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Applications: How to write a brilliant personal statement for a geography undergraduate degree

Applications: How to write a brilliant personal statement for a geography undergraduate degree
23 Sep
We asked those in the know what makes a geography personal statement stand out 

As you’ll probably already know, all university applicants are allowed a maximum of five choices (either at different universities, or different courses at the same university). While many universities offer geography degrees they will all have slightly different specialisms and different field trip opportunities, so do plenty of research and attend open days (whether in person or virtually). 

Common advice is to apply for two or three courses that normally offer the sorts of grades you realistically expect to get, and two or three others which offer lower grades than you hope to get. Ultimately you will only be able to hold two offers; these tend to be the university you most want to go to, and one other safety-net offer for lower grades in case things go less well in examinations. 

Take care to put together a strong personal statement as this could be used to distinguish between two candidates with similar predicated grades. One of the best things you can do in your application is to include evidence that you have read around your subject ­– many applicants will look no further than the A-level syllabus. But most importantly of all, make it personal and make it clear why you want to study geography. Oh, and proof read! Take a look at what some of the people who really matter have to say on the subject...

‘The test of a really good personal statement is always this – by the end of reading it does it answer this question: “Why do you want to spend three years of your life studying Geography?” Explain your passion and love for the subject and do that as much as possible with references to your experiences and your life.’

Professor Ian Candy – Professor in Geography at Royal Holloway University of London

 ‘The key to a great personal statement is that first word: personal. Your statement should be an authentic reflection of you, your personal interest in geography and why you want to pursue the study of geography for three years at University. I know that sounds really obvious, right? But statements have a habit of being drafted and redrafted, edited by well-meaning teachers and careers advisors, then drafted again, and what pops out the other end can sometimes be more of a generic statement than a personal one. So, keep it personal, keep it authentic and let your own voice ring through.’

Dr Alasdair Pinkerton – Professor in Geography at Royal Holloway University of London

 ‘In personal statements, we want to see your enthusiasm and passion for Geography. You should include evidence that demonstrates this, which could take many different forms. For example, you could write about places that you have visited, topics that excite you, your engagement with your local community, experiences when working or volunteering, books that you have read, or anything else that draws on your personal experience.’

Dr Rebecca Hodge – Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Durham University

‘I look at the personal statements. Not so much the content (“everybody” wants to save the planet/whale/whatever), but if the statement is poorly written with typos and grammatical issues that tends to ring alarm bells for future work and assessments (unless the candidate has a declared disability which could affect their writing of course).’ 

Dr Peter Burt – Programme Lead for Geography at Greenwich University

‘I’m not involved in admissions at Oxford (I don’t interview students or do any of the selection), but I have been at other universities. On advice. I would just say it is very hard to prepare for an interview. Ask people to give you a practice interview (a teacher for instance) and always have a questions ready to ask if they say “have you got any questions for us” - don’t just reply “no”.

Personal statement – try to make parts of it more personal so that it is different. Say something about yourself that is unique to you, even if it is a bit quirky. Anything that makes you stand out as a little different might well help.’

Professor Danny Dorling – Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford

 Plus, we caught up with Mark Whitehead, a professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. Mark talks about why you should consider studying Geography and how to write the best personal statement…

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