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Writing your personal statement
Transcript of Writing your personal statement
The Personal Statement forms part of the total package of information available to universities
Without an interview, the Personal Statement is your only chance of making yourself stand out from other equally- qualified applicants
Writing a good Personal Statement is hard
To distinguish between equally-qualified applicants
To indicate how far the applicant understands the nature of the course
To explain an apparently under-qualified applicant
To support applications for courses unrelated to the applicant’s A-level background
As a cue for topics to pursue at interview
To help decide in borderline cases once A-level results are known
Structure Part I
Give yourself plenty of time
Check spelling, grammar
Make it your own
“There are many more academically excellent students than there are places available… so we have to make fine distinctions between candidates on the basis of the information presented in the personal statement”
Admissions Tutor View
Consider the personal statement as an ‘electronic interview’
Don’t give them an excuse
‘The personal statement is in some respects the crucial element of the application. A poor personal statement can provide an excuse to eject an application and harassed university admissions staff are often looking for such an excuse’
Justify your choice of course: 80% Academic
Things you enjoy at school
Refer to the Entry Profile
Exhibit skills suited to university life: 20% Other activities
Project an interesting, well-rounded personality
Ooze Enthusiasm and Commitment from every Pore
How do Universities use the personal statement?
Clear paragraphs, separated by spaces:
1: Reasons for subject choice
2: Relevant personal interests/experiences
3: Personal strengths
4: Gap year/Career plans (if relevant)
Use sub-headings if it helps
Try to project enthusiasm
Give specific examples rather than very general statements
Be analytical: reflect on your experiences, etc.
Your interest is taken for granted. They want to know what steps you have taken to foster/develop that interest – beyond the call of duty
1. Reason for Subject Choice
2. Relevant Personal experiences
3: Personal Strengths
5. The Final Sentence
4. Before and After
Structure Part II
“For as long as I can remember I have had an interest in how things work and how they interact with the world…Applying to read Engineering at university is a logical choice…I was further inspired by a Headstart course at Coventry University, which gave me an insight into the nature of engineering at university level.”
What got you hooked in the first place?
How do your A-levels support your choice? – extended essays, projects, fieldwork, reading (titles, authors), preferences within the subject
Prizes, Distinctions, etc.
“The practical work in Organic Chemistry has really interested me. I was intrigued to find, in a book by Royston Roberts, how many reactions in the manufacture of organic substances were discovered through serendipity – such as the first low-density polymerisation of polythene by ICI in 1933.”
Travel – culture, society, language
Link it all the course you want to study
“I did work experience with a car restoration firm, and with a small company that is mainly involved in precision machining. A friend and I set up an Automotive Society, and our aim is to invite speakers from the car industry…”
Use extra-curricular activities to highlight your self-motivation, and to suggest what you could contribute to the university:
Initiative, Enthusiasm, Energy, Time management, Stamina, Challenge, Independence, Teamwork, Leadership
“I look forward to the challenge of a university course in …”
“I feel that I have barely begun to learn about Classics due to its massive breadth and I look forward to furthering my knowledge at university.”
“Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Gap year plans: detail and relevance
Career aspirations: how will your course choice help?
Admissions Tutor Perspective:
‘Extra-curricular activities are helpful in showing how the student balances his academic and personal commitments. They help to illustrate relevant skills and qualities – e.g. perseverance, independence, leadership and team-working.’
Make sure you stress the relevance:
‘I am captain of the hockey team’
‘As captain of the hockey team, I have had to show leadership and tact…’
'Computers play an increasing role in everyday life’
It's a long game....
Background to interest in Engineering
Relevant work experience
Relevant project work
Links with other A2 subjects
Relates other interests to Engineering
Engineering - previous school
Engineering has interested me all my life. I have always been fascinated by the way structures are designed and built to enhance our lives, how small things we take for granted every day, such as clean running water, are made possible and how complicated systems, such as transport networks, work so well. Incorporating all of this and much more, I feel that a course in engineering at university will be perfect for me and would allow me to build on my love of maths and physics.
Last year I participated in an engineering experience week at Ove Arup. As well as helping me to develop my teamwork and time-management skills, it taught me that engineering, while challenging, is a relevant, useful and rewarding subject, and encouraged me to explore further. I was part of a team of four which solved puzzles and problems, designed and built models and gave a presentation on a tall building in central London which we had been designing over the week. I hope to expand on my interest in engineering at university over the next four years so that I can apply it to the real world in the future.
