Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

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This write-up will explain largely the key questions surrounding applications to read Economics at LSE – Composition and direction of the Personal Statement and subject choices. I am currently studying BSc in Economics (L101) at LSE, having studied A level (History, Economics, Maths and Further Maths) at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar previously.

PERSONAL STATEMENT

The Personal Statement is undisputedly the most important component of your application. Tons of other applicants will possess stellar grades, which is where your statement will differentiate you from the others and land yourself an offer. If your grades aren’t stellar, likewise, this is the hinging factor that might place you over the others. Evidently rejections from LSE often fall back to faults in Personal Statements being not up to the standard LSE wants or that they do not reflect what LSE looks for in an applicant.

Let’s establish three simple principles to follow in writing your personal statement, which will apply to arguably all other university applications through UCAS. Firstly, your personal statement must reflect that your academic potential or interest. Secondly, your personal statement should be about academics. Thirdly, your personal statement should reflect you. Being able to follow these three divine commandments will, hopefully, bring out the essence of your application to British universities, with LSE included. Keep in mind that Economics at LSE is extremely competitive, you have no reason to slack off on your personal statement.

How shall I display my academic potential or interest?

The most intuitive way to do this is to display curiosity, sophistication and clear understanding of economic issues that deeply interest you. Given that, it might be helpful to start planning and think about burning questions or issues that you love way beforehand rather than to glide through economic books or textbooks to find the “most interesting topic”.  You will be able to talk about topics that interest you deeply more intelligently, passionately and interestingly.

In my case, my initial draft largely consisted of brief mentions and analysis of books of different topics, ranging from financial crises, development, income disparity to policies. A clear problem was that it lacked depth and sophistication. Surely it displayed evidence of reading but certainly not competency. Realising that, my further drafts focused on largely a central topic – development. In doing so, the number of books mentioned was reduced significantly. Each book mentioned revealed a different aspect of developmental economics, while complementing and extending one another. At this point, it is easy to slip into a trap of summarising books you read. Avoid this and relate the content to what you have understood, or how it revealed a new aspect that sparks curiosity. A good way to do this is to either express an opinion in extension to your analysis of the book or an intelligent question.

A crucial aspect that might easily be overlooked is mathematics. Maths is the Holy Grail for LSE, especially for economics, which is maths-intensive. This means that you should display mathematical competency in your Personal Statement, not forgetting to relate maths with economics. Developing this portion in depth, supported by your understanding and perhaps, achievements in maths would be great. Remember however that listing your achievements in maths competitions is good but isn’t impressive in comparison to a candidate who shows awareness of relation between maths and economics in context.

How should I make my Personal Statement academic?

An appropriate answer to that would be to strike out/cut down on ECAs and personal interests that have no direct relation with Economics. However, that does not mean that your personal statement should be strictly without ECAs etc. Having internships and ECAs that directly relate to Economics would be very helpful if you are able to show that they facilitate your understanding of the subject. Intuitive examples could be debates and internships at the government/think tanks/financial institutes/research institutes. To be clear, it is imperative to discuss them in an academic context and not the typical “leadership/teamwork skills”. Surely the latter is interesting but less importance than the academic portions.

If you do feel the burning need to include unrelated ECAs or personal interests, to the point that you will not gain sufficient closure, do it by all means. However, do minimise it to perhaps, a short paragraph at most. It will contribute at most marginally, if not nothing at all, to the strength of your application, which also applies to generally highly selective universities. It is your personal statement regardless, do whatever that makes you most comfortable.

How do I reflect myself in my Personal Statement?

Given that UCAS Personal Statements are academic in content, having an essence of individuality would, supposedly, make your application more differentiable and perhaps, impressive. Notice how US college essays explicitly, and sometimes strictly, emphasise on revealing yourself as an individual. Your goal is to achieve that effect within the academic construct of a UCAS Personal Statement.

Understandably, it is relatively easy to achieve this effect in the introductory paragraph of your Personal Statement. A situation, observation or experience that relates to an Economic problem would be appropriate. Of course, do expound on it and if it relates to you to the point that it deserves to be in the first paragraph of your statement, you should be able to raise intelligent, sophisticated and nuanced questions/understanding.

Extending that, an issue that closely relates to you would also be an appropriate theme of your personal statement. This general theme allows you to explore a topic in depth easier and in context, particularly when you know first-hand about the economic problem/topic in discussion. Take the freedom in exploring in breadth but writing along a familiar theme comes with good depth, understanding and relative ease. Moreover, your Personal Statement avoids the pitfall of being a barrage of loosely linked academic topics, with a touch of dryness.

SUBJECT CHOICES

What subjects should I take?

