How to write a personal statement for sociology

From social inequality and crime, to culture and the media, sociology can be applied to most aspects of life. It's an exciting subject to study at university and to secure a place on a course you must demonstrate particular qualities and interests. Equally, there are important things you should avoid as a budding sociologist.

What to include

"Include a mixture of three things: a passion for the subject, what you want to get out of university, and what you can offer the university," says Dr Mark Monaghan, admissions tutor for sociology and social policy at Leeds University.

Sociological interests: Dr Wendy Bottero, senior lecturer in sociology at Manchester University, says: "People often don't get the opportunity to study sociology at school or college, so we're interested in how they view the subject, why they want to study it and how it fits in with their life".

Tailor your statement to the institutions you're applying to. "Look at departments' webpages to see the modules on offer. Gear your application towards your preferred department, but be careful not to alienate other universities. Mention broad areas of sociology that are taught by a number of your choices," says Dr Gareth Millington, admissions tutor for sociology at York University.

Applicants who are new to the subject should say how they became interested in it: "Everyone will have had experiences that can be linked to sociologically relevant issues. Your part-time job in McDonalds is as relevant as having done work experience with an MP – the important point is how you link what you've done to thinking about social issues and how society works," says Dr Patrick White, admissions tutor for sociology at Leicester University.

Sociological texts: Show that you've read some relevant books. Monaghan recommends Zygmunt Bauman's What Use is Sociology? and C Wright Mills' The Sociological Imagination. Monaghan also recommends the Guardian's Society section to give you "an awareness of current debate".

Career aspirations: You should have at least some knowledge of what you can do with a sociology degree, but don't worry if you don't know exactly what job you want. "We expect applicants to be aware of the kinds of jobs available, but we wouldn't expect you to have any specific career in mind," says Monaghan.

Non-academic interests: Universities are looking at more than just your academic interests: "We want someone who shows enthusiasm and passion more generally, for example through clubs and societies. But sociologists know that this is often down to how well-off someone is, so we don't discriminate on this basis," says Bottero.

"We want someone who takes a critical view of common assumptions that people lazily accept."

What to avoid

Confusion: Sociology may be offered as part of a joint honours degree at some universities and as a single subject at others, which can result in a confused statement. Monaghan says: "Be consistent about the degree you're applying for. You may be applying for different courses at different universities, so think about the social sciences in general."

"Work out where there's common ground between degree programmes, such as politics or history, and stress that your interests are in those areas of overlap," says Bottero.

A rigid structure: The statement needs to be clear, but your personality should still shine through. "There is no set recipe for personal statements because we like to see students express who they are," says Dr Anne-Marie Fortier, from the sociology department at Lancaster University.

At Bristol University, templates are "strongly discouraged" because they result in a "generic" end product.

Sloppy writing: It might sound obvious, but as White says: "This is your chance to show that you can write well. Whatever the content, an applicant with a poorly written personal statement is unlikely to be offered a place".

Last but not least: "There's no need to overdo it with superlatives. Keep it simple and honest", says Fortier.

(Source: TheGuardian)


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