Personal statement advice: computer science

We asked admissions tutors to share their dos and don’ts for writing a strong and engaging computer science personal statement. Here's what they told us:

What to include in your computer science statement

  • A strong opening: explain succinctly where your enthusiasm for computer science comes from, and why – but avoid the temptation to begin with a potted history describing when you got your first computer!
  • How you're engaged with the subject: talk about what’s inspiring you or motivating you to study it, whether it’s a relevant book or news articles you’ve read, or maybe a bit of programming you've done.
  • An understanding of what's involved: tutors love to read statements where your enthusiasm for the subject comes across, alongside a clear sense that you understand what computer science as a discipline is all about. Don't actually tell them what it is – they know that already. Show them that you know.
  • Your personal goals: what are you hoping to achieve by studying this subject for the next three to four years?
  • Show you're a team player: according to the engineering and computer science department at Durham University, 'try to write about how you work with others. Have you been part of a team or led a team? Have you had to organise something complex such as an event, a play or a football league?'
‘We read lots of statements that start “Ever since I was five years old I have been interested in computing”. We do want to see passion for the subject, but be original. Try to tell us why you are passionate about computing now and how you can demonstrate this. Make sure you understand the aims and approach of the degree programmes you are applying for and make sure your application demonstrates that. So if you are applying for one of our creative pathways like creative computing or music computing, let us know what kind of relationship you are interested in pursuing between computing and your artistic practice.’ Robert Zimmer | Head Of Computing - Goldsmiths University Of London

Computer science personal statement pitfalls

  • Not standing out: Professor Lowe from the University of Oxford says that lots of the personal statements he sees 'are similar, bland, impersonal and don’t stand out – so make it personal, specific, and concrete'.
  • Using clichés: avoid phrases such as 'computers are important in the modern world' or just saying 'I’m fascinated by artificial intelligence' without explaining why.
  • Quoting Wikipedia: 'We already know what computer science is so we don’t need a Wikipedia definition. We’re interested in your understanding of it and your desire to learn', Robert Zimmer from Goldsmiths adds.
‘I want to know that you know what computer science is actually about. At Oxford it's a mathematical subject, so show a bit of mathematical interest too. It's not so much the knowledge you get from maths that matters, but the skills you've developed through it and the ability to think logically and mathematically. I would also be interested to hear about any reading around the subject or any programming you've done. Even if it's just a simple programme, talk about it and show your enthusiasm. But remember that we will probably then delve into it at interview.’ Professor Gavin Lowe | Admissions Co-ordinator For Computer Science - University Of Oxford

Engagement with the subject

Admissions tutors at University of Portsmouth and University of Warwick both agreed that clichés like ‘I want to do computing because it’s the future’ or opening lines like ‘I got my first computer when I was three’ are a big turn-off.

However, they do like to see evidence of your most recent engagement with the subject, or something current that’s inspired you. In fact, the kind of statement that would really hit the mark would include your reflections on some or all of the following:

  • a programme you wrote or side project you've been working on
  • an internship or some relevant work experience you did
  • how your studies or wider reading have boosted your understanding or sparked your curiosity
  • your opinions on a key topic such as data privacy
  • any extracurricular interests that have given you relevant transferable skills
  • an area or module you're particularly looking forward to studying. Something along those lines should engage the tutor reading your statement