US Essay vs UK Personal Statement: How Do They Differ? 🧐

Whether you’re applying to the UK or US, (or both!) convincing admissions officers that you’re the perfect fit definitely requires some preparation!

Even if you’re good at writing, conveying your ‘brand’ to the university admissions teams is easier said than done; not only will you need to write clearly, you’ll also need to stand out from hundreds of applications. Oh, and did we mention that you’ll have roughly ONE SINGLE PAGE TO DO IT IN!! 🙀

But apart from writing concisely, the CommonApp essay (US) and the UCAS Personal Statement (UK) actually require different approaches; while they’re used for the same purpose in admissions, the areas of focus are different.

So let’s dive into the 5 main differences between them…

Difference #1 Purpose & Areas of Focus

Before you begin, you’ll need to consider the purpose – what should you concentrate on while writing to increase your chance of success? In the case of the UK statement, you’ll need to focus on your subject – places are limited for many courses, so conveying your subject passions remains the top priority. 

Conversely, the US CommonApp essay tends to be more holistic – they’re interested in your life experiences, what you’ve learnt from setbacks and how they’ve shaped you as a person.

Difference #2 Institution Specific vs Subject Focus

Following on from the point above, another major difference between them is the type of personalisation. For the UK, your UCAS personal statement needs to demonstrate your subject interest both inside and outside the classroom. You’ll be submitting the same personal statement to your five top universities, so you’ll customise it for the course you’re applying for, rather than for the institution. 

Yet for the US, the inverse applies – you should ensure your college essay is personalised to the institution you’re applying to, rather than focusing on a specific subject. 

Difference #3 Word Count & Deadlines

Okay, it’s time to get a little bit technical! When you start jotting down your ideas, it’s important to consider the word count. Regardless of where you’re applying, the word count is pretty strict, so it’s important to bear this in mind. If you’re applying to the US,  you’ll need to keep your essay to 650 words or less. 

Yet for the UK, you’ll have even fewer words to work with – your personal statement needs to be 4000 characters or less so you might have to make some cuts to keep within it! The deadlines also differ – for most courses in the UK, the UCAS equal consideration deadline is typically in late January, whereas the regular decision deadlines in the US fall between 1st-15th of January.

Difference #4 Course Fit vs Community Fit

No matter where you choose to study, fitting in and feeling you belong makes all the difference to your experience – and it’s something admissions officers care about for two totally different reasons!  In the US, admissions officers will be assessing whether you would fit in the community itself.  

However, in the UK, they’re primarily evaluating whether your experience makes you a good fit for a particular subject.

Difference #5 Level of Formality

Wondering about the tone of your writing and how formal you need to be? Again, this depends on where you’re applying – for the US, your CommonApp essay should be warm and informal in tone – academic jargon and flowery language should definitely be avoided! You can also weave in some humour too as you’ll be assessed on your personality (and your ability to tell a story that shows your core values and character). 

However, if you’re applying to the UK, you should focus on being more formal, with an emphasis on academic and extracurricular achievements both inside and outside the classroom. 

No matter where you’re headed next year, your essay or statement is your chance to capture what makes you unique and demonstrate your passion and competence for university-level study. 

Remember: Admissions officers are not looking for perfection – it’s your authenticity that matters instead.

Plan ahead, get feedback from trusted sources and (most importantly of all) stay true to yourself throughout. You’ve got this! 💪🏽

Want to find out more about admissions requirements? Ask your counsellor to book a demo and access an entire library of content made to get you to the university offer of your dreams. 💭

Access a library of Student and Counsellor Content

To learn more about how our guidance platform helps international school counsellors simplify the global university application process, get in touch!