I believe that my AS and A-level subjects are an ideal combination to prepare me for studying this course, since they are all relevant and aid the development of the skills sought in undergraduate students of civil engineering. Among other things, physics and chemistry have taught me how to collect and analyse data; geography has taught me how to research topics in depth; and maths has taught me how to tackle problems logically. My very high GCSE, AS and predicted A level results have confirmed how much I enjoy these subjects and that I am a diligent and hardworking student.
I have recently completed an extended essay titled “Can any forms of geoengineering be seen as safe alternatives to the possible consequences of global warming?” I have used this as a tool to enable me to widen my knowledge of geoengineering and to develop my research skills. While researching I read Eli Kintisch’s ‘Hack the Planet’ which provided an excellent overview of the topic and a fascinating insight into the world of geoengineering, as well as multiple articles in New Scientist (to which I subscribe) and Scientific American. In completing this piece of work I have enjoyed the opportunity to work independently on a topic of my choosing, and feel I have developed many of the study skills which will serve me well at university.
As well as doing a lot of academic work in school, I also get involved in many things outside the classroom. My involvement in the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and my role as the senior young leader of Troop II at the 25th Camberwell Scouts have allowed me to develop my leadership skills. As a member of the scouts and explorers, time spent hiking in the Lake District and activity weekends around the country, or occasionally abroad, are commonplace in my busy schedule. Furthermore, as a section head in the library I have not only developed my research skills, but have also been able to give something back to an area of the school that has aided my development the most. Outside school, I regularly play tennis, swim and sail, and I am currently working towards my grade six piano exam. Furthermore, I recently returned from the annual week’s sailing trip to the Solent where I was awarded the Old Alleynian Sailing Society tie in recognition of my services and dedication to the society. Being in so many positions of responsibility, I have excellent time management skills which enable me to pursue my co-curricular commitments without detracting from my academic studies.
I hope that studying engineering at university will allow me to develop my skills and apply them in the future in one of the most exciting and diverse subject areas in the world.
It was a fascinating work placement at CERN that truly inspired me to study Physics. I spent time with a team working on the LHCb experiment and undertook a project on black holes which I presented to a Professor and Reader from Liverpool University. A lecture by Carlo Rubia on dark matter and dark energy highlighted the enormous potential for discovery that still exists within Physics and captivated my imagination. I want to go beyond the superficial answers to questions provided by the popular science books and my education to date and hope, by further study, to gain a deeper understanding of the workings of the universe.
Following my project on black holes I developed a fascination with astrophysics and this has influenced my choice of reading material. In ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking I enjoyed reading about the complexities involved in gravitational collapse and was intrigued by the formulation of the Chandrasekhar limit. Michio Kaku’s ‘Hyperspace’ introduced me to the Kaluza-Klein theory which differs from other theories on light that I have encountered to date and struck me as beautiful in its simplicity. Reading about astrophysical theories involving quantum mechanics led me to ‘In search of Schrodinger’s Cat’ by John Gribbin. I was intrigued by the fact that thought experiments such as that deployed in establishing the EPR paradox can be instrumental in the development of a theory.
I have recently completed an extended essay examining the derivations of Kepler’s laws using calculus. To me being able to apply Newton’s universal law of gravitation to deduce the planetary motion of potentially any celestial body within our universe is beautiful.
I enjoy studying Mathematics and Further Mathematics at A level and look forward to the mathematical content of physics at university. Maths appeals to me because it allows us to express abstract concepts in a concise manner. Chemistry complements Physics well and indeed much of theoretical Chemistry is Physics, for example, the atomic model, established by quantum theory, is fundamental in explaining chemical reactions. In addition, I taught myself an AS module in Philosophy which I feel complements Physics perfectly by tackling some of the fundamental questions regarding the world around us.
I have gained an insight into potential areas of study by taking part in a Physics taster course at Nottingham University as well as attending lectures at University College, London and the Institute of Physics. This summer I also attended a mathematics summer school at Villiers Park where I found the lectures on mechanics such as Lagrange points and infinity particularly fascinating.
I chair the Physics society at school which helps to broaden my knowledge of the subject. For example, in preparation for a discussion on the recent type Ia supernova I researched cataclysmic variable stars and other means of finding distances to galaxies.
