A personal statement is a difficult piece of writing. You have to sum up your motivations, your passions and your desire to study the subject in 4000 characters or less, which is barely an A4 sheet of paper. It’s tempting to waffle over how you’ve loved to read about space ever since you learned your alphabet, but it’s far better to illustrate your passion for your subject with concrete, specific examples of your own independent exploration of it.
Of course, take a look at some of the books mentioned in our reading list for Oxbridge Physics, but there are also plenty of other things to get your teeth into, and make yourself stand out on your personal statement.
Extra Problem Solving
A good thing to include in your personal statement is any further exploration of the subject you have done. One way of developing your physics skills above and beyond the A-Level syllabus is through Isaac Physics, which provides a wide range of problems aimed at high-achieving A-Level students, with worked solutions. The Level 3-5 questions are the ones recommended by Oxford University as a good standard to be attempting.
The British Physics Olympiad is another good resource for honing your physics skills; all the past papers can be found online. Furthermore, Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems is a great source of problems and solutions that are relevant to the subjects studied at university.
Lectures and Online Videos
Another great way of showing your passion for physics on your personal statement is by referencing lectures and videos you have enjoyed, and further study you have done as a consequence of these videos. For example, a good sentence to include would be:
I loved a lecture I attended on the uses of quantum mechanics, so on the back of that I explored lots of different mathematical techniques employed in this field.
Some good online resources for lectures and videos are:
- Feynman’s Online Lectures
- Minute Physics YouTube channel
- Documentary History
- Physics Girl YouTube channel
- Physics Crash Course YouTube channel
Independent study is a crucial skill at university, and examples of this are things that admissions tutors will find very attractive. Here are some ways you can engage in independent study, and show off on your Personal Statement:
- If your school does the EPQ qualification or any type of extended essay project in your sixth form, then this is a great way to focus on a topic in physics and explore it in further detail. Include information in your personal statement about the independent research you did, and how you wrote the essay out of your own passion to increase your knowledge.
- You can alsodevelop your independent study skills is by completing an online course in physics. There are lots of online short courses you can find on websites such as Coursera or FutureLearn. You can get a certificate of completion, and this is a brilliant thing to include in your personal statement.
- If there is a subject on the A-Level syllabus that has particularly interested you, you could investigate it further, either online or through more intricate and developed textbooks. You could do a project on the topic, which would show your desire to expand your knowledge in your free time.
Internships or Further Lab Study
If you have done any work experience or extra lab work relevant to the discipline of physics, then this is another brilliant thing to include in your personal statement. You could include a sentence such as:
I developed my interest in waves and optics by completing an internship in a local laboratory. There, we used new and developing technology to explore the wavelike properties of light, which caused me to investigate this field of study further.
However, if your work experience is not relevant to physics, do not force it to be so. Although you can still include it, use it to demonstrate different skills relevant to university study, for example:
When doing work experience in the summer, I learnt to become more diligent, and improved my capability to meet deadlines. I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and learnt to adapt quickly to a new environment, a skill I think I would transfer well to university study.
A personal statement should be exactly that – personal. It should explain why you, specifically, want to study Physics, and it should show in concrete examples what you’ve done to show a desire and an aptitude for the course. Don’t stress, though – it’s only one part of the application, and will be considered alongside your A-levels, interviews and admissions test.