Handy Hints for Applying for a History Degree

So, you are obsessed with the Titanic, correct all the inaccuracies in Saving Private Ryan, and can name all of Henry VIII’s wives without pausing for breath? Then your passion for the past will make a degree in History all the more enjoyable. Here are some handy hints to not only to show you what to consider when looking for your ideal History degree, but also what universities will be searching for from you.

“This History or that History?”

There are several factors that are important when choosing which universities to apply to. The period of history that is available at an institution is a vital start to your search. If you have an interest in anything and everything, then a university that has a wide-range of modules available will leave you feeling like a child in a sweetshop and can be incredibly exciting. However, if you hated learning about the Vikings but have the World at War series as a box set, then a university with Modern History modules will mean you are not limiting your module choices and helps you avoid taking modules that you won’t be interested in and impacting on your grades. If you are confident in a particular topic, find out where your favourite historians teach and look at their modules. It is a rare opportunity to be taught by your academic hero, but it has been known to happen!

The structure of the course is also important. For example, many universities offer modules in Public History that allow you to explore the way in which museums are ran and how history is written for mass consumption. Even if it is not your dream to run the V&A, modules like this not only give you hands-on professional experience, but it also looks incredible on a CV. If you dread exams, use the module outlines available on the university websites to see how the assessments are weighted, so you can apply with the knowledge that the course you are choosing is tailored, to some extent, to your strongest skills.

“I love History because…”

Apart from achieving the necessary grades to achieve a place on your course of choice, your personal statement is your opportunity to express your enthusiasm for history and convince the department that you will be a great ‘historian in training’. One great way of standing out is to mention the historic areas that you have in common with the university. This demonstrates to the university that you have looked at their syllabus, and that your work has the potential to contribute to their existing interests.

Feel free to mention early in your statement how you first became interested in history. It could be a family holiday, or a school trip, or a book that you read at a young age; the person deciding whether you get a place or not does want to know. However, keep it brief, and most importantly, illustrate to the reader the way in which your interest has grown. Explain to them how you took a curiosity in the Romans and built it into a fascination for the topic, either through school work or extra-curricular activities. It demonstrates that your passion for history not only has momentum and will engage in their course.

One great mistake to make is to mention a period of history that you do not have an in-depth knowledge of in order to seem more appealing. Be truthful; if the only Egyptian experience you have had is watching ‘The Mummy’, then leave it out. This leaves you at risk of being accepted for a course you will not actually enjoy. For example, this mistake meant that this Tavistock Tutor was selected for a degree in Archaeology instead as the History program was full. Being dishonest can also potentially cost you a place at a university when you struggle to answer a question on the topic at interviews.

Most importantly of all, if you are certain that History is the degree for you, have the conviction to show it in your statement. Be confident in what you know and be open to the exciting prospect of learning new histories that you would never think of. Good luck!

Additional resources:

History Is Not Just a Series of Facts or Events that Happened in the Past
Keeping an Objective Perspective in History
Personal Statement for History at Oxford

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