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Personal statement advice: biology

We ask a biology admissions tutor what the secret is to writing a successful biology personal statement. Apparently, there isn't one… it’s all about genuine passion, enthusiasm and curiosity.

The simple objective to writing a successful biology personal statement is to show that you understand what you're applying for, along with some evidence of your enthusiasm and commitment to the subject. 

More personal statement advice: see our articles on 10 things to include and how to get writing.
 

A successful biology personal statement

University of Southampton admissions tutor Dr Malcom East outlines two key ingredients that he would like to see evidenced in your biological sciences statement:

1. That you understand something about the course you’re applying for, with a realistic perception of what it involves;

2. That you’re enthusiastic about the subject and can show some commitment to it. You can demonstrate this by writing about your wider reading, Extended Project, work experience or any other way that you have engaged with biological science beyond the syllabus.
 

Your commitment and appetite for the subject

Admissions tutors at the University of Birmingham are looking out for something you’ve done, or something you think, that conveys your commitment to the subject:
  • What topics do you find particularly intriguing?
  • Have you done anything interesting or unusual that has involved engaging with the subject beyond the syllabus, or through your extra-curricular interests or voluntary work?
  • Have you been on an interesting field course or visited a university laboratory and learned something from it?
A paragraph where you explain what you gained from one or two interests or activities like these would be very effective. Remember to explain things in your own words, ensure that it has a good structure and steer clear of poor grammar and spelling.

Cardiff University’s selectors are no different. They want you to demonstrate a commitment, motivation and determination to further your knowledge in biosciences, along with any experience or other non-academic interests that highlight your personal qualities in general. They also want to see from your statement that you can communicate this in a way that’s concise and coherent.

See our in-depth guide to studying biology at university, from typical modules to career paths, for some inspiration.
 

Conveying your enthusiasm

An enthusiasm for the subject counts for a lot. We’re always interested to hear what inspires our applicants about their chosen subject, whether it’s a project they are involved in at school, something they pursue as a hobby or any relevant work experience. We read through every statement we receive and an interesting, thoughtful, personal statement always stands out. Dr Paul Devlin | Admissions Tutor For Biological Sciences - Royal Holloway University Of London
Paul also told us that all their applicants are invited for interview and that 'the personal statement is the basis of that interview', so he recommends that you write about the things you would like them to ask you about. 

So if you're fascinated by the machinery of the cell, human health or disease, the natural environment, any other specific aspects of biology or just the science of living organisms in general then make sure you include it. By reflecting on one or two of these interests in your statement, you’re likely to make a strong impression.
 

It’s good to include some non-academic content

Admissions tutors at King’s College London like to see an element in your statement that reflects on your general reading, debating, contributing to school, college or community life or any cultural or sporting interests, as they are keen for you to continue this at uni and to contribute to the 'vitality of the College community'.

However, if your home or personal circumstances mean that it has been difficult to extend your knowledge or experiences outside of school or college, don’t worry. As Cardiff point out, universities will usually be sympathetic to this.
 

How critical is the personal statement?

If you achieve the required grades and can genuinely demonstrate that you’ve got the necessary enthusiasm and commitment, then you should be in a strong position. Your personal statement, in combination with your academic reference, will be very important for demonstrating those qualities.

If your statement clearly shows that you have also applied for a clinical programme like medicine, veterinary science or dentistry, that lack of commitment to biology is likely to be a turn-off to some universities, including University of Bristol. However, others take a different view on that or may consider a separate statement sent directly to them. Do research this in advance!

According to University of Southampton, it’s if you don’t quite get the grades you need in August that the personal statement becomes especially critical. If you find yourself in this position, then your statement could turn out to be your lifeline on results day. As Dr East put it: 'If we have a few places left, then the statement will probably determine whether you’re in or out'.
 

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