5 Ways to Find the Best Reading for Your Personal Statement

15 May, 2023 | University Preparation

Knowing you enjoy a subject and knowing how to express your enthusiasm for it are two very different things, which is one of the major reasons writing your UCAS personal statement can seem like an impossible task.

One way to make this easier is by sourcing quality personal statement reading! It isn’t always obvious where to look to find the best resources, but don’t worry – we’ve put together these five top tips to help you find the best personal statement reading to use in your UK university applications. 

Student working on laptop

Why is reading important for your personal statement?

It’s a fair question, and one we’ll cover before we jump into our tips. Reading (or watching documentaries, or listening to podcasts) shows that you have spent some of your own time, outside of the classroom, delving into topics that interest you.

Universities want to accept students who are knowledgeable, yes, but they also want students who are engaged with the subject and who will enjoy the process of studying it at a higher level.

Plus, the way that you discuss the reading in your personal statement will give the admissions board a good idea of the way you think and learn. You don’t want to just present them with a list of everything you’ve ever read that relates to your subject; instead, you should choose just a few examples, think critically about them, and share your opinions in the statement.

So, where should you look for personal statement reading recommendations?

Ask a teacher 

Your teachers will have assisted hundreds, if not thousands, of students through their UCAS applications and are sure to be armed with a lot of personal statement reading recommendations if you ask them!

If there’s a topic you’ve encountered in your school studies that you’ve found especially interesting and are thinking of discussing in your statement, ask your subject teacher for further reading suggestions around it.

They might also be able to point you towards alternative sources of information, like documentaries or exhibitions that you can talk about alongside your reading. After all, the content of your personal statement doesn’t just have to be about books!

Look in books you’ve already enjoyed

If there’s a book you’ve already read and enjoyed, look at the bibliography and references to source further reading. Academics do so much research for the work they publish, and it’s catalogued extensively in these lists. Take advantage of this, and scan their references to find articles or books on niche topics that delve deeper into the subject.

This method of finding personal statement reading is especially useful if your school or institution has access to JSTOR or other article archives, which give you access to university-level articles from thousands of journals. 

University reading lists

Look at the websites for departments you’re considering applying to and see if you can find reading lists relevant to topics that you find interesting. These are great sources for finding personal statement reading because they will point you towards texts that are actually discussed by the academics at the institution you are applying to.

Be careful, though: these reading lists will often recommend highly academic books that are expensive or difficult to find outside of university libraries. After all, these lists are meant to be used by undergrads! If certain subject material becomes inaccessible, don’t worry – universities aren’t expecting you to read such high-level material just yet. If you can’t get a hold of a text that looks particularly interesting, you might like to make a note of it so you can read it later during your studies instead.

Browse bookshops

A simpler method of sourcing reading is to browse your local bookshop. Go to the history, geography, or science sections and have a look at the titles on offer. Although these books are pitched at a popular audience, they can provide great introductions to different topics and inspire further research for your personal statement reading. 

The OxBright University Preparation Report

Here at OxBright, we’ve created a useful university preparation tool to make finding personal statement reading recommendations as easy as possible! You simply spend five minutes answering questions about your interests and subject preference and, at the end of the quiz, we’ll suggest 8 resource recommendations tailored to your personal stage, interests and preferred formats.

This resource should give you an ideal foundation for your personal statement reading, watching and listening, so you can begin writing with confidence.

What if you’re still struggling?

If you’re really struggling to find personal statement reading, don’t panic! If you start planning for your personal statement in advance, you should have plenty of time to find things that interest you. Remember, other resources are always available such as the documentaries and podcasts mentioned earlier. You don’t have to read thousands of pages to produce a quality personal statement, so long as what you’re writing about has genuinely inspired you and you’re keen to discuss it.

If absolutely nothing you’re looking at is sparking any interest, perhaps it might be a case of considering whether the course you’re applying for is really the right one for you. Writing a personal statement is never easy, but if you have absolutely nothing to say on the subject you’re choosing to study, perhaps you shouldn’t be studying it further! If you think this might be you, ask a teacher for help – they may be able to suggest alternative courses or topics you hadn’t thought about before. 

Remember, your reading doesn’t have to be exhaustive by any means; provided that all the material you’re talking about has inspired or intrigued you in some way, you’ll be able to write a wonderful personal statement. Best of luck!

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