Personal statement advice: geography

Geography admissions tutors don't just want to hear about your academics, but also how you pursue your geographical interests outside of school or college.
'We get plenty of high achieving students from an academic perspective. What we’re also looking for are students that show potential to become the kind of globally engaged, culturally agile graduates we are committed to nurturing here. What we especially like is when you clearly articulate ways in which your life experience, either within or outside of school (preferably both), has connected with specific aspects of geography and hence why you are inspired to take your study of the subject on to degree level. The more detail you give on extracurricular interests the better.' Dr David Ockwell | Admissions Tutor – University Of Sussex

Blending your academic and extracurricular interests

Of course, those extracurricular interests should be relevant to geography, rather than random other things you do. But given that geography is such a far-reaching subject, this can cover a multitude of activities, interests or experiences. It could also be something you do locally, or somewhere you’ve travelled in the UK, or overseas.

But whatever it is, don’t just say you’ve done it. What’s essential is that you write about it in an interesting and reflective way showing what you’ve gained from it. That way, you’re sure to stand out from the crowd.

Show the real you

The University of Southampton is looking for a similar blend in your geography personal statement: ' A high quality piece of writing that outlines your interests in geography, your extracurricular pursuits, and something of what makes you distinctive as a person.'

A good way to do this is to write about something that excites you about the subject, whether it’s a particular aspect of the syllabus, your wider reading, a project (the EPQ would be relevant if you’re doing one), fieldwork, your extracurricular interests – or ideally, a combination of some of those things. The more interesting it is, the more distinctive you will come across as a person.

See our in-depth guide to studying geography at university, from entry requirements to careers.

‘As long as it’s well presented and enthusiastic, applicants shouldn’t worry about saying the ‘wrong’ thing. However, you should avoid two things. The first is (hopefully) obvious: you should edit your statement carefully to correct poor presentation, spelling or grammar. Additionally, we would prefer that the statement genuinely comes from you. It should be a reflection of your own interests and aspirations. If you’ve got no idea where to start, you might want to seek advice or look at examples. But then try to write the statement your way. Avoid copying phrases or letting someone else write chunks of it. If you do, it won’t sound natural.’ Dr Suzanne Reimer | Geography And Environment Admissions Tutor – University Of Southampton

More things for geographers to think about

  • Wider reading: The London School of Economics is looking for what's motivated you to apply for their course – including wider reading or activities and your interest in 'contemporary geographical problems and their alleviation'. The University of Bristol's website asks for evidence that you have extended your interest in the subject 'beyond formal classroom provision'.
  • Uni open days: these can be a great opportunity to get some specific advice. Subject talks will usually mention what they look for in personal statements or, if not, don’t be afraid to ask them face-to-face.
  • Talk about particular interests in topics featured in the courses you’re applying for: if regeneration, GIS, tropical savannas, glaciology, coastal zones, tourism or geopolitics fascinate you, write about it in a specific way – avoid bland, obvious phrases like 'I’ve always enjoyed geography'.
  • Specialist geography courses: if your UCAS choices include specialist areas including development, population, marine or environmental aspects of geography, include evidence of relevant interests. Maybe you’ve travelled somewhere and taken note of social conditions, read something interesting about migration or marine ecology, or contributed to an environmental debate which has sparked an interest to learn about environmental policy...
  • Show why you're passionate: as Dr Reimer at Southampton says: 'We are keen to teach students who are fascinated by the subject, so we want you to demonstrate your enthusiasm for it in your statement'.