Personal statements

Should you be helping your students to use Chat GPT for their UCAS Personal Statements?

We know students are using Chat GPT for their Personal Statements, right? We don’t like it, we think it’s wrong somehow and we don’t want to be seen as endorsing it. But… we also wonder if there might be some good ways to use it? As a teacher or careers adviser, how should you square that particular circle?

In the light of a recent rise in students being caught out for plagiarising their UCAS Personal Statements, UCAS have released a statement saying: 

“Generating (and then copying, pasting and submitting) all or a large part of your personal statement from an AI tool such as ChatGPT, and presenting it as your own words, could be considered cheating by universities and colleges and could affect your chances of an offer.”[1]

However, the Russell Group have also said that they “support the ethical and responsible use of generative AI, new technology and software like ChatGPT”.[2] 

So, what does this mean in practice? And what are you, the teachers and advisers of students applying to university right now, supposed to do?

My experience of using Chat GPT to write a UCAS Personal Statement

Last June I wrote an article for my Better Uni Choices newsletter all about using Chat GPT, having tried it for myself. You can find it here, but to save you the long read, here’s an overview:

  • If your students ask Chat GPT to write their statements for them, it will simply make stuff up; a whole statement full of lies.
  • If, on the other hand, your students really engage with it, and get it to ask them a whole load of relevant questions before writing it, it will do a pretty good job of drafting something personal.
  • Where it really comes into its own, however, is when it’s asked for feedback on the statement; it's pretty good at analysing strengths and weaknesses and suggesting improvements.

Basically, your students CAN get Chat GPT to write their statement for them, but only with clever prompting, and a good amount of effort inputting their personal info. However, it is far from clear that they SHOULD.

However, what is also clear is that Generative AI can be a really great assistant, and a pretty decent adviser.

And so, more recently, I had another go.

This time I decided I would approach Chat GPT as if it were my adviser. I would ask it to do no more than I would ask an actual human university counsellor to do. This way it would be unquestionably legitimate and ethical. After all, students get help with their statements all the time.

Starting with the prompt below, I had a super-useful conversation with Chat GPT.

“You are advising me on applying to university. I would like to apply for law at university, and I need help with starting my UCAS Personal Statement. Can you tell me what sort of things I should include? And also, can you give me an example of a UCAS personal statement for law?”

I received back a ten-part structure of things to include in my statement, from the intro and ‘why law?’, through academic achievements, relevant skills, work experience, legal super-curriculars, career aspirations, and a conclusion.

And it gave me a half-decent example, with a warning to use it as a guide and inspiration only. 

Once I’d drafted a statement based on its suggested structure and advice, I asked this:

“I've now drafted a UCAS Personal Statement, which I will copy into the next message. Can you tell me how I can make it better? I am particularly interested in the content and the writing style. In particular, so that I can learn, can you give me at least five things about it that are good, and at least five areas where I can improve it.”

Once again, it came up trumps, with five strengths and five areas for improvement, all of which were legitimate and helpful. When I asked it for more guidance on one of the areas for improvement, the expanded response was clear and actionable.

Now… things weren’t perfect. The example statement was full of those horrible clichés “from an early age…”, “fuelled my desire to explore” and “my voracious reading”. When I asked for specific grammar and flow feedback on my statement, it once again suggested some pretty cringe-worthy language.

But overall, the quality of the advice was not bad; not bad at all.

So, what can you take away from this? How can you engage with Chat GPT in the classroom?

Well, clearly you can’t ignore it. Your students can and will use Chat GPT in some way for their statement.

So why not help them engage with it through a class where the learning outcome is not to equip them with the skills to write a personal statement, but to equip them with the skills to use AI effectively to help? To learn the pitfalls and limitations and how to write the best prompts to get the right results?

To do this, you could run a class where you set a particular challenge, give a handful of prompts, and then ask the students to critically analyse the responses they receive. Then see if they can improve the responses by changing or adding to the prompts.

So, for example:

  1. Start by suggesting they simply ask Chat GPT to write their UCAS Personal Statement and get them to critique the responses. I’ll bet they’ll be the first to point out that it’s just made up, and full of nonsense. And they’ll probably notice the bizarre language too.
  2. Then suggest a prompt more like mine above. Ask them to analyse the response they get to that: Was it helpful? Was it actionable? Was the response reliable, when compared to more formal sources such as UCAS? How could they change the prompt to get a better response? 
  3. Finally, get them to ask Chat GPT to provide feedback on something they have already written (perhaps even a draft personal statement). Again, ask them to critique the answers they get: Was it helpful, actionable and reliable? And how would they adjust the prompt to get the specific type of feedback they were looking for. 

The main point is not to give them a whole bunch of amazing prompts they can use, but instead that they learn how to develop their own prompts and how to be critical of the responses; to learn that what they get out depends entirely on what they put in, just like in real life with a real adviser! And the good news is, this kind of “AI-literacy” is supported by Universities; Newcastle University suggest using AI as a tool to plan the structure of personal statements, as a springboard for ideas, as a method for combatting writer’s block, and for prompts![3]

Perhaps with this sort of approach, you’ll give them some useful skills for using AI more effectively, and you’ll give them a proper head start on their UCAS Personal Statement!

Further Reading


  1. UCAS (2023) A guide to Using AI and ChatGPT with your Personal Statement, Available at
  2. Russell Group (2023) New Principles on use of AI in education, Available at
  3. Newcastle University and Jenny Shippen (2023) Is Using AI Cheating? | Personal Statements and Artificial Intelligence, Available at:


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