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How to Cut the Character Count on your Personal Statement

Are you over the 4000 character limit for a UCAS personal statement? Here are some tips on how to cut down your medical school personal statement to size.
Published 06 Oct 2018

Why is there a character limit?

As you probably know, UCAS limit the character count of all personal statements to 4,000 characters including spaces. Although this may be frustrating, setting a character limit has several purposes:

  • It encourages applicants to write concisely and coherently
  • It ensures applicants write about the most relevant topics
  • It levels the playing field because everyone has to stick to the same rules
  • It makes the process of reviewing applications a little quicker, allowing Universities to process the huge pile of applications that they receive in a timely manner ahead of the interview season.

Despite these reasons for setting a character count, most applicants find the character count restrictive and struggle to reduce their personal statement down to 4,000 character maximum. You might be unsure about how to reduce your character count and what you should cut out of your personal statement – you don’t want to delete the sentences that would impress the admission tutors the most! If your personal statement is over the character limit and you’re not sure how to tackle it, try going through the strategies below. We’ve included lots of before-and-after examples to show you how you can cut the characters in your own personal statement.

4000-5000 characters

If your personal statement is up to 5000 characters, you should be able to reduce the character count to 4000 without removing whole sections.

First, combine any similar themes, topics or ideas together. This aims to bring two separate sentences together to streamline your writing and reduce the character count. For example:

“During my week-long work experience placement on a ward at my local hospital, I observed doctors facing challenging situations including discussing end of life care with an elderly patient’s family. I also witnessed other challenging situations when shadowing doctors at a General Practice surgery, such as the difficulties in establishing the correct diagnosis without any blood tests or imaging immediately available.”

This section is 419 characters (over 10% of the character limit) spent on conveying the fact that on work experience you gained a greater understanding of the challenges that doctors face. Instead you could write something like:

“During my hospital and GP work experience I gained a greater insight into the challenges faced by doctors, such as diagnostic uncertainty in primary care and discussing end of life care with patients and their relatives.”

This version is only 220 characters, in comparison to the original 419 characters. None of the meaning or value of the original version has been lost by combining related topics and streamlining the wording. If you can combine and streamline a few areas of your personal statement in this way, you should be able to cut down on 500-1000 characters in total.

Use shorter words, phrases or abbreviations where acceptable. This will only save a couple of characters for each swap but if you’re very close to the character count it could make the difference. Just one word of caution – do not use slang. Try using our list of suggestions to get you started:

Original word or phrase Consider swapping to
Several months 6 months
Regularly/ Frequently Often
Including Such as
Related to Medicine Medical
GP Practice GP Surgery
Increase (my knowledge/experience) Improve, deepen, expand or further
Demonstrate Highlight
Understanding Insight
In order to To
Fundamental Essential, important or key
Voluntary work Volunteering or volunteered
Helping to care for… Caring for…
Opportunity Chance
Require Need
Outcome Result
Different Varied
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5000+ characters

If your personal statement is over 5000 words, it is likely that you will need to do more than combining similar ideas into one sentence and using shorter words. If you were to streamline absolutely everything in your personal statement in the way described above, you may well reduce the character count sufficiently, but you would probably only be left with a shell of what you had originally written. It is better to write about 5-8 experiences and reflect on them in detail rather than to mention 20 different things briefly. Therefore, if your personal statement is way too long it is best to completely cut out some sentences rather than to try to squeeze everything in. However, when cutting out sentences or sections of your personal statement it is important to make sure that you are not deleting the sentences which would impress the admissions tutors the most. Follow the 6 steps below to help you to work out which sections to remove:

  1. Read through your personal statement and make a list of all of the individual experiences or topics that you’ve mentioned. For example: hospital work experience, voluntary work at a care home, Duke of Edinburgh Award, babysitting, hockey team, school prefect, playing the violin, part-time work in a pharmacy.
  2. Look at your list and order the experiences based on how relevant they are to Medicine, what skills they demonstrate and how substantial the experience was.
  3. Consider removing the sentences in your personal statement about the lowest priority experiences. This should reduce the character count while preserving the most important parts of your personal statement.
  4. Read through your personal statement again. Are there any sentences or sections that don’t fit well, sound clunky, or don’t contribute to your personal statement overall? Consider removing those bits.
  5. Your character count should be down considerably after completing steps 1-4. This should enable you to use the combining/streamlining and abbreviating techniques discussed earlier in this article.
  6. Go through your personal statement again. Since you’ve removed chunks of your writing you may find that it does not flow as well as it did before. You may need to move things around or refine things a little further to ensure that your writing flows again.

If you’re really struggling…

If you cannot reduce the character count to less than 4000, it is worth asking a family member, close friend or teacher for help. Often, we’re so close to our own writing that we cannot bring ourselves to delete sentences. Asking someone who you trust to read your personal statement and to cross out any sentences that they think that you could streamline (or that you could simply remove completely) can be very useful. If you don’t agree with what they’ve suggested that you cut out, speak to them about it and find out why they made that suggestion. Does that particular sentence not make sense? Does it use up valuable characters without adding much value to your personal statement as a whole? It is a long-winded way of saying something which could be shortened or simplified to save on characters?

If you’re still having trouble reducing your character count despite using the techniques discussed in this article, you might find a professional personal statement review useful. We offer a Personal Statement Review and Feedback service – your personal statement will be read by a doctor and they will make suggestions for improvements (including exactly how you can reduce your character count to 4000). We aim to return your personal statement with feedback within 3 days where possible. Send us your personal statement for review here.


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