LSE is part of the Russell Group universities, which are all selective research-intensive universities. A common thing that all of them share explicitly is their preference for traditional subjects over vocational/soft subjects. LSE, in particular, discourages explicitly its applicants from taking soft subjects such as Accounting (yes, even if you’re applying for Accounting and Finance), Law (even for Law applicants), media studies etc. Economics applicants should, therefore, take the precaution of taking traditional subjects given that your offer will exclude Further Maths from being part of the A*AA offer. Your grades for Further Maths, however well you do, will only count towards the “Pass in A2 Further Mathematics” segment. According to LSE’s international officer James Brown (2015), taking a soft subject will put your application at a disadvantageous position, which could, however, be amended by getting impressive grades (metric is uncertain but the mid-high 90s UMS range would make sense).

There is also an ever-going discussion over the necessity of Further Maths as a fourth subject. There are practical benefits of taking Further Maths if you are applying for Economics at LSE as well as at other universities. University Economics generally requires good mastery of mathematics. More than half of your first year modules in LSE will be about maths, which means that taking Further Maths will help you in going about university easier than those without.

There is a saying that goes “taking Further Maths will not give you any advantage but not taking it will disadvantage your application.” Although there are people who have obtained offers without taking Further Maths, there is no reason to deliberately put one aspect of your application in a weaker position.

Given that, an optimal subject combination should comprise of Maths, Further Maths and 2 hard subjects. Hard subjects include but are probably not limited to the following: History, Economics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature, Geography, Classical Studies and Languages. A list of “non-preferred” subjects is available on the LSE website itself under the page titled “LSE’s entry requirements”.

On a less related note, given that people applying for similar subjects might be viewing this, specifically Econometrics and Mathematical Economics that normally doesn’t accept first year entries, it is stated on the subject page on the LSE website that taking at least one physical science would be attractive, from which you will also find out that they don’t normally accept direct entries into first year.

What if my AS exams were to go wrong?

I suppose this segment is only relevant to those who would take their AS exams in summer (May/June) before UCAS application opens. A quick answer would be that you’re probably doomed. Fear not, however, as mentioned previously, your spectacular, groundbreaking, marvelous, impressive, stellar Personal Statement might be able to save you. Nonetheless, if your AS grades are only a grade away from the grade requirements and that your predictions meet them, you’re probably still in for the game. I cannot stress how important it is to perform well in your AS exams. Re-sits are possible but you might have to compensate on your A2. Worst of all is that the not-so-good AS grades will have to be declared on UCAS.

In instances where extenuating circumstances such as medical conditions, staffing issues etc. have affected your grades, declare them. In my case, I had a history teacher crisis in which there was a lack of a teacher for disturbingly long period of time. Unsurprisingly, I managed to obtain only a ‘b (76)’ for my AS History.. The point is that if your extenuating circumstances have affected your grades such that they do not reflect your academic performance, declare them with the utmost and shameless honesty. It is still possible that you stand as strong as or stronger than others with better grades.


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Suah Jing Lian is currently a Bank Negara Malaysia Kijang Scholar who is pursuing Economics in the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has a penchant for Baroque music, particularly Bach’s partitas, and debating, which he claims provides sparks to his life. People claim that he looks and speaks in an intimidating way but not really, he’s one of the most eccentric people you will ever meet.

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UK Architecture Application

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Hi there! I am Louisa from Kuching, Sarawak. I did my A-levels at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ) and am currently pursuing the Foundation Course in the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School). This will lead to my First Year in Architecture.

When you hear the word ‘architecture’, you will probably think of buildings, sketches or the people responsible for creating space, function and form while the engineers grumble over that these architects draw dreams that they have to create. Architecture is, however, a long journey of 5 academic years for the master’s degree and another two years of working to earn your RIBA part 3, which ultimately proves that you are a fully-fledged architect and are able to sign off your drawings. It is encouraged to take a break to work for a year after the third year of your degree. So this journey would be about 8 years long – “as bad as medicine”, people would say.

You have to be certain of your choice and you must have a passion for this course. Otherwise, it will be absolute torture for you. The hashtag ‘#architorture’ is a thing on Instagram, go check it out. This is not the course for you if your plan is to get rich quick. The famous architects you hear about don’t represent more than a bare minority and they had to work long and hard to reach where they are now. Hard work, perseverance and passion are necessary to survive this craziness.

Portfolio

The big major question everyone has in their mind. The major headache of every art student. Honestly, presentation is what is important for the portfolio the most. You need to give good quality images of your work and then be able to explain it well. Have a side note to each image and tell them what inspired you to do this – the thought process. To each student their own because the portfolio is almost like an extension of your character. Especially now with my course mates, when I see their portfolios, I see their characters in the images and the way they present their images.

