Tips for writing your engineering personal statement
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Whether you’re writing a personal statement for chemical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering or a different discipline, you will need to:
- tell admissions tutors why you want to study engineering at university
- explain how relevant topics you’ve covered in your A levels will help you on the degree you’ve chosen
- show that you’ve engaged with the engineering industry outside of the classroom
- convince admissions tutors that you have the skills and qualities needed to do well on the course and contribute to the wider university.
For engineering personal statements, good skills to highlight include teamwork, problem solving, leadership and the ability to communicate in a clear and simple way, especially when talking about technical concepts.
Universities usually recommend that you dedicate around two-thirds of your personal statement to why you’re applying to the course, why you’re suited to it and how you’ve engaged with the subject. The remaining third should be about your extracurricular activities that aren’t directly related to engineering and how they have helped you develop useful skills and qualities.
To help you get started, here is our list of ideas for what you could include in an engineering personal statement. You can use this list to help you compile your own or check that you haven’t forgotten something important. Or, if you’re looking for something you could do to give your personal statement a boost, try one or two of these suggestions.
- Any work experience, from a work shadowing day to a couple of weeks’ work experience. This doesn’t need to be with an engineering company; admissions tutors will be impressed by any experience that has helped you gain a basic understanding of how things are built and how they work. Options include working at an architecture or surveying firm or your local garage or computer repair shop.
- Further reading on top of your studies, for example engineering-related news articles, books, journals and industry magazines such as New Scientist and New Civil Engineer.
- Conversations you’ve had with engineers about their work.
- Careers events or fairs that you’ve attended, such as The Big Bang Fair.
- Other events that you’ve attended, including workshops, talks or lectures (or any online lectures that you’ve watched) and taster days run by engineering employers or the engineering professional institutions.
- A trip you’ve been on, whether that’s with school or independently, such as a factory tour, attending the Engineering Design Show or visiting an exhibition held by a professional institution.
- Academic achievements beyond your exam results, for example receiving an award from your school or taking part in The Mathematical Challenge.
- Engineering competitions you’ve entered (such as Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge, The Big Bang Competition or The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Pioneers challenges).
- Personal projects that you’ve embarked on, such as learning to programme, creating your own app or building a robot. (If any of these sound like things you’d like to do, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is a good place to start).
- Anything else that triggered your interest in engineering, such as a story on the news, a local project or a film or TV show, from Hidden Figures to Robot Wars, Scrapheap Challenge and Incredible Engineering Blunders.
- Positions of responsibility that you’ve held, for example prefect, team captain or member of the school council.
- Any part-time jobs you’ve held, for example a paper round or working in a local café.
- Volunteering and fundraising. A project that is loosely related to engineering, such as the National Energy Foundation’s Energy Envoy programme, would be particularly relevant, but helping out at your local soup kitchen is equally as impressive. (If you want to get involved in social action, have a look at #iwill’s website.)
- Extracurricular activities and hobbies, such as cycling, playing the guitar or taking part in your school’s debate team.
- Languages. The ability to speak another language is very useful for a career in engineering, where you can work all over the world.
Unless you’re writing a personal statement for a general engineering degree, where you’ll study a number of different disciplines before specialising, you should make sure your personal statement is tailored to the engineering course you’ve chosen and explains your interest in this area.
If you’re writing a civil engineering personal statement, for example, make sure your personal statement demonstrates what you’ve done to engage with this discipline specifically. Perhaps you visited a tunnel exhibition run by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) or completed two weeks’ work experience at a local construction company. Explain what you learned during the experience and, even better, link this to your desire to study civil engineering at university.
If you’re writing an electrical and electronic engineering personal statement, perhaps you learned a programming language, such as Python or Java, in your spare time or spent a day shadowing a family friend who is an electrical engineer. Again, link back to why these experiences influenced your decision to apply to electrical engineering courses.
It’s good to show that you’ve researched the discipline in depth. If you’re writing a mechanical engineering personal statement, for example, remember that mechanical engineering is more than just building robots or Formula One cars, which we often see in popular culture. Admissions tutors will be impressed by students who have gone deeper and sought to understand other topics, such as thermodynamics, stress analysis and fluid dynamics.
