Personal statement advice: history

Writing a personal statement for history? We asked admissions tutors what they're looking for – and it's all down to demonstrating your interest over and above the syllabus.
‘Why do you love history? Which period or approach particularly appeals to you, and why? What new insights has studying history given you? Why do you want to study it further? Which history books have you most enjoyed reading? Which historical sites have you most enjoyed visiting? What do you hope to do with your history degree in the future?’ Dr Louise Carter | Admissions Tutor – University Campus Suffolk

History personal statements: how to impress

It's all about selecting examples and experiences that really help to demonstrate your love of the subject. Also show how – and why – you're interested in a particular historical topic, trend or period.
‘Don’t simply write things such as “I think history is vital to understanding the world we live in”. Say why you think so, and include one or two examples of historical topics you have found interesting, and again say why – but keep these examples concise.’ Dr Stephen Pigney | History Admissions Tutor – Goldsmiths University Of London

What else to include in your history statement

  • Why you want to study history: this is an obvious one, but try and bring your love of history to life with evidence. The best statements are those that go straight into engaging with what currently inspires you about the subject, not simply 'as a child when my uncle took me to a castle...'.
  • Relevant experiences: one way to show your engagement with the subject is to talk about an experience and – crucially – what it was you learned. This could be a museum or gallery visit, volunteering, wider reading you've undertaken – even a powerful documentary or insightful discussion with your grandparents. A tutor told us one of the best statements they've read opened with a short account of a conversation with a grandad about his experiences in World War II.
  • How other subjects give you useful knowledge or skills: try to do this in an interesting way (rather than just listing out what else you're studying), giving a sense of your broader reading and intellectual interests.
  • Career aspirations: if it's relevant, explain where you see yourself in future and how a history degree can help you get there. Don't forget to elaborate on why – many history students say they want to be teachers or journalists, for instance, so saying this alone won't help you to stand out.
  • Relating it back to history: Dr Selina Todd from the University of Oxford told us she's looking for creative evidence of your engagement with history. That could be through work experience or creative writing, an interest in current affairs and how history helps us to understand them, or maybe something about how your hobbies and personal interests fit with history. For example, if you play in a band, are you also interested in music of the past?

Key skills for history students

Highlight any skills you've developed that would make you a strong candidate for studying the course at university level. These could include:

  • Independent research: the University of Bristol is 'particularly eager to identify applicants whose interest in the subject extends beyond the A level syllabus and who are keen to engage in independent research', for example.
  • Awareness of key historical concepts: Dr Pigney from Goldsmiths told us he's especially impressed with applicants whose statements engage with fundamental historiographical questions, such as the extent to which history is a collection of different stories told from different viewpoints, or whether there is a single true account of the past.
  • Self-motivation: demonstrate how you can think coherently, analytically and critically, can research and write independently, and manage your time effectively.

Things to avoid

The tutors we spoke to stressed the importance of researching your chosen courses to ensure that the content covered actually matches your interests. Your enthusiasm for Ancient Rome won't stand out in a good way if one of the courses you're applying for only covers historical periods after 1500 – so read the course content thoroughly (you can look up courses and read detailed descriptions with our search tool).

Don't devote too much space in your statement to your extracurricular activities. Keep this section brief and relevant, using it to show how you're a well-rounded applicant. Dr Todd from Oxford told us she doesn’t want to see random hobbies or qualities which have nothing to do with the course or its selection criteria. Here are a few final pointers:

  • Avoid using long quotations in your statement – 'we want to know what you think!'
  • Don't just say: 'I have a passion for history' – demonstrate it.
  • Misspelling and grammatical inaccuracies are a no-no. History is a literate subject, so it needs to be well written.