In my spare time I like to relax by going to the gym and playing sport, particularly hockey. I have represented both my school, club and county hockey teams for several years and I am the holder of a school sports exhibition. In addition I am working towards the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and have spent four years helping disadvantaged children improve their literacy. As a result of these activities I have learned the value of teamwork and commitment. I was recently elected Senior Prefect by both staff and students. Managing all of these activities in addition to my studies demonstrates that I have good organisational skills and am a self-motivated individual; I feel that these attributes will serve me well as I start university life.
At university I particularly look forward to studying general and special relativity and would like to be involved in research on graduation.
Aspiration is the key to success and inspiration is what pushes you forward. In the 21st century, electronic devices have played a very important part of our daily lives including communication and entertainment. As smartphones are becoming more popular, it appears that the advanced telecommunication technology is pulling the community closer together and with the rapid development of robotic technology, I see how electrical and electronic engineering will playt a key part in improving the productivity and the convenience on information transfer. I am fascinated by how electrical and electronic engineering will greatly improve the technology that benefits the society on environmental and sustainability areas which makes our lives more healthy and enjoyable. This is the reason that I wish to devote myself to this industry, pursuing further studies in electrical and electronic engineering will help me to fulfill my aspiration while overcoming challenges.
I first came across with electronic related projects when I was in primary school, we were taught by wiring the motor and the card boards together and with a switch attached to it, a simple robot was built and the satisfaction of completing it was great. However, I was more fascinated by the process of putting it together and the theory of how electric energy was fed thought the wire from the batteries to the motor with the switch controlling the movement. After finishing that project, I was in love with electronic and robotic studies, so I joined the school robotic club and I participated in the Lego Mindstormer course. In that course, I learned to use the different sensors and applying them on the robot then by using the NXT programmer, I learnt different commands to control the robots and to make the sensors react to the inputs from the environment and activates the servo motors. It was a great fun learning it and working with other teammates, I also realized how communication and cooperation are so important as we shared the program logs, getting inspirations from others while sharing own ideas in order to improve our robot to perfection.
While doing a geography research project on renewable energy at GCSE, I realize that we cannot rely on fossil fuel forever as there is only limited supply, also burning them will produce carbon dioxide which is causing greenhouse effect and result in global warming harming the whole world. It appears that renewable energy will be the best alternative to tackle the problem of increasing demand of energy while doing least hard to the environment. However, since renewable energy has been introduced, it is not very popular or widely use due to the high cost with low output and low efficiency(around 35% efficiency for solar panel and 30% of its maximum theoretical capacity for wind turbines ). I believe that further study in electrical engineering will help me to understand how to minimize the energy lost at converting different forms of energy, not only I will then have a chance to invent cost efficient renewable energy devices but also making Earth a better place to live for the future generations.
While enjoying studying Physics and with the aid of Mathematics, I have done a number of academic challenges: Junior and Senior Maths challenges and 2 Physics Olympiad. Physics is one of my favorite subjects; it gives me a lot of explanations on how electric energy works in a circuit, and maths aids me when it comes to mathematical problems.
Outside school, I am very keen on participating in different activities. I have been doing community service in St Lukes kindergarten and Dulwich College lower school, I designed Maths board games and teach them maths whenever they have any difficulties. In additional to that, volunteering in the Redthread Youth club means a lot to me, I have the chance to work with teenagers from other schools and arranging activates to the local community.
Other than being very keen on volunteering, I am also a proactive sportsman. Being the Vice captain of the school water polo team has given me a chance to practice my leadership skills, teamwork and communication skills with teammates. I also participated in the English Schools Swimming association swimming relays and water polo tournament and achieved pleasing results. In addition to that, doing DofE Gold has helped me to become physically and mentally strong when facing difficulties as the expedition was quite tough. Furthermore, I am a qualified Life Guard and I have been working during the summer, this job has trained me to be responsible and attentive, these opportunities help me to become very capable to work with others.
I see numerous opportunities for an electrical and electronic engineering graduate and by taking advantage of what university has to offer, I truly believe that with the combination of my inspiration and the knowledge I have, I will make a change to the world.
Physics and Philosophy – Oxford successful application
'Philosophy of physics is as useful to physicists as ornithology is to birds.' I doubt that Richard Feynman was a proponent of a degree in physics and philosophy. However, my earliest foray into philosophy was Hume's 'An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding', which has since led to a huge amount of discussion about the scientific method. During my reading I saw that the two disciplines could inform each other if the author had knowledge of both, and that the significant developments since Hume mean that this has become more difficult and more necessary.