Remember that you are submitting one personal statement to five universities
You can apply to five courses on UCAS but you only submit one personal statement. Each admissions tutor will be reading your statement with their course in mind so, if you’re applying to several different degrees with contrasting content or career prospects, for example a mixture of electrical engineering and civil engineering courses, it will be much trickier to make your statement discipline-specific and you risk seeming indecisive. (If you’re not sure which discipline you want to study, consider applying to general engineering degrees.)
Equally, be careful not to mention a university’s name or a unique feature of one of the courses. Writing that you are excited by the opportunity to design your own chemical engineering plant in your second year or that you’ve always wanted to study at the University of Warwick risks four unimpressed admissions tutors.
Show that you’ve thought about careers in engineering
As an engineering degree is designed to prepare you for a specific career, your personal statement should show admissions tutors that you have looked into engineering careers and thought about which route(s) you might want to go down after finishing university. This is especially important if you’re applying for a course that leads in an obvious direction, such as aerospace or automotive engineering, as opposed to mechanical, civil and electrical engineering, which are much broader.
You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do and it’s OK to be interested in a number of areas (after all, your degree will allow you to explore these areas in more depth), but you should demonstrate that you at least understand what careers the course you’re applying to can lead to. For example, you could write ‘I’m considering careers as a mechanical engineer in the power generation or marine industry, although I would be keen to learn more about other industries while I’m at university.’
Find out more about the types of jobs engineers can do.
Avoid overused statements
Try not to write things that lots of other students are likely to write too; admissions tutors will quickly tire of reading the same thing over and over again. You won’t be the only aspiring engineer who enjoyed playing with LEGO or K’Nex as a child or taking things apart to figure out how they worked. Equally, you’re probably not the only person to admire The Shard or the Empire State Building. Avoid quotes from famous engineers too; again, you won’t be the only one with that idea.
A personal statement can be up to 47 lines (or 4,000 characters), so you need to use the space you have wisely. Spend some time planning what you want to write before you start.
- Brainstorm all the reasons you can think of for wanting to study engineering at university, as well as everything you’ve done over the past few years. You might find it helpful to split these into separate lists, such as academics, engineering-related extracurricular activities and other interests or hobbies.
- Decide which points are the most important to include in your personal statement. This will help you give priority – and more space – to your most impressive points.
- Write a few bullet points or sentences about each experience, for example what it involved, what you learned and what skills you developed. In your personal statement you should go into detail about each experience you mention and, if possible, explain how the experience has influenced your decision to study engineering.
- You can then start piecing these bullet points/sentences together to form your first draft. Don’t worry too much about going over the line/character limit at this point. It’s better to write too much and need to cut it down than write too little and need to pad it out.
There is no set structure that a personal statement should follow. Admissions tutors will be impressed, though, if you order your personal statement in a way that a) is coherent and logical and b) shines a light on the most important pieces of information. It’s better to put your most relevant and interesting points towards the start of your personal statement, for example, than to follow a strict chronological or reverse chronological order.
If you’re not sure how to structure your statement, try the three-section approach recommended in our article on how to structure your UCAS personal statement.
Jack Walker, an electrical and electronic engineering graduate from Loughborough University:
‘Talk about experiences where you’ve shown your problem solving, analytical and teamwork skills and show that you have an interest in how the world around you works. I used to buy a magazine every week that helped me build a robot, for example. One thing you shouldn’t do is show that you give up at the first hurdle. Not much in engineering goes right the first time so showing that this would upset you or make you quit is a big no for me.’
Aideen Rogers, a chemical engineering graduate from Queen’s University Belfast:
‘If you enjoy maths and sciences and would like to apply that interest to everyday needs then engineering is definitely for you. It’s hard to gain engineering experience prior to university but if you ever went on a tour of a factory, you could talk about your experience of that and what interested you there.’
Rob Law, a mechanical engineering graduate from Loughborough University:
‘Talk about projects you’ve done, such as building something or solving a problem. Don’t just focus on the technical side though; an engineer is good with both technical matters and people.’