July 2022 – personal statements and career paths, plus the highest-paying professions and how to secure a future in them

Friday July 15th, 2022

Welcome to your July issue – the last of this academic year. The long summer break may be stretching ahead for students, especially those who have just finished exams, but there’s no better time to be perfecting your personal statement! In this edition we’ll take a look at how to approach it. We’ll also look further ahead into career choices, exploring the highest-paying professions as well as the best university courses for getting you onto the career ladder.

Writing your personal statement

Arguably the most important – and often the most intimidating – part of your UCAS application form, the personal statement, is your chance to shine. It’s all about you; your opportunity to showcase your personality, skills and aspirations in order to persuade university admissions teams to select you to study at their esteemed establishment.

Take your time to shine

Don’t rush your statement. Keep coming back to it, revising it and adapting it. Ask someone you trust to read it through and give you feedback. UCAS has a personal statement tool that you can use to start, structure and save your statement. Or write it long-hand or in a separate document before copy and pasting it into your UCAS portal.

The earliest you can submit your application for courses starting in 2023 is 7th September 2022. If applying for an Oxbridge course or most courses in medicine, veterinary science, and dentistry, then the deadline is mid-October. However, most other undergraduate courses have a late-January deadline, so time is on your side. But don’t be complacent! Do set aside some time over the long summer break to make a start.

One statement – several choices

Remember that you can only submit one personal statement, so it must be relevant to all of your course and university choices. Avoid mentioning specific universities or colleges by name and likewise, if you’ve applied for a range of different subjects, you could write about the common themes or skills that unite those subjects, and what you enjoy about them, rather than being too specific. For example, problem solving, creativity, etc. Unless all the courses you’ve applied for have the same or very similar titles (for instance, this could be the case with degrees such as dentistry, medicine, veterinary science or law) – it’s advisable to talk about topics or subjects without mentioning courses.

However, it’s important to reflect the skills and qualities valued most by the universities you’re applying to. Research these by reading the course descriptions, prospectuses and websites and noting down common values that resonate with you. You’ll probably have already done this exercise when you first chose which universities and which courses you wanted to apply for – now it’s just a case of capturing all this concisely ‘on paper’!

What makes the perfect personal statement?

Each personal statement is unique – because it’s all about you. There’s no set format, although the UCAS tool does give you tips on how to structure it, what to include, etc. You have a character limit of 4,000 and the maximum number of lines is 47.  The UCAS tool helps you get this spot on – some word processors are calibrated differently so don’t rely on them for your final version.

Style-wise, make it your own. It’s good to sound enthusiastic, vital to be concise and important to seem genuine. A natural rather than forced, formal or overly humorous style will go down best.

Admissions teams want to know what you enjoy and understand about your chosen subjects (or the common themes that unite them if your choices range more widely). As well as your academic skills and knowledge relevant to the entry requirements of your chosen courses, mention extra-curricular activities too. University admissions teams say the best personal statements link examples of extra-curricular activities with universities’ entry requirements. So, include any clubs or societies you belong to; write about any relevant employment experience or volunteering you’ve done. Or – if you’ve attended a higher education taster course, placement, or summer school programme – include this too. Above all, link everything back to your choices, highlight transferable skills, explain why these make you a good candidate, and how this all fits into your career hopes, plans and aspirations.

The professions that pay best and how to get into them

On the subject of career plans, we thought this would be a good opportunity to explore some of the top-paying professions. As well as what we, as parents, might class as more traditional roles and career paths, don’t forget that there are plenty of new areas of work opening up to graduates. We talked in May’s blog about emerging careers such as UX designer, twitch streamer and machine learning engineer. They might not mean much to us – but the salaries they will command are not to be sniffed at! As another example of evolving, emerging career paths, Forbes says data specialists will continue to be in demand (e.g. actuaries and statisticians) but emerging data-related careers – such as data scientists, who help companies use their information more effectively – could outstrip the more traditional roles in this high-growth field in terms of earning potential.

Currently though, some of the most traditional and vocational degree courses still command the highest starting salaries. For example, students of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science will have the potential to be among the highest earners of their cohort upon graduating. As will engineering graduates across all strands of the sector: general, civil, aeronautical, manufacturing, chemical, electrical and electronic. However, degrees in subjects such as business, law and computer science can offer the most lucrative wages fives years on, says the UK government. According to Department for Education figures published earlier this year, students graduating from these degrees can rise quickly through the ranks and pay scales.

But does it make a difference where you get these degrees?

It does indeed, the DfE research suggests. Business, law and computer science graduates from Oxbridge and London-based universities (like Imperial, LSE and UCL) are among the highest paid five years on, according to these UK government figures. Oxford tops this list, with graduates from its business and management degree, and features again in 8th place (with its law degree) and again in 15th place (economics – note that five other universities are ranked higher in this subject though). Computing graduates from Cambridge were earning the most in their sector five years on, with their counterparts from Imperial College sitting in 4th place (under Cambridge’s law graduates).

Interestingly, the job search engine Adzuna recently analysed 120,000+ jobseekers’ CVs from the last three years. They looked at the same five-years-on point in graduates’ career paths, but importantly, they didn’t specify the degree course in their rankings. So in effect, their findings give a broader picture – but fewer specifics about the subject. Their research revealed that the specialist business school Bayes, formerly known as Cass business school, part of the University of London, had the highest-earning graduates five years on. Oxford and Cambridge made second and fourth place in their rankings – Cambridge pipped by Imperial College London, and closely followed by University College London.

If nothing else, these lists show just how many variables are at play when we’re supporting our young people to choose a career – and a place of study to prepare for that. It’s never advisable to go by league tables alone. Firstly, there are plenty of exceptions to these rules and rankings, where students who found their niche and their network have been catapulted to success and fame on stage, screen, in the sporting arena and in business, sometimes excelling in fields that appear to bear no relation to their degree whatsoever! Secondly, you need to know what a university ‘feels’ like; how its values and ethos resonate with your child; how inspiring they find the lecturers specialising in their chosen field. Thank goodness we can research all this in person again now. But if you’d like some help or advice to navigate this stage in your child’s education – do get in touch.

Enjoy the start of your summer break, and we’ll be back in touch in August.