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Personal statement advice: politics, philosophy, sociology

Have you chosen to study politics, philosophy or sociology? Then you’ll need to write a personal statement that’s thoughtful, reflective and enthusiastic. Here admissions tutors give us their top tips...

Politics: less can be more...

Demonstrating your understanding of and interest in studying politics is a key way of impressing tutors:
The most persuasive statements are those that are clearly written and which get straight to the point. Less is often more. I simply want it made clear to me that an applicant is academically interested in studying the subject at university, that they’ve done their homework and have a sense of what the academic study of politics is actually about… that it’s not just current affairs.

It’s also best to avoid pretentious or ostentatious language. Short sentences please! And while some experience of the political world or participating in activities like the UK Youth Parliament can send a good signal, I never particularly wish to know if an applicant wants to be prime minister. Dr Nicholas Allen - Politics And International Relations Admissions Tutor | Royal Holloway, University Of London

The University of Bristol helpfully outlines what tutors are looking for in politics applicants on its website you need to show evidence of:
  • your engagement with the subject beyond the A-level (or equivalent) syllabus
  • what it is that specifically and explicitly enthuses you about the debates you engage with, the books you read and the ideas you discuss.
They would also be very interested in your reflections on any relevant volunteering or campaigning you might have done, but it’s you as an individual and your intellectual engagement with ideas that they most want to get a feel for.

There's no model answer it just needs to be unique to you. Or one other way you might stand out, in Dr Allen's view, is by speaking to an admissions tutor at an open day and following it up with an email exchange.

Philosophy: show your analytical abilities

Some applicants for philosophy degrees will already be studying the subject, but many won’t have studied it before. If you are in that position, then Professor Christopher Janaway at University of Southampton has some simple but clear advice to offer: 'We want you to show us that you have a genuine interest in the subject, so tell us about the reading you’ve done, lectures you’ve been to or any other ways you have engaged with philosophy.'

University of Bristol selectors outline a whole range of qualities that would impress. But what perhaps stands out amongst these, alongside demonstrating your interest and commitment to philosophy, is that the way you approach your statement needs to show that you are capable of clear thinking and understanding and that you can analyse problems and construct an argument.

So giving structure to your statement will be very important, though how you actually thread it is entirely up to you.

London School of Economics selectors are also interested in your views and opinions on 'questions such as morality, free will or consciousness' as well as the experiences you have had which have led to your desire to study philosophy. Therefore they would expect the majority of your statement to be based around your subject interest and enthusiasm.

So it’s open-ended. You have 47 lines with no rules, but don’t try to be too smart. You will stand out by doing your research, being interesting, relevant and different and by reflecting on what you’ve been reading.

Sociology: show genuine interest

Here are some of the key messages you will find by researching sociology at various universities:

Cardiff University selectors like to see applicants who can demonstrate an informed understanding of the subject, a mature outlook, a wider awareness of social issues and ideally a desire to take part themselves in “advancing our understanding of a diverse and fast-changing social world”.

London School of Economics want to see an original statement that gives a sense of your enthusiasm and motivation for studying sociology and to see something of your interest in 'relationships between peoples and society'. They like the majority of your statement to be based around your subject interest and for you to reflect on why you wish to study sociology, any aspects that are of special interest to you and how it relates to your current academic programme and your additional reading or other experiences.

Amongst other attributes, Bournemouth University likes to see that you can work independently as well as in groups.

University of Birmingham selectors would like to get a glimpse of the relevant knowledge, skills and experiences you’ve gained, an appreciation of what a degree in sociology involves and the interests and enthusiasm you would bring to it.

So make it clear that you are academically interested in the subject, add any relevant extra-curricular experiences and show that you’ve done your homework.

For more advice on finalising your personal statement, take a closer look at our articles on 10 things to include and top ways to sell yourself


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