Applying to universities to study law is difficult enough without taking into account the UCAS personal statement word limit.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?! There is a word limit for the UCAS personal statement?”
Technically it’s a character limit, but yes, in short there is a limit to the length your UCAS personal statement can be. But it’s nothing to worry about. In fact wouldn’t you rather have a limit than be constantly worried that you’ve rambled far too much and focussed on non-important matters?
Dealing with the personal statement character limit
Regardless, the ‘word’ limit is 47 lines of text, or 4000 characters. This equates to (roughly) 500 words. UCAS recommend that you write out your personal statement in a word processor before copying and pasting it into the online application. This is because some word processors get different values if they don’t include spaces in their character count.
So, 4000 characters to sell yourself and earn your place on a competitive law course. Easy, right?
What to include in a law personal statement
In short, you should address two broad points in your personal statement – why you are applying for law and what makes you suitable.
When writing your personal statement remember that you need to address up to five universities. Generally, prospective university students tend to apply for the same course, or similar courses, so checking prospectuses and course profiles for the qualities universities look for in candidates.
For example, to study law at the University of Nottingham, students must “wish to study law as an academic discipline”. Therefore, you must outline in your personal statement what interests and motivates you to study law at university. The university also outline how you can “specialise in areas of law according to your own interests and future career plans”, prompting you to explain what areas of law you find most interesting, and where you see your career heading after you’ve finished your degree (*cough* vacation scheme and training contract *cough*). This covers the ‘why you are applying’ point.
As for what makes you suitable, as well as talking about your academic record and work ethic, you should also spend a bit of time speaking about your extracurricular activities. Universities want to take on students who have a personality, not just A* machines. Link your activities with valuable legal skills such as leadership, timekeeping (for all those 9am lectures) and the ability to work as part of a team.
Using your words wisely
“But how can I communicate all of my achievements and ambitions in just 500 words?” Being succinct is a skill. You will have word limits throughout your university studies, so see this limit as your first test. It also tests you to cut out information that isn’t wholly relevant.
UCAS personal statements are a toughie, but drafting and redrafting is part of the process, and you won’t get it absolutely spot on first time. Remember to stick to the limits and don’t forget to proofread!
Before you write written tasks, you should look at the assessment criteria. This way you know what the examiner is looking for. The best way to become familiar with the criteria is to use them regularly. For each written task that is entered into the portfolio, there should be some form of self assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment.
Remember: Teachers are not allowed to edit or annotate students' written tasks. This does not mean that teachers cannot give feedback. Rather, teachers can and should tell students how they think they will score according to the assessment criteria. What's more, teachers should be involved in guiding students towards appropriate ideas for the written task.
Written task 1
Here is a summary of what you will want to look for in each criterion at both SL and HL. A handy print out for assessing student work is also provided. For the actual descriptors, we refer you to the IB Language A: Language and Literature guide.
Criterion A - Rationale - 2 marks
It is essential that students include a rationale before the actual task. The rationale must be no fewer than 200 words and no longer than 300 words. The rationale should shed light on the thought process behind the task. Furthermore, it should explain how the task aims to meet one or more learning outcomes of the syllabus.
Remember: If the word count of the rationale exceeds 300 words, 1 mark will be deducted.
Criterion B - Task and content - 8 marks
The content of a task should lend itself well to the type of text that one chooses. The task should demonstrate an understanding of the course work and topics studied. Finally, there should be evidence that the student has understood the conventions of writing a particular text type.
Criterion C - Organization - 5 marks
Each type of text has a different structure. Nevertheless, all types of texts have conventions and organizing principles. Students must organize their tasks effectively and appropriately. There must be a sense of coherence.
Criterion D - Language and style - 5 marks
The language of the task must be appropriate to the nature of the task. This means that students use an appropriate and effective register and style. Whatever the nature of the task, ideas must be communicated effectively.
Written task 2 (HL only)
The following criteria apply to the criticial response that HL students write on one of the six prescribed questions.
Criterion A - Outline - 2 marks
For the critical response, students are asked to write a brief outline of the task that includes the following:
- The prescribed question to which the task refers
- The title of the text, or texts, that the student analyzes
- The part of the course to which the task corresponds (Parts 1-4)
- Four or more bullet-points that explain the content of the task
Criterion B - Response to question - 8 marks
To achieve top marks for this criterion, students must explore all of the implications of the prescribed question chosen. The critical response must be focused on and relevant to the prescribed question. Furthermore, the response is supported by well chosen examples from the text(s).
Criterion C - Organization and argument - 5 marks
The response must be well organized and effectively structured in order to score top marks for this criterion. The response should make a case and develop it thoroughly.
Remember: The critical response must be 800 -1,000 words. If this is not the case 2 marks will be deducted for Criterion C.
Criterion D - Language and style - 5 marks
The response must be written effectively and accurately. Students should use an academic register and strong style.