How To Get An Oxford Engineering Offer: Chapter 2 - Personal Statements

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NemesisRider
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Personal statements are notoriously tricky to discuss generically because they’re, well, personal. In general, your personal statement must communicate your passion for the subject (engineering), alongside demonstrating that you pursued relevant “super-curricular” activities (we’ll talk about them later) that have encouraged you to think deeply and critically about the subject.

My tips:

  • Start early. Some engineering students neglect to spend enough time on their personal statement, viewing it as less important than other application elements. I personally disagree: if others see it as secondary, this means a well-written personal statement could more easily distinguish you from your engineering peers and have a positive impact on your application. Starting with plenty of time ensures you do not feel pressured by deadlines and gives your statement time to mature naturally as you reread it and think about it over time. Being early may mean teachers have more time to properly read your statement instead of rushing to get onto other statements they need to read, thus helping you get better quality feedback. Additionally, fine tuning the statement (changing individual words, condensing, adding extra content, etc.) gets better with each attempt, so leave enough time for these iterations!
  • Action, benefit, course (ABC). This strategy should govern how you write your personal statement. Consider something you’ve done/a super-curricular activity relating to your subject that helped you develop as an academic. What did you learn or achieve from it? Finally, consider what you did afterwards to develop and demonstrate your understanding; maybe you wrote an article or read about similar subjects online?
  • Don’t panic about the opener. This has been said many times, but ultimately the content of your personal statement is what matters. If you have a unique opener idea, great! If you don’t, just write something down and then get into the main body of the statement – you may find this gives you inspiration for something later.
  • Try and play to your strengths. Personally, my interest in engineering was sparked by my passion for roller coaster design, so this was the central theme much of my statement stemmed from. This meant I could genuinely write enthusiastically about the subject. It also meant when I got to interview and was asked questions on my personal statement, it was about a subject I had plenty of additional knowledge on so I could answer the questions effectively.
  • Use the rubber duck test. In my final personal statement, I alluded to some sensitive subject matter regarding ethics within engineering, but initially went into too much detail. Thankfully, on the Oxford UNIQ summer school I talked to the group leader who gave me some good advice which encouraged me to tone down this aspect. Pretend you have, or acquire, a rubber duck: do you feel comfortable reading aloud this part of your personal statement to your rubber duck? If the answer is no, then it could be too controversial and may be of greater risk than benefit to your application. Alternatively, consult teachers/subject specialists to see their views.
  • Keep it concise. Eventually nearly everyone reaches a point where you’ll be desperate to add more content beyond the 4000-character limit. For this reason, I encourage you to keep your wording as concise as possible from the start; it may also aid the flow of your statement too as you won’t have to go back and remove/replace words as frequently.
  • Remember this is a general engineering course. Many students have their own favourite field of engineering, but for the Oxford engineering science course it may be beneficial to demonstrate a wide interest. I included elements of mechanical, electrical and systems engineering in my statement via the activities I discussed. Most other universities offer specialised engineering courses: I would balance this by ensuring the specialized field of engineering you have applied for features clearly in your statement but mentioning more briefly your engineering activities from other fields.
  • Avoid stating facts. At first, I fell into the pitfall of stating technical facts in my statement – tutors don’t care about this; they want to know about you! Those characters would be better used discussing another super-curricular activity instead.
  • Stay focused on engineering. Extra-curricular activities are best briefly mentioned at the end of your statement. When talking about these, make sure you focus on transferable and soft skills (e.g. leadership). However, if you have extra-curriculars which directly link to engineering, feature these more prominently!
  • Don’t plagiarize or lie. At first, I recommend reading the statements of other successful engineering applicants to help inspire your ideas. However, plagiarism is both obvious and not treated lightly by universities. In an interview situation it is very problematic, particularly if you haven’t done the activities you claim to have.

Example personal statement excerpts
Here’s some excerpts in the “action, benefit, course” style of how I wrote much of my personal statement.

  1. “The people-powered “Green Dragon” ride in Wales inspired me to consider sustainability in roller coaster design. I researched regenerative braking and the utility of computer systems in reducing ride energy usage, synthesizing my ideas in an essay on potential amusement industry innovations. I enjoyed studying cutting-edge technologies and considering their development, whilst learning underlying theory.”
  2. “Over a week with a national engineering company, I experienced life as an engineer. By shadowing engineers and developing my communication skills, I got to grips with asset management and its role in engineering companies. I learned how planning, accuracy and safety guided project management as well as key IT skills such as Excel.”
  3. “After reading "Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”, I was interested to research wind power as a UK renewable energy source. The links between engineering and politics here intrigued me; at my college debate club I successfully argued for increasing research and development spending to tackle climate change.”

These tips and examples are based on how I approached writing my engineering personal statement and hopefully may help guide yours. Ultimately a personal statement is your own and should be unique to you. As long as you are compelling, you can more or less write anything!

Personal statement links:


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Last edited by NemesisRider; 8 months ago
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NemesisRider
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If you want this information in a more interactive format, go watch my video on personal statements on the Oxcentric YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/snxAqKXqeYk
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