and/or unis will be quite happy to answer an email, phone-call or direct message on social media, or will have a chatline where you could run it past a student ambassador. Or if you get the opportunity, get to an open day (whether on-site or virtual) and actually ask them.

Some courses will not be fazed in the least if they can tell that you’ve mixed your choices, but some will reject you outright if your statement lacks focus. So don’t make assumptions, get advice. And if in doubt, ask them!

© Alan Bullock, 3/3/2023

My featured image is a photo I took at Cardiff University.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.