Personal statement advice: biology

We asked 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.

A successful biology personal statement

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

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

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 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 extracurricular 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 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 biological sciences for some inspiration.

‘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

Conveying your enthusiasm

Dr Devlin also told us all their applicants are invited for interview and 'the personal statement is the basis of that interview'. So he recommends that you write about 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 it has been difficult to extend your knowledge or experiences outside of school or college, don’t worry. As Cardiff points 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 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 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'.