Applying to Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London (Part 1)
The ABB Control Room – the centre of Imperial Chemical Engineering Department’s Carbon Capture Plant

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About me

Hello people! I’m Kian Woon from Johor Bahru! I’ll be heading to Imperial College London this October to read Chemical Engineering.

I studied at Sekolah Menengah Sains Muar prior to studying Cambridge A-Levels at Taylor’s College Subang Jaya. In 2012, I was offered the PETRONAS Scholarship to read Chemical Engineering in Australia. However, I was determined to study in the UK, so I chose the risky MOE Bursary + JPA Scholarship pathway instead.  Eventually, this choice was worth it afterall as I managed to get into Imperial! (Yay! Hahaha)

I love travelling and now I can’t wait to travel around the beautiful Europe during my next 4 years in the UK!

The application process

Overall, my application process to Imperial ChemEng wasn’t the most troublesome one, but it was quite a ride with lots of waiting, anticipation, nervousness but in the end, happiness.

Why did it involve lots of waiting? Because:

  • Mid-August 2013 – I submitted my UCAS application
  • End-December 2013 – Imperial informed me to wait for an interview invitation
  • Mid-February 2014 – I received an interview invitation
  • Mid-March 2014 – Interview
  • 31st March 2014 – I received my offer (Like finally >.<)

Imperial ChemEng is among the most competitive courses to apply for. Unlike other Engineering courses in Imperial, the admission tutor will short-list applicants for a face-to-face interview upon their submission of the UCAS application – Yes, the admission tutor will fly to Southeast Asia to interview us (I had my interview in KL, Malaysia).

In a nutshell, the application process consists of 2 parts: UCAS Application and the face-to-face interview.

UCAS Application

The UCAS Application is very important, because it determines whether you will be short-listed for the interview, and, of course, it will be evaluated when the admission tutor selects students for admission. There are several things about UCAS (other than personal details and such) that you have to pay attention to:

  • Achieved Grades:
    1. You will need to enter all your subjects and corresponding grades: SPM, AS, IELTS, A2 (if applicable) or other qualifications such as the IB Diploma if you’re not taking A Levels. Be honest.
    2. A Levels subject combination is important: Usually Mathematics, Chemistry, plus any 2 from Physics, Biology, Further Mathematics and Economics are good for ICL ChemEng.
  • Referee Report:
    1. The referee report is a recommendation letter that your mentor in your Pre-U college writes for you, in which they boast about how well you are, based on their understanding about you.
    2. You won’t be the one submitting this letter, as your college will submit it for you after you have submitted your UCAS application.
    3. Good referee report = good impression to the admission tutor.
  • Forecasted Grades:
    1. This will be sent alongside your referee report.
    2. Your subject lecturers will be able to show you your forecasted grades before your UCAS is submitted (If they don’t, you have to ask them!). So, you have to do well in tests and internal exams throughout Pre-U so that they can give you good forecasted grades.
    3. MAKE SURE that your forecasted grades meet the minimum entry requirement set by Imperial ChemEng (or any other universities that you are applying to).
    4. For instance, the minimum requirement set by Imperial ChemEng for A Levels is A*A*A or A*AAA, with A* in Mathematics. If your forecasted grades do not meet that, your application might be disadvantaged.
    5. In case your forecasted grades don’t meet the minimum requirement, try discussing/negotiating with your lecturers to give you better grades.
  • Personal Statement:
    1. Personal statement is where the admission tutors learn more about you beyond the grades and referee report. They want to know why you are interested in the course, your passion, your motivation to study the subject and your activities in high school/college.
    2. Bear in mind that there’s a 4000 characters limit (including spaces), so write your PS wisely and know your priorities.
    3. MAKE SURE to have your personal statement proofread/checked by friends and/or counsellors several times before submitting your UCAS application. This is important to improve your structure and reduce grammatical errors to minimum/zero.

How to Write A Personal Statement

I wrote my personal statement based on the following elements, and I think these are suitable for you even if you are writing a PS for other courses. However, this is not the sole way of writing a PS.

