This student applied to study Psychology and Criminology at Southampton, Royal Holloway and Swansea, as well as Psychology at Liverpool and Oxford Brookes. They received offers from all five of their universities.
Here we break their personal statement down into parts, analysing each section so you can learn from their experience.
I became interested in the relationship between human behaviour and the brain after a member of my family was diagnosed with dementia. Having noticed the relationships between the deteriorating condition and abnormal behaviour, I began to question how the brain affects memory and behaviour. My growing interest in the link between the biology of a person and their behaviour was what originally drove me to study Psychology A-Level. Studying Psychology at university will allow me to develop my research and problem solving skills as well as my interest in the mind and behaviour.
You should outline your interest in the subject without relying on one specific ‘lightbulb’ moment - in this example, the student has identified an initial interest and mentioned how they expanded on it to make their decision to study Psychology at university.
Careful not to make your response too emotive - mentioning poor health in your family as a stimulus for your interest is fine providing you keep your writing academic rather than emotional. If it’s too difficult to write about, choose a different driver.
One of the topics I found most interesting during my A-Level course was Psychopathology. This topic led me to research the inner workings of the atypical mind, particularly the mind of a criminal in Psychopath Whisperer by Kent Kiehl. The most engaging aspect of the book was a case study into a repeat offending paedophile. Despite all rehabilitation efforts failing, further investigation found a large tumour in his frontal lobe which, when removed, stopped all deviant behaviours. I find the relationship between psychology and criminology fascinating and looked into this further starting with Jim Fallon’s TED Talk ‘Exploring the mind of a killer’ where I learnt about the thought processes behind the crime, why criminals commit a crime, and whether they have free will. I used this research to help develop my understanding of my module on abnormal behaviour and would like to study this further.
Point out something specific you have studied that interests you, but avoid writing ‘I am passionate about…’. Evidence your interests by writing about ways you’ve explored your subject independently. Exploring things you find interesting without being told to by a teacher demonstrates your natural curiosity in the subject, and will give you the scope to write about your interest in topics that will be on your future courses.
Studying both Biology and Chemistry has helped me to develop my skills in conducting experiments, particularly my hypothesis writing and my ability to analyse experimental data. For example, in my Biology A-Level coursework, I studied the effect of caffeine on the breakdown of protein, hypothesising that protein breakdown would be faster after caffeine intake. I plotted my data on a variety of graphs and used them to identify the rate of the reaction. I explored my hypothesis further in psychology, looking into the effect of caffeine on mental conditions, including addiction. Using my in class research, I linked this to genetics and gene mutations as part of the nature vs nurture debate to bring in my interest in criminals as this is a key element of the study of criminal minds.
You don’t need to explain or even list the A-Levels you’re taking, but you should point out any transferable skills you’ve built, especially if they’re listed on your course page. For example, psychology courses tend to ask for scientific and analytical skills so this student has pointed out their skills in experiments, and they’ve linked this back to an interest in psychology to show how they can use their analyses across their subjects.
Remember that you need to answer the question ‘what makes me a good candidate for this course’, so pick out key examples that demonstrate that you are!
Recently, I attended a lecture by Dr Guy Sutton, a Professor in Neuroscience at Nottingham University. He discussed dissection, brain function and - most interestingly - the neuropathology of Schizophrenia. This led me to research the relationship between this mental illness and criminal behaviour. I was fascinated to find that, where previously it was thought that Schizophrenia drove people to violence, evidence has been uncovered to suggest that criminality is not a symptom of this condition, and the correlation between Schizophrenia and crime is due to the homelessness, poverty, or drug abuse that so often accompanies this illness. My research impressed upon me the importance of studying the mind; this new evidence changed both the way Schizophrenics are treated in society, and how mentally ill criminals are sentenced.
Research into and passion for your subject doesn’t have to be about reading - if you’ve visited a lecture, museum, or something similar, mention it to demonstrate your passion and commitment.
Make sure you don’t just mention the experience and move on; you should link together your experience and your reading, and reflect on what you learnt or how it improved your understanding of the subject. Linking your subject to real world events demonstrates to admissions tutors that you understand and appreciate its relevance in the world around you, and demonstrates that you are capable of processing and evaluating information independently.
I enjoy art where I love to explore the inner workings of the mind from a creative perspective. I entered a sculpture which represented motor neurone disease into a competition; I explored the conflict between the minds of both humans and animals, and my entry was exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery where I was asked to film a short video explaining my thought process behind the piece. I am also a bowler for both my District and County cricket teams where I was awarded ‘best bowler’ for three seasons for my hard work, dedication, and drive to improve. As a result of my improving teamwork and leadership skills, I am a Level 1 coach and have begun working towards my level two coaching certificate. I have recently been given the responsibility of running my own team where I hope to inspire the next generation of cricketers.
Don’t be afraid to highlight your achievements - you should be proud of them! Make sure you point out any accolades, awards, or competitions you have won or taken part in, alongside any extra curricular activities that have helped you develop your skills. You don’t have to link these back to your subject - the point of this section is to demonstrate your skills, not show that you are suitable for psychology. You don’t need a conclusion - use those characters to fill out your examples! If you do choose to end on a conclusion, write about what you are looking forward to studying, rather than any career goals; you are applying to be a student, not a future psychologist!