Because we use academic criteria (ability and potential) to select our students, showing us evidence of your ‘super-curricular’ activities in your personal statement will help to convince us of your enthusiasm and commitment to the course you’re applying for. For example …
• Read beyond the syllabus:
Follow news and discussions on topics related to your subject in newspapers, journals and magazines. You don’t have to buy them – explore your local library and you’ll probably find The Economist, Financial Times or New Scientist. Many of the national daily newspapers have occasional supplements on things like science, the environment, or social/political issues.
Use faculty and department websites to find reading lists for applicants/first-year students. You don’t have to read everything – just pick one or two titles which seem interesting. Beware: don’t reference them in your personal statement unless you have actually read them!
English – Cambridge Authors. Find out more about the lives and literature of ten famous Cambridge-educated authors, from A S Byatt to Zadie Smith;
Human, Social & Political Sciences (click on the link at the bottom of the page for further reading);
+plus magazine – an online magazine, part of the Cambridge-based Millennium Maths Project;
Natural Sciences – preparatory reading for each of the first year papers.
• Take up opportunities to stretch yourself:
Enter competitions such as the Mathematics Senior Challenge, or essay-writing competitions such as one of the Newnham Essay Prizes;
Apply to attend a subject-focused Open Day or taster day, to see what it would be like studying your chosen course;
Apply to a summer school at Cambridge such as the Senior Physics Challenge or the Sutton Trust Summer Schools.
• Get some relevant work experience:
If you’re applying to study Medicine or Veterinary Medicine, work experience will enhance your personal statement, but it’s not always easy to find. Never mind if you can’t find a placement shadowing a brain surgeon – use your imagination and seek out slightly less obvious but equally useful activities. Have you thought of learning first aid and becoming a St John Ambulance volunteer? You’d learn life-saving skills with the additional perk of getting in free to fun events!
• Use other media besides the written word:
TV or cinema documentaries, blogs and Twitter accounts can all provide updates on developments in your subject. Here are just a few examples:
Classics – Meet the Romans (Professor Mary Beard);
Medicine – almostadoctor.co.uk started off as revision notes for medical students, but you are sure to find items of interest here if you’re planning to study medicine;
Modern Languages – lots of interesting articles and blogs are listed here and don’t forget to check your local cinema programme and the TV listings for foreign language films;
Natural Sciences (and in fact almost every other subject!) – search for key words on BBC iPlayer.
• Show that you have developed your interest in your subject beyond the school curriculum:
Your school/college may have a club or society focusing on your particular interest, whether it is mathematics or history – if it doesn’t, why not start one?
Some academic institutions (e.g. the Royal Geographical Society) offer student memberships;
Look out for public lectures happening in your area: these might be advertised by the local university, like the events programme of the University of Cambridge, or by organisations such as the Alliance Française (the link is to the AF in London, but it exists in other cities too).