Writing a personal statement for a Science course

Posted in: Personal Statements, Undergraduate

As we are well off into the winter term, with UCAS deadlines creeping up, I am aware lots of students are starting to construct or finish their final statement drafts. I remember being in that position a year ago and I specifically remember trying to find constructive advice online and ending up with rather vague tips. And so, I’ve decided to summarize what I learned throughout my application journey in 5 steps and how I received 5 offers from top universities.

Making progress on my personal statement

1. Do additional reading around subject

This is quite an obvious point, but nonetheless very important. If you have already caught up with this task during the summer holidays- great, but if you’ve found yourself in a position where you need to get on with this quickly here are some tips.

Don’t think additional reading relates to books exclusively. This can also relate to scientific journals with research that interests you, and most of these journals post electronic copies online for the public. Another source is scientific articles (make sure the website is verified for authenticity), which will elevate you above peer applicants as you will build up knowledge of the forefront of your chosen course and be able to reference, or even talk about, relevant scientific developments. For example, in my statement I talked ‘a bit about Solid State Physics and more specifically PVD (physical vapour deposition) developments, which is a very budding field in my respective course. And the third source of “reading” I’d recommend is documentaries! This is a very fun and interactive way to get your head around a topic, especially for people who benefit from visual methods of learning.

2. Demonstrate course-specific vocabulary and knowledge

This, of course, relates to my previous point and requires some in-depth reading on your part to acquire some of that vocabulary. Through reading other successful statements I’ve discovered that admissions officers appreciate when applicants use degree-specific terminology, rather than overused phrases, references and quotes. Some of these overused phrases include:

“From a young age…”

“I’ve always been fascinated…”

“In today’s world…”

These recur in nearly every application, so it would be best to find similar phrases to avoid these clichés. There’s another thing to consider when using terminology is to remember to use it in an intelligent and relevant way. Just sprinkling scientific words won’t necessarily boost your application. I will come back to this in point 5.

3. Show a genuine passion

Many applicants will attempt to do this, even if they don’t necessarily have given passion, by using phrases that include “passion” and “desire” rather than expressing it by demonstrating fore-said knowledge all throughout the statement. A really good way to approach this, without coming across as trying too hard, is to relate seemingly unrelated experience to your course in a positive way. For example I related my art skills to my ambitions and skills in Physics by referring to the practice, dedication, organization and focus needed. But, as you have a limited word count, don’t overdo it to the extent of it taking over the majority of the text. It should be subtle references all throughout the text.

4. Balance pastoral and academic aspects

Although most universities don’t admit mainly focusing on the academic portion of your application, it is very much reality. When we look at it subjectively, universities receive thousands of applications and hence will try to sort students purely on the academic highlights. The bad news is that this in turn means you should only include a small personal part (roughly 5-10% of the statement) talking about hobbies, interests and pastoral extra-curriculars. The good news is that you can promote any achievement and elevate it to a higher level by relating the skills you acquired and how they’ll help you in future studies. If you happen to be a high-achieving student, it is very important to choose which of those achievements to mention, as you don’t want them to take over the majority of your statement or to be focused in one paragraph like a list (admissions officers don’t appreciate lists).

5. Seek feedback

Also- a very obvious point, but I need to say my two cents on the matter! Obviously, you’ll want to have met with or start setting up meetings with your respective subject’s Head of Department. But what I would also advice is to meet with teachers from different fields to get different perspectives. What I personally did was meet with an English teacher for tips regarding my vocabulary and statement structure. Basically- seek advice from any teacher willing to give you their time and although sometimes you’ll find different teachers’ advice contradictory, that is when you have to decide which solution would boost your application in what way and whether it would benefit the way you want to present yourself to the admissions officer. A great way to approach teachers for advice would be to send them a draft beforehand, arrange a meeting (give them enough time to read through it and deduce what needs to be talked about) and bring a printed copy of your statement to the meeting so you can work through the text and take notes on things your teacher addresses. Through doing this a few times you’ll end up going through different drafts and hopefully  come out with a personal statement you and your teachers think reflects you and presents you best to the universities you’ve set your eyes on.

Posted in: Personal Statements, Undergraduate


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