Personal statement advice: engineering

Engineering admissions tutors explain why you'll need a 'personal', 'relevant' and 'reflective' personal statement if you want to tick all the right boxes.
‘We want people who can think and who show a bit of spark. I’m looking for the person who says something interesting, or has done something interesting – something a bit different from the others. I like to see applications that say things like ‘I want to be an engineer because…’ or ‘I visited somewhere and enjoyed it because...’ or 'I got some work experience and found it valuable because…’. In other words, what turned you on to this subject?’ Civil Engineering Admissions Tutor, University Of Southampton

How to provide evidence

You will need to be enthusiastic about engineering and show evidence of this in the personal statement is the simple advice from University of Dundee. So, here are some ideas on how to do this:

  • Work or extracurricular experiences: This doesn't necessarily have to be directly in an engineering field. Try and give examples of things you've done that highlight your technical aptitude, teamwork skills, leadership, or problem-solving abilities. Similarly, reflect on any extracurricular achievements that demonstrate good time management and self-organisation.
  • Relevant skills: Admissions tutors are looking for creative people with initiative, curiosity, and a bit of originality. So, if you’re interested in how things work, sketching new ideas, or taking things apart and repairing them, include this here. Perhaps you’ve taught yourself to code or made your own burglar alarm? Reflect on what you learned or the skills you developed.
  • Extra reading: Include any examples of things you've read that have influenced your interest in engineering. Don't just list them though – elaborate on one or two specific issues you read about recently and the impact it made on you.
  • Your future plans: If you have a particular goal in mind, then mention what you plan to do with your engineering degree, whether it’s your long-term career aspirations or just your ambition to make the world a better place.
  • Course suitability: Engineering is a challenging discipline, so demonstrate that you have the ability and motivation to complete the course.

What not to do

  • Don’t be irrelevant: The University of Bath says, 'The best engineers have a wide range of interests… but don’t let important information about yourself be buried in irrelevant detail'.
  • Don’t say ‘when I was a child’: An admissions tutor doesn't want to know that the first word you ever uttered was 'hydraulics', or that you played with lego as a child. What you did recently is much more relevant than what you did when you were six.
  • Don’t list interests or experiences without reflecting on them: It’s not enough just to say 'I have always been interested in X, Y and Z...'. Instead, describe a work experience placement, project or piece of coursework you did and explain what you found interesting or challenging about it (and why).
  • Don’t ignore key advice: Check out the department websites of the universities you're applying to, as some explain what they're looking for in an engineering personal statement. Each engineering degree course at the University of Bristol, for instance, has its own list of requirements - starting with leadership for its engineering design degree.

Structuring your statement

As well as relevant detail, Dr Will Whittow from the The Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering at Loughborough University wants to see a statement that is properly structured. This way you’ll clearly promote your skills and showcase your technical experience.

There are no cast-iron rules about the structure, but we’ve taken some tips from Dr Whittow to draw up a framework you could use:

  • Your motivation: In your first paragraph, explain your motivation and why you’re enthusiastic about the course, giving specific examples of what interests you and a glimpse of any specific knowledge you already have.
  • Mention your career ambitions too: Just don’t waste space listing your A level subjects, telling them what an engineer does, or starting with a quote ‘Ever since I was a child…’.
  • Your relevant insights or experience: In your second and third paragraphs, show your passion by providing evidence of what you’ve learned from any relevant experience, insights, interests or achievements, starting with your strongest point. This will be all the more impressive if it was outside of school or college, like relevant work experience, engineering taster days or CREST Awards. Commenting on what you’ve learned from your EPQ or a similar school or college project would fit well here too, but it really needs to be relevant.
  • Your transferrable skills: In your final paragraph mention anything else that takes up a lot of your time, like a part-time job, caring for a family member, or other interests, responsibilities or extracurricular activities. But draw out the transferable skills you’ve learned from them, like time management, teamwork or leadership. And be specific. Just saying you play badminton or took the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award means nothing – either say something interesting about it that provides relevant evidence or, better still, choose something that not so many people do.

Just like Southampton's Admissions Tutor advised in the quote, try to show a bit of spark and talk about something a bit different from everyone else.