Personal statement advice: architecture, building and planning

If you’re applying for architecture, planning or building, admissions tutors say they need you to outline your reasons for wanting to study the course. Here’s how you do it. The built environment encompasses lots of courses and professions. As the University of Nottingham puts it, you need to 'be as specific as possible about your interests and enthusiasms'.

Architecture: be individual and creative...

Admissions tutors often tell us there is no such thing as a model statement, and architecture is a case in point. For example, tutors at University College London (UCL) want you to write what you find interesting. They don't have any specific things they’re looking for, they don’t necessarily want to know which architects you admire, and they don’t require you to have had any work experience or to have shadowed an architect.

So, it’s more about being individual and creative in your statement. That doesn’t mean being off-the-wall, but having something really interesting, engaging, and relevant to say about what enthuses you and what has motivated you to apply.

...but don't put stuff in just to sound good

Admissions tutors at University of Sheffield take a slightly different stance, saying that ‘a few days’ work experience in a local practice would be beneficial, but not essential'. However, they too share UCL’s point of view by emphasising that 'the most important thing is to be yourself' and that you shouldn’t 'put stuff in because you think it sounds good'. They want it to be enthusiastic and individual to you.

Although there is no such thing as a model statement, you may nonetheless find it helpful to have some guidelines around which to build it. We discussed this with Dan Blott, principal lecturer and schools admissions tutor at the School of Architecture, University of Portsmouth. Dan suggested that you try to answer the following questions:

  • What prompted your interest in architecture?
  • Are there any buildings and/or places you particularly like? Explain why – don't just list where you've been.
  • What architects have you heard of and do you know/like any of their work? What stands out, and why?
  • What do you like doing and/or what have you done well in academically that you think is relevant to studying architecture?

Sheffield offers some guidelines too, suggesting you could include why you want to study it, relevant qualities you can bring to the course and to the uni, any achievements, skills, experience or other factors you feel they should know about, and what you think you might want to do with the knowledge you gain.

You're probably starting to notice there are slight contradictions when you compare what different unis say. Don’t be put off by that, just be honest and blend your statement in the way that suits you individually. Be yourself!

Planning: show your enthusiasm for the subject

We also spoke to Dr Tom Goodfellow, admissions tutor at the Department of Town and Regional Planning at University of Sheffield. For him, it's all about writing your statement in a way that shows you've done your research.

He's looking for students who are attracted to the kind of challenges and opportunities his university's specialist areas will present and who are 'willing to go the extra mile in terms of exploring both the ethical and practical challenges of planning in the twenty-first century’.

‘Here at Sheffield, we approach planning as a social science subject; our students explore a broad range of social, economic, and political aspects of planning built environments, as well as design and environmental considerations. We look for students with a passion for planning in its entirety, who seek to understand the broader debates in which planning is embedded and the varied dilemmas that professional planners face in the course of their work.’ Dr Tom Goodfellow | Admissions Tutor – University Of Sheffield

Construction: hot tips

Finally, some down-to-earth advice for construction applicants:

‘If you’re applying for courses like construction management, I don't really want to know about what your Dad did, I want to know why you want to be a construction manager and how you are passionate about the construction industry.

‘Or, if you’re applying for a course such as architectural technology, don't tell me about your passion to be an architect, as this just indicates that you regard our course as a fall-back position.’ Delia Forester, Admissions Tutor – University Of Brighton

In other words, be clear about what it is you’re applying for and be specific about why the course you’re applying for appeals to you personally.

We loved Delia’s general tips too:

  • 'I don't really want to know that you have been to Florence/Istanbul/New York and were very impressed'
  • 'Don’t send in a statement written by the careers department – put it in your own words.'
  • 'I do want to know that you already know a bit about the industry, that you are reasonably articulate, and can spell'
  • 'Don't use slang or informal or text language.'
  • 'Don't have an offensive or inappropriate email address.'

Take a look at our in-depth guide to architecture, building, and planning, covering entry requirements to careers, for some inspiration.