The University of Southampton

Advice for applying to study STEM subjects

Your personal statement is an important part of your application. For many, it can seem like a daunting exercise, but in fact it’s your opportunity to show universities who you are and why you are an excellent choice for their course. To help you write a personal statement that will secure your place at your university of choice, our STEM admissions tutors have put together some top tips below.

Your personal statement

Many people do not know what they want to do in the future – and that’s OK! Many just know they like a particular subject area and want to pursue it further. Some have wanted to pursue it since an early age or have developed an interest in it recently.

Whichever best describes you, tell us, in your own words:

  • The topics that fascinate you
  • What you hope to achieve through studying your subject and give an idea of where this might fit in with your longer-term aims
  • What sparked your initial interest in the subject
  • Why you chose this particular course
  • How you think the subject relates to the real world and society – think about its applications, the research that’s happening in the area and its global impact

Dr Lindsay-Marie Armstrong, Director of Admissions (Engineering)

“I enjoy reading about what you think are the next big challenges that we face as a society. Understanding the role you think engineering will play in solving global problems, even before you get to the course, is extremely valuable.”

The three most important things to demonstrate: passion, motivation and enthusiasm

Back up your passion and motivation with evidence. Explain why the subject fascinates you and what engages you.

 You could discuss:

  • Videos, podcasts and lectures
  • Books
  • Work experience
  • Topics you’ve studied

Professor David Smith, Admissions Tutor (Physics)

“Try to evidence your claims about yourself. i.e. rather than ‘I love physics’ write ‘My interest in physics led me to read this book or attend this lecture or take an optional physics club’. Remember you might be asked about your claims in an interview.”

Dr Geoff Hyett, Admissions Tutor (Chemistry)

"Don’t worry if you’ve not managed to get work experience, it’s not necessary for most subjects. Instead have a think about other things you’ve done outside of school or college that demonstrate your transferable skills."

We understand that it can be difficult to get relevant work experience and it’s not usually necessary for studying most subjects at university. But you can demonstrate valuable transferable skills and experience in many environments, such as:

  • Part time work
  • Sports activities
  • Organising social activities or charity events
  • Personal achievements from your hobbies

“Above all, tell us what you’ve done. This is much better than only talking about what interests you. This might be personal projects, or experiments with technology at home, but say something about your real experiences and how you learned from them.” 

Dr Dave Millard, Director of Admissions (ECS)

Student using towing tank facility

Personal statement top tips

  • Tell us about your hobbies, interests and other activities, including employment or voluntary work, which show who you are as a person and demonstrate relevant skills
  • Try not to use clichéd phrases, saturate your personal statement with superlatives, or try too hard to impress 
  • Be honest and true to yourself and your interests, then read it through and see if it is a true representation of you, and demonstrates your passion
  • Tailor the statement to your chosen course. Generic and formulaic statements do not demonstrate you as an individual and your genuine interest. We want to see your voice coming through in the statement
  • Discuss your other subjects and how they link with each other
  • Example personal statements online may be useful for inspiration but avoid plagiarising text from these. This is easy to check by UCAS and admissions tutors
  • Take care with grammar, spelling and punctuation, and avoid writing in note form; try to get someone else to proofread, or read it over backwards – it helps you to spot mistakes in your own writing
  • Remember, that all information in the personal statement may be drawn upon at interview, so be truthful about your knowledge, experience and motivations 

Application tips

  • Make sure your subject choices meet the course requirements
  • Don’t be afraid to aim high and choose one university course with entry requirements above your predicted grades
  • You can include other qualifications not directly relevant to the application (e.g. music qualifications)
  • Double check that all information is accurate such as qualifications, education and contact details

Good luck with your application! If you’d like to discuss any aspect of your application with us, please email us at enquiry@southampton.ac.uk

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"Writing a personal statement might seem like a daunting task but it really should not be difficult. Think of your personal statement as a way for you to give us a few more details about you – about your story, your interests and your motivations. I enjoy reading through personal statements of applicants and see the diversity of stories and interests that motivate students to apply to study chemical engineering with us."

Dr Nuno Bimbo, Admissions Tutor (Chemical Engineering)

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