Everyone can write a personal statement that sparkles – it’s just a matter of knowing how. Whether you are a scientist, a linguist, a student of the humanities, a mathematician or a potential lawyer or medic, the trick is to think creatively about ways to enrich your personal statement. Our most prestigious universities are looking for intellectual curiosity that goes beyond A-Level subjects. It is especially impressive if you have discovered an author, or followed a political commentator or a science journalist, or kept up to date with a significant court case in the news, and become a ‘specialist’ in something that you have made your own.

Perhaps you have discovered the social commentary contained in Willkie Collins’ Victorian novels or in the slick American detective novels of Raymond Chandler? Perhaps in reading the legal arguments of a significant court case in the news you have begun to question whether law and justice are the same thing? Do you feel particularly strongly about environmental or human rights issues – why? Are you a historian interested in how past revolutions shed light on contemporary social upheavals? Perhaps you are a potential medic with something to say about the ethics of animal testing? Are languages where you shine? Do you relish the challenge of translating the sensibilities of Pablo Neruda’s love poetry into English, or are you someone who has discovered the power of Italian neo-realist film or French cinema verité? Whatever it is, find a specialist area of cultural interest and be an expert in your chosen field. Aim for something that no-one else will be discussing in their personal statement – make your section about your extra-curricular interests the most interesting the admissions tutor will read.

If you can’t think where to start, try a Saturday or Sunday newspaper – ideally, a paper with a good reputation for its journalism. Both The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph have recently won awards for their investigative and political journalism and both papers contain excellent reviews of literature, art, theatre and film. Skim read your chosen paper and notice which sections really interest you. Avoiding sport and fashion, which headlines grabbed your attention? Was it a news story about a space expedition or the political situation in a particular country, or was it a book review or interview with a film director? Why did your chosen article grab you? What questions did it make you ask? Why did you want to know more? The serious student of economics, politics and the arts, should also check out their school or local library for: The Economist, The Statesman, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator. For online political commentary, Google The Huffington Post.

There is plenty of ways to showcase your interest in the subject – sometimes it just requires thinking outside of the box!

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With thanks to Nuala Burgess

Nuala is currently researching state school access to university. She is especially interested to hear about students’ experience of applying to university and the support they get. Please contact her if you would to share your ideas or experiences: nualaburgess[at]hotmail.com.