What I find most compelling about philosophy is the way it challenges our most basic assumptions. How do we know something? What is science? Do we have free will? These profound questions are simultaneously fascinating and crucial to areas as disparate as philosophy of science and political philosophy. My curiosity about philosophical thought has also developed through the conceptual ideas about the human condition that I have studied in English. My coursework essay on 'The Great Gatsby' looked at nostalgia and dreams as illusions about the past and future, and I argued that they created a cycle in which we overreach in our dreams owing to our idealisation of the past, and that the achievement of our dreams instantly leads to a sense of nostalgia.
Taking part in the 2012 CERN Particle School run by the Liverpool University High Energy Physics Group was hugely inspiring as I gained insights into the inner workings of detectors, such as LHCb, and into a professional research environment. My favourite technique was the inventive use of Cherenkov radiation to identify high-energy particles. However, I was frustrated by the simplified explanations of the Higgs mechanism and the main realisation I took away was that I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of physics by taking a degree in it.
I was inspired by the introduction of both the particle and wave nature of light in AS Level Physics to read about the seemingly paradoxical workings of wave-particle duality, illustrated in Feynman's 'QED - A Strange Theory of Light and Matter'. However, I particularly enjoy the use of mathematics to describe the real world and so the book left me wanting to know the complex mathematics behind the theory. Although quantum electrodynamics still awaits me, I have taken pleasure in problems that demand new applications of basic physics, for example measuring the density of air using a toy helicopter and the questions in the Physics Challenge, in which I achieved gold and silver awards in the past two years.
In an Extended Research Essay, initially inspired by an article in the Scientific American called 'Is Time an Illusion?' and Einstein's 'Relativity', I discussed the implications of special relativity and John McTaggart's argument for the unreality of time for our ideas of time and tense. I argued that tense is a product of the circumstantial fact that we move at low relative velocities and that this leads to the conclusion that time is empirical. In the process of researching the essay I realised that I had hit upon what was unique to a Physics and Philosophy degree: the link between the two. I find this interdisciplinary area especially engaging because the questions that it raises about space, time, knowledge and reality are some of the most crucial that either physics or philosophy can ask.
By studying at university I particularly want to understand the use of complex mathematics in physics, for instance the use of Riemannian geometry in general relativity. I also aim to gain knowledge of philosophy often seen as inaccessible, such as Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason' and the idea of the synthetic a priori. Alongside exploring these fascinating ideas I am looking forward to developing the analytical and mathematical skills that would allow me to contend with unsolved problems in physics and to write original pieces of philosophy.
Physics & Phil.
I was rather unsettled when I first learned that the entire world consists of atoms. Could they be divided even further? If so, there seemed no reason why those smaller pieces could not be split up still more, which would go on infinitely. If not, where do atoms come from if they are not made up of anything, or do they simply emerge out of the void? In either case, how could my parents, friends and everything even come into being? It has worried me from time to time. I have to understand this world, or at least, as much as I can.
From ‘Scientific American’, ‘The Ascent of Man’, to ‘One, Two, Three, Infinity’, and ‘The New World of Mr. Tompkins’, absorbed and amazed though I felt, I was no closer to my goal, still an outsider oblivious to what was happening behind the scenes. Perhaps there is mathematics; perhaps understanding is equivalent to the mathematical model that makes the best prediction. So, inspired by the wonderful character in ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!’ I ventured into ‘The Feynman Lectures on Physics’. For the first time I realized how intrinsic mathematical concepts are in physics, and how those exotic theories were logically built up layer by layer. I was nearly halfway through the book, as things became wild after imaginary number, and this urged me to put more effort into mathematics first. Sometimes, I wonder do I have to use a mathematical model to predict what I am going to do tomorrow, in order to claim that I understand myself?
Before moving on, I decided to give a talk to the College’s Physics Society on rotational dynamics, one of those topics in the book I understood best. I showed the swivel chair demonstration to one of my friends during preparation, and he kept asking me why. “Come to my talk then!” I said slyly. But meanwhile, I asked myself: will I ever understand this phenomenon if nobody has told me the concept of torque or angular momentum or even force before? I can now explain this phenomenon using the reasoning laid by others, and even predict how much faster I will spin if I draw my legs in this much, but is reasoning really the same as understanding? I always ask myself this question when I see those counterintuitive experiments. Anyway, my talk went smoothly, only two things surprised me: the time was not enough, and the audience didn’t show any trace of excitement when I proved torque equals force times lever arm!
