UCAS Statements for English, History and other Humanities
If you have come to this page expecting a personal statement you can just copy and paste, you can stop reading now.
On this page we discuss how to approach a personal statement for undergraduate study in the Humanities – English, History, Law, Economics, Politics would be areas such as this. The article considers the areas to cover for a student interested in studying History at undergraduate level.
Some of the guidance is very specific to this areas, and some of the advice could be applied many areas of undergraduate study. If you want to speak to our team about how to craft a winning UCAS personal statement, then we recommend that you book a free 30 minute review call.
1.Most of your personal statement should be about why you want to study History
Regardless of what you wish to do with your life afterwards, the prospect of lectures, seminars, tutorials, and reading and writing about History must be one that appeals over and above the other options in front of you.
- What has drawn you to History as a subject
- Why you enjoy it
- Actions you have taken to extend your own learning
- What you hope to gain from studying it at degree level.
Of course, somewhere in your statement you will want to include other details about yourself, your interests and aptitudes (and any challenges you may have encountered in your studies, or other personal circumstances relevant to your application), but the priority is to focus on History.
The first line of anything is never easy to write, whether it is a book, a short story or a personal statement. There are many ways to start a personal statement, and none is necessarily better than the others.
So, do not invest too much time and energy on a particularly dramatic first line, or an attempt to a shoehorn in elaborate vocabulary where it is not needed. It is always possible to write a provisional first line, and once the statement has taken more shape, it can be revisited.
If you are stuck, there is no harm in starting with something simple on which you can build, such as:
- A broadcast, podcast or lecture that that interested you
- A book, article or online lecture that you enjoyed
- A historical location, gallery or museum that you have visited
Each and every candidate will have their own reasons for being drawn to study History – so make sure this comes across in your statement.
3. Linking what you have already encountered to your enthusiasm for further study
As a current or recent Sixth Form student, the topics that you have covered at A Level are worth drawing on in your statement, as you will have thought a lot about these and will have written essays or coursework on them. However it is important to outline
- What features of the topics were interesting and why; and
- Future questions that these topics prompted
The key takeaway here is “what questions did learning this make me ask next … and what have I personally done to learn more?” And this applies regardless of the topic … whether US Civil Rights, The Russian Revolutions, The British Empire, Norman England – or anything else for that matter.
In your personal statement it is important to show that have tried to engage with historical writing beyond what has been shared with you in class.
What you read is less important that your reaction to it (as long as it is serious history), and how you articulate that in your personal statement.
History books are popular best sellers and garner plenty of media attention.A caveat here is that admissions tutors will end up reading a lot of personal statements where these “hot topic” books are mentioned. Being able to offer a thoughtful personal response about great historical writing – whether it was published this year or 30 years ago – is the key thing here.
While the choice of extension reading is less important than what you take from it, it can be a good idea to move beyond topics that you have covered in Sixth Form, especially if these were within a limited time period.
Buying books can be expensive (even if second-hand) and so do make use of school libraries (if you have access to one), or public libraries too. Librarians are very keen to help, and school librarians may even be able to order a book, especially if it could be useful to your teachers or other students.
Peer-reviewed journal articles
While books are the most familiar format for History to reach a public readership, journal articles are often the route for historians to reveal their findings from new primary research, or to engage in interpretative debate. Many schools can gain access to these journals through digital subscriptions platforms such as JSTOR, and local libraries can also help. Reading an article from a major journal can be really useful in understanding how historians frame arguments and develop interpretations, relating their first-hand scholarship to the existing secondary literature.
Therefore, reading one or more articles from a journal, and commenting on what you gained from this, can be a useful way of showing an interest in the technical craft of what historians do.
There are many digital humanities databases which have been have been created in the last two decades, by universities, heritage organisations and private individuals, often including geolocation features.
Broadcasting, Video and Podcasts
Some of the most powerful content is also in digital, video or audio form. The BBC iPlayer and YouTube have fantastic resources and whatever your areas of historical interest – you will be able to find lots of material.
BBC Radio Four, In Our Time. Hundreds of expert discussions on History, History of Ideas and History of Science, each lasting around 40 minutes.
As with anything mentioned on a personal statement, simply saying that you have watched, listened to or read it is only of limited value. It is more impactful to explain your reaction to this encounter, for example how it has changed your prior assumptions, or how it inspired you to learn more.
5. Personal projects and essay competitions
Undertaking an A Level EPQ, an Advanced Higher Dissertation, or an IB Extended Essay can be an effective way of demonstrating curiosity for historical research, and a willingness to commit to the development of research skills. If you have done one of these, it is a great opportunity for you to comment on the experience of research, such as when contradictions or limitations in the evidence may have required you to re-shape the focus of your question. Individual projects can also afford opportunities to mention different types of source, including material objects, physical locations, data and other quantitative evidence, and even content accessed in another language (if relevant).
If you have not done an EPQ or similar project, another way to demonstrate enthusiasm for individual research is to submit an entry for an essay competition organized by a university (even if that particular institution is not your preferred destination). As with any other personal project, the value of this for a personal statement lies in what you can articulate about the experience of individual research – e.g. why you were interested in the topic and how you approached the question.
Several institutions offer these across multiple subject areas, commonly focusing on Year 12 and Year 13 students. The list below is far from being exhaustive, and some have already passed their deadlines for the year 2020-2021, while others are yet to open for this present cycle, or have been suspended during the COVID-19 restrictions.
https://www.nchlondon.ac.uk/essay/ (New College of the Humanities)
https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/essay-competition (University of Sheffield)
https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/essay-prizes/history/ (Trinity College, Cambridge)
https://www.robinson.cam.ac.uk/prospective-students/essay-prize (Robinson College, Cambridge)
https://www.exeter.ox.ac.uk/applicants/undergraduates/visit/outreach/essay-writing-competition-2020/ (Exeter College, Oxford)
https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/teachers/academic-competitions-schools-and-colleges (central website for competitions operated by Oxford colleges)
6. Link to your other subjects
As History will be only one of the subjects that you have studied, it can be helpful to say something about one or more of the others, especially if you can either comment on the skills that you have gained, or link some of the content you have encountered to your studies in History.
Politics, Economics, English, Classics or Modern Languages are all subjects where you can show link to wider topics in History that you may have touched on.
The challenge of 4,000 characters means that you may have to remain light on the detail, but being able to show linkages between these areas of study may be an option.
7. Local History
Showing an interest in local history displays a number of benefits
- Connects your personal experience to historical changes or events.
- Allows you to engage with primary sources in your area.
- Reminds us that even the most local of events can be part of the broader context and time.
As noted, around 80% of your personal statement should focus on the area that you want to study.
in the closing sentences of your personal statement, it is important to return to your interest in History. This helps to knit the personal statement together and reminds the reader of your interest and motivation as they conclude their review.
If you need further help with your personal statement then book a FREE REVIEW CALL with our team