There is no right or wrong with portfolios. It may vary according to the school you apply for, they may be looking for students with certain qualities or styles. That is why it is important to research on the schools you are applying for, to understand their approach to teaching the architectural course.

When I applied to the AA School, my portfolio was very much comprised of fine art with a bit of graphic design thrown in. My friends have portfolios showing just sketches or just photographs or every style of art under the sun; showing their experiments and approaches. The AA School likes students from all styles as long as you can communicate and explain your work. They are more interested in the way you think, the way you approach things, rather than actually seeing what you can do, though that is necessary too.

Personal Statement

Another headache. At this time, the UCAS students are shaking their heads and panicking because the deadlines are here or for the Oxbridge candidates, pass and the agony of waiting is upon them. The important thing about personal statements is to speak about your passion in architecture and what influenced you to choose architecture. Let them understand without question or doubt as to why they should choose you for a place in their university for architecture. Explain how your skills and ECA activities tie into architecture or how they are useful.

Spend a small amount of time, small being the crucial word here, to explain why you choose the university. Of course for UCAS applicants, you have to be very general about it but explain why the university would be necessary for your future and how you are important to the school too, how you could contribute to them. Talk about how your experience and leadership skills acquired in high school can be used in the clubs and societies offered in the university.

For applicants applying to private universities or applying to a university individually, this is the time to really research on the university’s teaching style. Is it technical or more creative? Explain why you want to pursue those aspects that the university can offer. These are mere examples. Remember, do not oversell yourself or ‘butter up’ the school too much. You will come off as desperate or a sycophant, both of which will decrease your favourability to the universities and you do not want that to happen. Unless you state it, the universities will have no idea which other universities to applied to, this is especially so for UCAS candidates, until you have chosen your firm and insurance choice.

In my personal experience, I would say, be prepared to work hard but remember to work smart. Every day, do something and little by little, it will build up into something amazing. Do not get discouraged if your first topic was bad. Keep working on it, Rome was not built in a day after all. You can only get better with practice. Do proper research, read a lot and observe. Take photographs, sketches, make annotations of buildings and anything at all that captured your attention. You never know when these things might actually help spark that creative streak in you down the road when you are stuck in the studio in the middle of the night trying to come up with an idea. You start to notice what works and what does not in architecture, architecture will take over your life.

Important point is, that even with an architectural degree, you do not necessarily have to practice architecture. There are people with architectural degrees doing product design, interior design or even event planning. The sky is the limit, it does not stop with architecture. In fact, it gives you a better understanding of things. In architecture, you learn model-making, observational study, photography, and an excellent understanding of the Adobe Creative Suite which includes Photoshop to name a few.

I personally enjoy my course even though it can get extremely tedious. Honestly, there are moments when I love it and moments when I question my life choices. But if you are certain about this, and you have a passion for it, I say ignore whatever other people say and go for it. This is your future, you should do something you enjoy and if need be, go against the current. I am all for being unique. After all, that is how amazing things happen – with confidence, tenacity and hard work.


Louisa Wong is currently reading Architecture in the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School) in the United Kingdom.

Actuarial Science/ Maths & Stats/ MORSE Personal Statement

Lim Yeak Seng is currently reading Actuarial Science at the London School of Economics and Politics (LSE). This personal statement is part of his successful application to the London School of Economics and Politics (LSE), City University London, Heriot-Watt University and University of Warwick for MORSE.


I am intrigued by how stochastic processes are applied in probability theory, in order to capture uncertainty in real world dynamic phenomena. The book ‘Time Series Modelling of Water Resources and Environmental Systems’ by K.W. Hipel impresses me with its employment of statistical methodologies for scientific data analysis of environmental time series. The research undertaken by Silva et al in optimising the generation of power from hydroelectric plants, by utilising linear multivariate time series models to model flows into the reservoirs, has saved Brazil about $87 million in five years. From my research, I believe the time series model can provide a rigorous mathematical formulation of underlying structures and their relation to observable random variables, via its latent variables. I realise the importance of holistic and pragmatic time series models in simulating real world situations and for predicting possible future outcomes.

I was introduced to cladistics by the entomologist, W. Hennig in ‘Phylogenetic Systematics’. The cladograms are assembled by computer analysis of similarities and differences between species, such as characters and DNA sequences. Linnaeus’s classification scheme and Haeckel’s Tree Of Life provide a solid foundation for mathematicians to catalogue nature’s diversity and to reveal the secret of evolution.  In 2010, D. Theobald effectively applied cladistics methods to test this hypothesis, known as ‘universal common ancestry’; the results came down firmly in favour of a common ancestry for all present-day life. I am impressed by how the construction of cladograms can make the classification of organisms more systematic, avoiding the subjective decisions of traditional taxonomy. In the future, I aspire to contribute to society by utilising my numerical ability to analyse statistical data in order to construct models with greater predictive power.