However, I firmly believe that physics cannot explain everything, and life is not just physics as Feynman had shown. This is why, apart from academic business such as visiting CERN, being a co-chairman of the Physics Society, and exploring negative thermal expansion of zeolites during the summer, I am also working towards piano grade 8; I completed my Duke of Edinburgh’s silver awards; I am active in the College’s community service and charity programs, and I am now reading ‘A Global History’. I do not consider them solely as adding credit to my university applications, but they are an equally important way to experience and understand this world.
Nat Sci. (Phys)
1. Quotes from other people
It’s your voice they want to hear - not Shakespeare, Einstein, Paul Britton, Martin Luther King, David Attenborough, Descartes or Napoleon’s. So don’t put a quote in unless it’s really necessary to make a critical point. It’s a waste of your word count.
'So many people use the same quotes and the worst scenario is when it comes right at the start of the statement with no explanation.'
'I don’t care what Locke thinks, I want to know what YOU think!'
Or as a sport admissions tutor said: 'I’m totally fed up of Muhammad Ali quotes!'
2. Random lists
Avoid giving a list of all the books you’ve read, countries you’ve visited, work experience placements you’ve done, positions you’ve held. For starters, it’s boring to read. It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you think about it or learned from it that matters.
A dentistry admissions tutor sums it up: 'I would much rather read about what you learned from observing one filling than a list of all the procedures you observed.'
3. Over-used clichés
Avoid 'from a young age', 'since I was a child', 'I’ve always been fascinated by', 'I have a thirst for knowledge', 'the world we live in today'… You get the idea. They constantly recur in hundreds of personal statements and don’t really say an awful lot.
4. Bigging yourself up with sweeping statements or unproven claims
More phrases to avoid: 'I genuinely believe I’m a highly motivated person' or 'My achievements are vast'. Instead give specific examples that provide concrete evidence. Show, don’t tell!
5. Limit your use of the word ‘passion’
'The word ‘passion’ (or ‘passionate’) is incredibly over-used.'
"Show it, don’t say it.'
6. Stilted vocabulary
Frequent use of words or phrases like 'fuelled my desire', 'I was enthralled by' or 'that world-renowned author Jane Austen' make you sound, well, a bit fake (or like you’ve been over-using the thesaurus).
If you wouldn’t say something in a day-to-day discussion, don’t say it in your statement. It’s even worse if you get it slightly wrong, like 'I was encapsulated by the bibliography of Tony Blair' or 'it was in Year 10 that my love for chemistry came forth'.
7. Plagiarism, lies or exaggeration
UCAS uses stringent similarity and plagiarism software and your universities will be told if you copy anything from another source.
And as for exaggeration, don’t say you’ve read a book when you’ve only read a chapter – you never know when it might catch you out at a university interview.
'If you didn’t do it, read it or see it, don’t claim it.'
8. Trying to be funny
Humour, informality or quirkiness can be effective in the right setting but it’s a big risk, so be careful.
'It can be spectacularly good – or spectacularly bad.'
'An admissions tutor is not guaranteed to have your sense of humour.'
'Weird is not a selling point.'
9. Negative comments or excuses
It can be difficult to ‘sell yourself’ in your personal statement, but don’t talk about why you haven’t done something, or why you dropped an AS level. Focus on the positives!
10. Irrelevant personal facts
Before you write about playing badminton or a school trip you went on in year nine, apply the 'so what?' rule. Does it make a useful contribution and help explain why you should be given a place on the course? If not, scrap it.
10 things not to do in your personal statement
What the admissions tutors say
You need evidence to back up your statements.
What subject are you interested in?
Why this particular subject
can you be more specific?
What first inspired you?
Was this interested started from a young age, or is it more recent?
What did you do after being inspired?
Did you carry forward this interest?
Did your interests change? (It is OK to say that you changed your mind)
Have any competitions affected your interests
Have you read a book, gone to a lecture, seen anything online?
Critique this. It is OK to say that you didn't like it - if so, what did you read/watch/do next?
It is ok not to have any with Physics/engineering, it is as relevant, if not more, to have built something yourself...
Make the statement a historic account of your ideas and activities. it doesn't matter if this is from Yr12 onwards. There needs to be evidence of interest.