1. What triggered your interest in Chemical Engineering? (1st paragraph):

You may write this based on your daily observations and how those observations made you interested in studying Chemical Engineering – be it food, shampoo, petroleum, medicines, drinks, natural phenomena etc. Here’s an example:

Ever since I started learning Chemistry in secondary school, I have always read labels on products. From food wrappers up to ingredients list in detergents, none of them could escape from me. However, 8 out of 10 chemicals seemed unfamiliar to me. One such chemical is methylisothiazolinone in shampoo. I had this kind of weird habit simply because I am very interested to know how those things work and how those products are made. I even dreamt that one day I could involve myself in the manufacture of those products, especially petrochemical products such as petroleum and polyethylene terephthalate. As I grew up, I realised that I could actually have my dream come true by studying Chemical Engineering.

2. What did you do to further explore your interest and passion in ChemEng? And how did those explorations enhance your interest and passion in ChemEng? (2nd and 3rd paragraphs):

Some examples of things that you might ‘do’– do readings and research on Internet to learn more about ChemEng; read relevant books; attend talks; consult counsellors; enjoy creating experiments; read chemical labels of products; watch related documentaries; like and follow related pages on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; and perhaps gain an attachment with a current or ex-chemical engineer…. And the list goes on. Taking “research and reading on internet” as an example, you can then elaborate: my reading and research on the course has boosted my understanding and knowledge about what Chemical Engineering is, and I found that Chemical Engineering is really my “cup of tea”. I love the interesting topics in Chemical Engineering courses such as thermodynamics and separation processes…. …

3. Tell the admission tutors about the academics activities (preferably internationally well-known competitions/activities) that you’ve joined, the awards/recognitions you’ve achieved, and how those activities could contribute to your passion in ChemEng, in order to convince them that you could cope with the highly-demanding course in the future. This is also important for them to see your intellectual ability beyond exams. (4th paragraph):

Some examples of activity and award that can be includedyou obtained a Distinction in the UNSW Mathematics Competition; Distinction in UNSW Science Competition; Distinction in Euclid Mathematics Contest by University of Toronto; High Distinction in Malaysian National Chemistry Quiz; High Distinction in Australian Mathematics Competition; Top Student in the school… and the list goes on. Then, you could elaborate on how taking part in those competitions can help you, e.g. – enhance your knowledge in science and mathematics subjects so that you will be able to cope well in the ChemEng course later on; you found your passion with Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics through those competitions and so you are confident that you’ll be in love and do well with Chemical Engineering!

4. Tell the admission tutors about the extra-curricular activities that you’ve joined, and how they contribute to your characteristics, personality and leadership qualities that make you a suitable person to read Chemical Engineering and thus be a successful chemical engineer in the future. (5th paragraph): You can talk about your leadership positions in clubs and societies, further elaborate your experiences and how those experiences prepared you to be a good engineer in the future. An example of text:

In college, it was my pleasure to be the President of the Squash Club and be a part of the Student Council. This enhanced my leadership skills and I learnt to collaborate well with the others to bring success to an event and appreciate the contributions from everyone, no matter how big or small. At the same time, joining the U.S.-Malaysia Young Leaders Summit 2013 boosted my confidence to be a better leader and communicate effectively with people around me. I firmly believe that good communication skills and appreciations of contributions are very important among a team of engineers to make a project successful!

Lastly, your future career aspiration! Tell the admission tutors about what you aspire to do upon getting a degree in Chemical Engineering. (6th paragraph): you can elaborate this in terms of the fields you’re interested in (e.g. Oil & Gas, Pharmaceutical, Manufacturing etc.); any big names that you would like to work with (e.g. Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Shell, BP, Petronas etc.). Also, it would be great if you could talk about how you wish to contribute to the society/environment as a chemical engineer (e.g. research on producing petroleum with less sulphur content; finding alternative sources of energy; biomass etc.).


Kian Woon copy

Chen Kian Woon is a high achiever who will be pursuing his Chemical Engineering degree at Imperial College London, UK under the Public Service Department(JPA) Scholarship. He loves travelling and now he can’t wait to travel around the beautiful Europe in the next 4 years!  One of the most insane things he did in life was not taking the Petronas Scholarship offer to study in Australia, and hence, he is writing this article for you guys today!


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