As an intern at Yong Sing Insurance, I was introduced to a variety of policies. I am fascinated by how an actuary formulates a policy, taking different variables into consideration with the aim of maximising profits. My second internship at Hong Leong Bank exposed me to the resilience of Malaysia’s existing financial systems. An integrated regional crisis management framework, alongside surveillance mechanisms, puts policymakers in a constant state of preparedness for any eventuality. I am intrigued by how better risk assessments by an actuary allow the best decisions to be made by policymakers for implementing pre-emptive measures. The causes and impacts of the current world financial crisis fascinate me. My reading suggests that the limitations and defects of D. X. Li’s Gaussian Copula model caused the U.S. Subprime Mortgage crisis to aggravate. The unstable correlation between financial quantities and the unpredictability of the parameters of the economic models have made it difficult to assess hugely complex risks accurately. In my view, sufficient historical data about actual defaults needs to be assembled and the indication of rising default risk, such as the soaring price of credit default swap, should be considered when constructing statistical models.

I enjoy solving complicated maths questions and I am currently enrolled in a Data Analysis and Statistical Inference module on Coursera. I am very curious about how statistical theories work; currently, I am studying frequentist and Bayesian inference.  Both are useful in parameter estimation, depending on the data size and the availability of the prior distribution.

I have developed my leadership skills and discipline as a Scout Leader. Working as the Treasurer of the Maths Club has given me invaluable experience in managing funds. I enjoy sports and athletics; I represented my District in the International Ekiden Run.

I am a motivated, passionate and determined student who is looking forward to acquiring the skills I need by studying as an undergraduate at a prestigious UK university.


DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

Physics Personal Statement

Jiaxen Lau is currently reading Physics in University of Oxford. This personal statement was part of his successful application to University of Oxford, Royal Holloway, University of London; University of Warwick, University of St Andrew and Durham University.


For me, the most exciting thing about physics is the thought of what it can help us achieve in our future. The fundamental nature of subatomic particles could develop new forms of qubit-based computers; superconductors could alleviate inefficiencies in public transport and electronic circuits; the nature of space-time could even allow a fast spaceship to noticeably slow its own passing of time. As I explore books and other media, I find that our world’s intricate clockwork is beautiful, intellectually stimulating and full of discoveries to be made. By uncovering and understanding these phenomena, we allow ourselves to make great leaps in our own technological capabilities. I aspire to explore the physical world with like-minded peers and professors, as well as do research to contribute to this extraordinary field.

I keep up to date with current developments in Physics through online science news and communities including the Institute of Physics. To add to my knowledge of physics, above popular physics books, I am currently also reading Feynman’s transcribed lectures and undertaking Leonard Susskind’s Theoretical Minimum course online. I find them challenging yet rewarding, as they use more complex diagrams and intriguingly more sophisticated manipulations of mathematics than my A-levels. I especially admire their intricate use of mathematical principles I know to spawn ideas in physics, such as the use of geometric lengths of a light ray’s path from different reference frames to arrive at the theory of special relativity, or the solving of differential equations to determine concepts in classical mechanics.

Physics expresses itself through mathematics, and apart from representing my school in various maths and science competitions, I had the opportunity to practise using mathematics during an internship with Accenture, where I helped to develop software to predict a company’s categorical expenditures. The project involved using Excel and Visual Basic programming to manipulate large amounts of data. I enjoyed applying my mathematical knowledge, in particular the process of generating and understanding various graphs from the complex sets of data I sorted, and then modelling and making predictions from trends. I also enjoyed writing technical procedures and explanations for the software’s user manual.

Becoming my school’s Film Club President taught me a lot about communication. Making films made me think of creative ways to deliver information; I also enjoyed teaching junior members in the club filmography-techniques and how to use editing software. Over time, I learned to articulate ideas more efficiently and to think from others’ perspectives to make my explanations captivating. I further practise this skill in my school’s maths club, where I regularly prepare and give mathematical demonstrations and lessons. I love to talk about useful applications of mathematics in the sciences; one of my favourite topics to present was an introduction to Fermi Problems, an estimation technique used by scientists to induce approximate values from limited data. Sharing ideas and teaching others allows me to solidify information in my own mind, which I find helpful when studying. I look forward to challenging myself to use these skills at university to convey increasingly complex and technical ideas in physics to others.

As my school’s Head Boy, I lead a team of prefects in a multitude of activities aimed at maintaining a positive learning environment, while also playing a part in coordinating social events such as fundraisers, concerts and the Sixth Form induction. I find that the organisational, time management and teamwork skills I gain through these experiences help me to plan my studies well and work comfortably in groups.


DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KIND. UCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.