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What kinds of Materials can I use as Research for my Personal Statement?

We talk a lot about reading around your subject and as a research method for your Personal Statement, but are books the only media that you can consume over the coming months in preparation for writing the Statement itself?

Whilst reading serious, academic books is naturally going to form an important part of your research (you are trying to prove your suitability to study your chosen subject on a highly academic university course, after all!), there are indeed lots of other routes you can take to pad out your research and gain a more rounded understanding of your subject. There are lots of reasons to branch out beyond books: other materials could be more accessible, other media might make it easier to fit research into otherwise dead time such as commuting, or it could demonstrate to admissions tutors that you’re flexible in your approach to learning.

In this article, we’re going to take you briefly through some of the alternatives to books that we recommend looking into as an option for diversifying your research, as well as some of our top tips for engaging with said medium and fitting it into your existing research.

Included in this article:

  1. Newspapers/Articles

  2. Documentaries

  3. Podcasts

  4. Films

  5. Exhibitions/Talks



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Sure, this is strictly still reading, but it’s not a long, multi-chaptered book like you might have been using so far in your research. A lot of the time, admissions tutors are looking for applicants that are plugged into any recent developments in their chosen field, making it a very good idea to keep on top of the news in relation to the subject you’re applying to. Interested in History? Have a look out for new archaeological findings or developments in our understanding of certain time periods. Applying for Biology?

If a breakthrough at a lab makes it into the news, be sure to know enough about it to discuss it in a potential interview. Passionate about Politics? Keeping on top of developments in International Relations, for example, is going to be crucial to your subject, so get started now!



Opening our discussion of non-textual sources in earnest is documentaries! We know that a documentary on your chosen subject might not provide the most in-depth information out there (this is true in particular of the Sciences), but it could be a good method through which to learn about a new area of your chosen subject in an enjoyable and relatively low-effort way.

This could be particularly useful for humanities subjects, such as history, politics, or modern languages, since there are plenty of documentaries out there on interesting episodes in the past or in different cultures to pique your interest and give you something to discuss in the Personal Statement.



Much like with documentaries, podcasts are almost guaranteed to be less in-depth than an academic book on an equivalent subject, but again are a great way to introduce yourself to a new topic or, alternatively, to revise a topic you’ve already studied in a passive and perhaps humorous manner! If you’re a scientist who knows a lot about a certain topic, why not listen to an introductory podcast on the matter and evaluate how the scientific principles are being translated to a general listenership?

As a historian, perhaps listening to history podcasts could be a good introduction to periods or regions that aren’t taught in your school curriculum. There is no one ideal way to engage with media like podcasts, so get creative with how you use them! Another great benefit of podcasts is that you can listen to them whilst on the bus, train, or walking to or from school, meaning you can use time that otherwise might feel wasted with useful preparation.



Just because they’re fictional, doesn’t mean that films and television programmes aren’t a valid source from which to gain inspiration and ideas for further research. This is particularly useful if you’re interested in languages and cultures. If you’re applying for a particular Modern Language, watching a popular film or television show in the target language can be a great way of not only passively practising your language, but also getting to grips with popular media in the country or region you’re interested in.

Similarly, film and TV can be a great introduction into a new culture or language you haven’t studied before! Even for subjects outside of languages and cultures, films in which the plot features something related to your subject can be a nice way to gain inspiration and can provide interesting colour in your Statement.



Not all research has to be conducted at home on your own! Have a look at galleries, museums, or sometimes even universities near you to see what is open to the public at any given moment; you’d be surprised how many diverse and interesting events get put on as part of their exhibition schedule. Applicants for any number of subjects can find something to suit their interests which, even if it’s not directly related to their favourite parts of their subject, can inspire wider reading or act as a jumping-off point from which to delve into a new area. Admissions Tutors, especially those in the humanities, are always keen to see students learn and extrapolate from media such as talks, since they replicate parts of the university learning process, and exhibitions, exposing students to primary sources and encouraging independent analysis.

This list, although by no means exhaustive, hopefully gives some ideas as to alternative routes - aside from traditional academic books and journals - through which you can diversify your research and get your hands on new kinds of information with which to construct your Personal Statement and, further down the line, answer interview questions.


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If you’re struggling to find materials for your Personal Statement research, or simply don’t know where to start with it, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Senior Consultants at +44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or [email protected] for more information on how we can help you through a bespoke Private Consultation.

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