What’s the difference between personal statements for vocational courses and academic subjects?

If your child is applying for a vocational university course, it's important that they understand what they need to do differently in their UCAS personal statement compared to students applying for academic subjects.

In this article you'll learn:

  • What the difference is between vocational and academic university courses
  • What's different about applications for vocational university courses
  • Why universities are looking for something different for vocational courses
  • What's the same about vocational and academic university courses

What's the difference between personal statements for vocational courses and academic subjects?

What's the difference between vocational and academic university courses?

Vocational university degrees are ones that train a student for a particular job, giving them the skills they need to do this job. There are professions, such as medicine, dentistry, law and engineering, that university degrees train students for. There are also fields of work such as fashion or media where you can do a degree to prepare you for the job, but aren't seen as ‘professions'.

On the other hand, students can choose to do academic degrees. These are courses, such as maths, history or English Literature, that don't have a specific application in the working world, but instead train students in skills such as critical thinking, research, and analysis that can be applied across a wide range of jobs.

What do you need to do differently in your personal statement if you're applying for a vocational course?

All university courses are looking for applicants to demonstrate their passion for, and commitment to, their chosen course. However, this looks slightly different if you're applying for vocational degree courses.

The main difference is that vocational degree courses will be looking for work experience as a requirement, whereas for academic courses work experience is an optional extra.

Why do vocational courses require work experience?

Going through the process of doing one or more work experience placements enables students to see if they really do want to invest years of their time and tens of thousands of pounds of their money in training to do that job.

If a student does work experience and finds that they really don't like the day to day existence of the vocation they thought they wanted, it filters them out leaving more places for people who are 100% committed to that vocation.

How much work experience do students need for vocational courses?

The amount of work experience a student needs varies according to how competitive the course they're applying for is. Students applying for Veterinary Medicine will need a lot more work experience than someone applying for a media course at a lower-ranking university.

However, the more work experience you have:

  1. The more committed you'll look to your vocation in your application
  2. The more sure you'll be that this is the right path for you

This is a winning combination for being offered places. To find out the details of what each university and course are looking for look at their websites, attend open days and ask questions by email or phone. The best way to know you're meeting their requirements is to know what their requirements are.

Click here for guidance on how to get work experience for your personal statement

What's the same about applying for vocational and academic degrees

Whether you're applying for a vocational or academic degree, there is one thing that you have to do in your personal statement to be successful.

What is it?

Demonstrate critical engagement with all the super curricular activities you've done.

For example, if you're applying to study medicine and you've watched an operation taking place during your work experience you can't just say, “I observed an emergency cesarean section.” Instead, you need to show that you've thought about the circumstances surrounding the operation, you've read up on the surgical process and you're thoughtful and reflective about your experience.

You would need to do the same thing if you were applying to do a history degree and, instead of observing an operation, you'd read a specific book. You can't just say, “I read History of the Russian Revolution by Trotsky,” like one of my clients has done. Instead, you'd need to show how you'd put that book into context, what questions it made you ask and what you read next as a result.

Why you need to demonstrate critical engagement

The main difference between school level study and university level study is your ability to think deeply about what you're learning, critically engage with it and develop your own arguments and opinions. This is really the focus of university-level study.

Whether you're applying for a vocational or academic degree you will need to show that you have the potential and ability for critical engagement – otherwise, it would be better for the university to give the place that could have been yours to someone else.

What should you do next?

Now you know the main distinction between vocational and academic courses, start having a detailed look at the requirements of your chosen courses so that you know what to do to meet those requirements. My Personal Statement Masterclass can help you read between the lines of universities' requirements for particular courses.

Want to study medicine, dentistry, law or engineering?

People signed up to my Personal Statement Masterclass will be able to attend live sessions with experts on personal statements for medicine/dentistry, law and engineering in July 2021. This is the programme of events:

  • Medicine/Dentistry Personal Statements with Aarti Lodhi, 1st July 2021 7 pm
  • Law Personal Statements with Helen Chaplain, 5th July 2021 7 pm
  • Engineering Personal Statements with Professor Will Whittow and Dr Laura Justham of the School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering and Loughborough University, 8th July 7 pm

The recordings of these sessions will be available for students to see after these dates, inside the Personal Statement Masterclass website.

During these sessions, you can expect a specialist insight into what universities want to see in medicine, dentistry, law and engineering personal statements.

Sign-up for the Personal Statement Masterclass to take part.


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