Exploring distinctions between UK Personal Statements and US College Essays

Seema Kaushik
Dec 7, 2023
Secondary School

To grasp the nuances in writing between the two, it's crucial to delve into the fundamental differences in application processes and academic frameworks of the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).

Distinct evaluators: While applying to universities in the UK and US, students have two very different audience sets to appeal to.

● UK: University academics, experts in their fields, evaluate applications.

● US: Admissions offices assess applications, focusing on creating a diverse university community.


Academic expectations: UK universities prioritise specialised knowledge whereas US universities give more significance to a broad range of knowledge.

● UK: Values depth in a specific subject or discipline, seeks exceptional talent and dedication.

● US: Prefers a well-rounded individual with knowledge across subjects areas.

Emphasis on non-academic aspects: Colleges in the US stress more on beyond the classroom activities and experience as compared to UK universities.

● UK: Prioritises academic achievements and super curriculars, which is extracurriculars directly related to the subject choice.

● US: Prominence on non-academic skills, such as extracurricular activities, leadership roles, talent is sports, music and diversity in background for a vibrant university community. Volunteering, part-time jobs or diverse family backgrounds – all of these give students a better chance of getting admissions.

Application components:

UK Personal Statements: These are part of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) system – a common statement that is submitted to five universities. The idea is to showcase an applicant’s qualification, enthusiasm and suitability.

These statements are structured, formal and importance is given to academic achievements, relevant extracurricular activities and professional aspirations, interests and suitability for a specific course within a 4000-character limit.

US College Essays: These are often a part of the Common Application or college-specific applications. Focuses on showcasing student personality, background and non-academic accomplishments. Allows for creativity, varied topics and personal storytelling, offering a more flexible and conversational tone. The aim is to see a holistic view of the applicants.

The US College essays, being more flexible, can cover a range of topics. The applicants have more freedom to choose their topic of interest and the tone can be personal or conversational.

In essence, UK universities value specialised knowledge, while US universities seek versatility, creativity, and a broader perspective. Understanding these differences is pivotal for crafting effective personal statements or college essays tailored to each educational system's expectations.

University placements assistance at GIIS

Students at GIIS are encouraged by career counsellors to create three bucket lists for a comprehensive approach: dream universities with high competition, universities where admission is likely, and schools where admission is near guaranteed. They are advised to apply to around 10 universities. 

GIIS provides support services such as the Education and Career Guidance Programme, one-on-one counselling for college essays and resumes, coaching on interviewing skills, and additional guidance through webinars, podcasts, and education fairs. 

Benefitting from alumni connections, many GIIS graduates have successfully attended top global universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCLA, NUS and more.

If you are keen to know more about GIIS, please feel free to contact our admissions team.

Seema Kaushik

Ms Kaushik is the Career Counsellor with the GIIS SMART Campus in Singapore. She has mentored and guided hundreds of students over the past decade to connect with Universities of their choice, write essays and choose subjects which will give them a jumpstart in their higher studies.

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