Writing a winning UK SOP

Writing a winning UK SOP
Writing a UCAS Personal Statement can be daunting, and very different from anything you’ve written before. There isn’t much room for creativity in the traditional sense: you can’t tell personal stories, or be humorous in a way that you would be in your Common Application. But there is room for creativity in terms of how you present yourself and what you’ve done. This how-to will help you understand what’s expected of you, and how you can give the admissions staff exactly that.

Know the ‘why’

Universities in the UK are only looking for students who know exactly which academic discipline(s) they hope to pursue. To convince them that you know exactly what you’re getting into, you need to demonstrate why you’re interested in the subject you’re applying for.

This takes a lot of self-reflection. Merely stating that you find something interesting won’t cut it. You have to state which particular aspect of the subject you really enjoy, why you enjoy it, and, significantly, what you hope to achieve from it -- or add to it.

This is the foundation on which the rest of your statement of purpose will stand. You can write as much as you want about extracurricular activities and books you’ve read, but nothing trumps having clarity on exactly what you want and why you want it. This demonstrates a sense of maturity and clarity, the two qualities you’ll need regardless of what you do.

Stick to the subject

It’s imperative that everything you discuss relates to the courses you’re applying for. Sure, playing the oboe in high school could have meant a lot to you, but UK universities don’t really care about things that you did outside of school unless those things amplified your knowledge of the subject you want to study.

Unlike in the US, colleges in the UK are mostly solely academic. This means that most of them are not really looking to recruit for their debate team or orchestra. Although your oboe-playing could speak a lot about you as a person, the people reading your application won’t really see how it makes you a better engineering candidate. Unless you show them why:

Find the angle

If you’re really hard-pressed to find subject-related extracurriculars, then you could present your current extracurriculars as ones that have really added to your knowledge of the discipline you want to pursue.

Chances are that what you do outside of school already really bolsters your knowledge of school-related subjects. You just need to think about how this happens. Playing the oboe, and having an idea of the mechanism with which it works probably does make you a better engineering student.

Conveying exactly this in your personal statement -- that you can find links between phenomena that seem disparate -- will make you stand out as an independent thinker.

Know your stuff

You need to show admissions officers that you’re engaged with your subject both inside and outside the classroom. If you’re really passionate about something, you have to go beyond the class syllabus and learn things for yourself. Be an autodidact, and show them that you are one.

Mention other books you’ve read, and make sure to give a one or two line original take on them. This will prove to the people reading your statement that you’ve actually done the reading, and that you’re capable of forming original ideas.

You can also talk about ted talks you’ve watched and podcasts you’ve heard, and although it is impressive, it’s nowhere near as significant as the skills reading gives you.

Revise, Revise, Revise

This point is pretty intuitive. You need to have multiple drafts, each significantly different from the last. You need to read, and re-read, and show your essay to someone else and have them read and re-read. You have to put your best foot forward with an essay that actually shows admissions staff who you are.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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