Oxford Personal Statement Geography Maps

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"Geography is a living, breathing subject, constantly adapting itself to change. It is dynamic and relevant, a great adventure with a purpose," wrote Michael Palin.

From global warming, to the impact of economic change on communities, geography can be a fascinating subject to study. But first, would-be geographers have to impress admissions tutors in an application.

In a personal statement for geography, tutors look for enthusiasm for the subject, experience and things that demonstrate you are a well-rounded person. There are some important things to include, and some equally important things to avoid.

What to include

Interests: Explain why you are interested in studying the course. "We want to know why on earth you want to do geography," says Peter Mackie, professor of human geography at Cardiff University.

"We're happy for students to express a specialist interest at this stage. You could say 'I'm interested in the Arab spring movement', or 'I'm interested in sustainability and climate change'. A better student can draw on interests outside of the classroom."

Experience: Next, admissions tutors want to hear about your experience. "You've told us about your interest, now we want you to prove it," says Mackie. "Show us the evidence."

"It could be a field trip, a holiday, or something you've seen in the local paper. If you've arranged geography seminars in school, or volunteered with Oxfam, let us know."

Personal qualities: Some tutors are particularly keen to see that you have compassion and empathy. "Students must show empathy with different people, places and environments," says Phil Barker, from Lancaster University's environment centre. "Things like volunteering can be good to talk about."

Other interests: In addition to your course-related experience, admissions tutors want to hear about your other interests. "We want people to be well rounded because all of our graduates go on to do diverse things," says Lucie Bilsbrough, admissions officer at the University of Leeds.

"So if you do ballet or you work at Mcdonalds, let us know. Because that can show that you're good at time management and that you have a life outside of geography."

Personality: It's also good to have an idea of what you want to gain from the course. "Say what you want to do once you leave university, even if you don't know in any detail," says Bilsbrough. "Because it looks good if you have an idea."

This can help to show tutors your personality. "I always advise applicants to try and find their own voice," says Bilsbrough. "Because you see a lot of applications that are very generic."

Communication: Basic grammar and spelling are expected. "The ability to communicate, both written and verbally, is important," says Mackie. "So students could talk about debating societies or a presentation they've given. You have to show you're willing to read and to work hard."

What to avoid doing

Lack of research: What should you avoid in a personal statement? First of all, make sure you apply for the right course. "We sometimes get people who have clearly applied for the wrong thing," says Barker.

"There are students who apply saying 'I'm really interested in a career in geo-physics'. And they've applied for a geography degree. Sometimes things with superficially similar names confuse people, so it's very important to do your research."

Forcing things together: Don't try and connect unrelated experiences to geography. "Some students try to tie unrelated experiences, such as working in Topshop or football coaching, to geography in very strange, weird and wonderful ways," says Mackie.

Lack of depth: It's best not to simply describe what you've done, but to evaluate and explain things. "People tend to be quite descriptive," says Barker. "You should try to be more evaluative to get depth into the statement."

Complicated: Don't try and tackle too many complicated ideas in not enough detail. "Sometimes we get people who try and write a lot about academic literature," says Barker. "But it's hard to do that well with a short amount of words, so it might not be right for the personal statement."

Too brief: But at the same time, make sure you use the space you've got. "Some applicants keep it very short," says Bilsbrough. "That makes you think, do you really want to do this and are you really committed?"

• If you have any questions about the course or application process, then get in touch with someone in the admissions team at the university you're applying for. "Sometimes people are shy about asking for help but it is our job to help them," says Bilsbrough, "so get in touch at any time."

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