If you're planning on studying engineering at university, your Ucas application needs to be structurally sound. Most schools don't offer the subject, so reading up on it is all the more important. Luckily, there's no shortage of material to stoke your enthusiasm.
"The range of things you might get into is almost boggling – you never know where it's going to end up," Derek Clarke, admissions tutor for civil engineering at the University of Southampton, says. "Engineering contributes in so many different ways."
Kathy Simmons, admissions tutor for mechanical engineering at the University of Nottingham, ideally wants to see evidence of enthusiasm – work experience, a headstart course, a placement or a few months in industry. But she understands that not everyone has these opportunities.
She looks for evidence of scientific and analytical thinking, and a practical approach, but said mechanical engineers don't all need to be good with their hands.
Simmons says she receives some unimpressive statements stating: "I liked maths and physics at school and I didn't know what to do next".
There's no need to have a career plan but have an idea of the sorts of jobs engineering can lead to.
John Robinson, a chemical engineer from Nottingham, who coordinates admissions across the engineering faculty, reiterates the point: "Really it's about making the admissions tutor aware that you know what the subject's about."
Talk about how your interest was sparked. Was it a university open day, chatting with engineers, or researching on the IChemE (Institute of Chemical Engineers) website?
At Nottingham, Robinson says, the personal statement is only really important if your grades are borderline – so explain why and what you're doing about it.
Both Simmons and Robinson agree that it's difficult to craft a statement if you're unsure what area of engineering you want to study. It can be very off putting when students enthuse about electronics throughout, with a throwaway comment about mechanical engineering at the bottom.
But Chris Williams, a structural engineer who teaches at the University of Bath, receives too many statements from students sure they want to be civil engineers.
"Do schools tell students to display such certainty?" he asks. "In reality the most interesting students are torn between different subjects and would like to do them all. So, for me at least, some discussion of this in a personal statement is good."
And some courses – such as Warwick, Exeter and Aberdeen – offer general engineering until the third year, so your personal statement doesn't have to be specific if applying to these.
Sam Hewlings, who has a degree in civil engineering from Warwick and is about to begin a master's in tunneling, made his personal statement look like a journey which ended up in engineering.
Make sure you understand what engineering is about, he says. Don't expect to be building models or dismantling rockets and racing cars from day one – there's a lot of theory and calculus, with some business thrown in at the start at Warwick, he says.
TV shows like Mega Engineering are often unrealistic. "If you compress building a skyscraper into a one hour programme then it's going to look exciting," Hewlings says. He suggests subscribing to magazines such as Concrete Quarterly for inspiration.
As for style, Hewlings says not to worry too much. "You don't have to write essays for engineering but you do need an eye for detail so it's important that you get spelling and grammar right."
Engineers often work in teams and need to be good communicators, says Ross Woodruffe, 23, who studied aerospace engineering at Liverpool and now works for Airinmar, which supplies aircraft components.
Aerospace engineering is one of the more specific branches, so if you're applying for it make sure you know why you want to work in that industry, says Woodruffe, who picked the course because he originally wanted to join the RAF.
Most courses are accredited by the Engineering Council, so it's a good source of information to use, he says.
Try to avoid clichés in your statement – Nottingham's Robinson advises against referring to famous engineers like Faraday or Brunel, who are "all dead and long gone".
And you won't be the only student to claim your inspiration stems from the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Pick something more imaginative and personal to you, says Bath's Williams.
Different tutors look for different things. Sometimes it's best to contact them directly and ask for advice. While Robinson has no interest in reading about students' hobbies, Dr Kathleen Shennan, an admissions tutor for Aberdeen University, says she wants students to be well rounded.
"You are going to have to have some time out to do something else," she says, adding that you can learn a lot about someone from their extracurricular activities, including their ability to commit to something. "We want to know that they can cope with the stresses of being at university."
But it's no good just saying what you have done, talk about what you learned from it, says Shennan.
She often turns to the personal statement before looking at the course it relates to, to get a feel for an applicant's interests, so make sure you've mentioned engineering from the off.
With rapid technological changes, prospective engineers have an exciting future in front of them – make sure your personal statement reflects your desire to be a part of it.
Sample Mechanical Engineering Personal Statement
My love of mechanics and engineering has had a very significant influence on my education, playing an important role in my choice of subjects. I am currently studying mathematics and physics. I never fail to be fascinated by the way in which these two subjects can be used to explain or solve real life problems. Indeed, I relish opportunities to apply the problem-solving skills that my knowledge of mathematics and physics has given me to real-life situations and phenomena. Although I am of course strongly interested in the more theoretical sides of these two subjects and the general principles that underpin them, what interests me most of all is their practical applications. This interest has manifested itself in the form of me immersing myself in all things mechanical, a habit that I have had for several years now.
My interest in all things mechanical began at the age of four, when I developed the habit of dismantling faulty household goods in an attempt to understand how their internal mechanisms worked. Of course, my young brain lacked the skills and knowledge to make any real sense of their internal workings, but nevertheless a lifetime passion for mechanics had been started. I have never lost the sense of wonderment that I experienced when I took those items apart for the first time.When I was thirteen I became involved with repairing faulty mini motorbikes. I relished the challenge of stripping down their main components before repairing the machines, which I then resold for a profit. I eventually became bored with the simplicity of these bikes, and so began to seek out more complicated mechanical challenges. Inspired by my interest in remote controlled cars, I have been designing and building a large-scale, remote-controlled quad bike with a 49cc engine. The project has proved to be a complex and highly rewarding challenge, and has vastly improved my understanding of mechanical engineering. Through making use of CAD software, the project also allowed me to develop my practical design and engineering skills. So far the only real complication I have encountered has been a lack of resources required to finish the project, but I look forward to bringing it to completion in the near future.
In more recent years this hands-on interest in mechanical engineering has matured into a desire to study the subject at university.Reading books such as ‘Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing’ and ‘The New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don’t Fall Through the Floor’ has given me an insight into the challenges faced by engineers when they design everyday objects, and made me realize that I would find it very rewarding to acquire the expertise of a professional engineer. I am now committed to completing a degree in mechanical engineering and subsequently following a career in engineering.
I believe that I am an enterprising, resourceful person who relishes a challenge, and these aspects of my character have not only come to the fore through my involvement in mechanical engineering. In the last couple of years I have been developing my own part-time online business, whichsellsCCTV cameras for both businesses and wildlife watchers. The challenge of running a business has certainly enhanced my personal skills.Having supplied many businesses aswell as universities, schools and government institutions, I have gained the ability to deal with problems and work efficiently and independently. I am currently working on re-launching my business’s website to allow me to better showcase my expanded product range, which includes mycustom-designed remote controlled flying platforms for aerial photography and filming.
Outside of my enthusiasm for mechanics and running my business, I also enjoy designing and programming remote controlled models, trips abroad to go open-water scuba-diving,mountain-biking, and flying 3D aerobatics with a model helicopter, which I will soon be entering in an international tournament.
This sample Mechanical Engineering Personal Statement can be used as an informative point of reference when composing your personal statement for university.