Civil Engineering Personal Statement

Jordan Aw is currently a second year undergraduate reading MEng in Civil Engineering at Imperial College London. This personal statement was part of his successful application to Imperial College London, University of Leeds, University of Bath, University of Southampton and University of Sheffield for Civil Engineering.

When Elon Musk caused a media firestorm in August 2013 with the announcement of the Hyperloop concept- a new mode of high speed transportation via tubes containing just a thousandth of the air pressure at sea level- I realised that we are in the middle of a revolution in the world of transportation. Space travel is no longer exclusively state-sponsored; a market is already slowly emerging for commercial space travel. Hyperloop companies are already here, and are doing public tests, each time with something new to offer. Car manufacturers project that they’ll be ready to mass-produce self-driving cars within five years. My fascination with this “revolution” eventually grew to the point where I made the conscious decision to get involved, and I decided on civil engineering.

It soon became clear to me that such a significant shift meant that current infrastructure would be insufficient. While researching this in the context of autonomous cars, I discovered the idea-and limited reality-of machine perception, the capability of a machine to understand data in the way humans understand stimuli. However, reliance on solely the computer’s ability to interpret data correctly would lead to the same problem that human drivers have: there are just too many factors to fully recognise. Would a machine be able to recognise children playing by the road, and slow down because it knows they might run onto the street? To existing software, humans just look like columns of pixels. This possible over-reliance is why I believe that we need to consider how our roads convey information to computers as well.

Growing up outside the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, I recognise that our public transport systems are lacking. Outside KL, there are no rail systems except the outdated intercity trains. However, even with KL’s comprehensive train services and buses, traffic jams still cost Malaysia RM20 billion in 2014, according to the World Bank. Intrigued by this apparent paradox, further research led me to an article by Renne, which discussed the idea of transit-oriented development (TOD) and networked livable communities. The statistics showed a clear picture of the benefits of developing a community around a comprehensive transport system, instead of the reverse, with residents of TODs spending a significantly lower percentage of their income on housing and transport. These are ideas that I am extremely interested in seeing implemented in Malaysia, with most of its cities and towns being relatively underdeveloped.

While researching California’s high-speed rail system, I was struck by the amount of controversy surrounding it. The constantly increasing costs and the revelation that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had downplayed the initial estimates came across as particularly dishonest. As public unrest increased, the political opposition to the project gained more and more traction, as evidenced by the successful lawsuit which undermined its funding. I found it similar to Malaysia’s 1MDB, a state-sponsored development company revealed to be massively corrupt. I realised that Malaysia would face the same problems and that political engagement is important.

Outside the classroom, I am Director of Community Service for my school’s Leo Club, organising visits to a local orphanage, old folks’ home, and beach clean-ups. I also participated in a 24 hour run to raise funds for charities dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking. My team raised over RM5000, the third highest amount raised for the event. I am a member of my school’s debating team and have competed in various local and national events, winning the national championships in 2016. To widen my scope, I joined my school’s press team for which I write and edit a bimonthly newsletter.

I believe the role of the civil engineer is an exciting one in a developing country like my own, and that getting a degree from a top UK university would be a major step towards fulfilling my goals.

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 KINDUCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.


Applying to Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London (Part 2)

Imperial College London’s Carbon Capture Plant – the centre of its Chemical Engineering Department

Physical Interview

If you do not receive the interview invitation by the end of February, your application can be considered unsuccessful. The admission tutor will interview all short-listed applicants in KL within a few days in the middle of March. One of the good things about this interview is that you don’t have to pay for it, and that it is held in a 5-star hotel. I had my interview on the 13th of March 2014 at Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur.

Well, it’s normal to feel stressed before an interview, but don’t you worry my peers! The interview was not that tense and awkward, and it turned out to be a nice one-to-one conversation with the admission tutor. My admission tutor was a very friendly guy! The purpose of this interview is for the admission tutor to further learn about your passion, motivation, potential and ability to succeed in the Chemical Engineering course on top of his prior understanding of you from your personal statement.

You are encouraged to do some research/reading to prepare for the interview, but that doesn’t mean that you have to memorise everything. It’s important that you research on what really interests you, so that you can express your ideas naturally and fluently.

Preparations for interview:

  • Read your personal statement and clearly understand what you have written in order to avoid any conflict of ideas between what you have written in your Personal Statement (PS) and what you say during interview.
  • Do further reading/research on things that you have written in your PS – for example, in your PS, you’ve written that you aspire to find alternative sources of energy to replace fossil fuels one day. In this case, you could possibly research on those “alternative sources” that you would like to look for, be it biodiesel or solar energy, and how will they be practical in Malaysia. You may not have to go into too much depth (but if you want to, why not?) on what you have researched on, but make sure that you will be able to express your ideas fluently from what you have read. I encourage this because when you tell the interviewer about your career aspirations (or any other topics), you will have more things to talk about, rather than just repeating the sentences you’ve written in your PS.
  • Make sure you know what “Chemical Engineering” is.
  • Try to think of anything not mentioned in PS that expresses your passion for the course, in order to enhance your admission chances.
  • Be sure of your future career prospects, but if you’re not, at least have a rough idea for the period of interview. You need to show that you are really into a ChemEng-related field during the interview – passionate and motivated. Do research on the jobs, companies, and what you can do with a ChemEng degree. During the interview, tell the interviewer firmly that “I want to work in the XXXX field very much, particularly with company B so that I can be involved in R&D to find alternative sources of energy and blah blah blah…”
  • Do revision for A Levels (or other Pre-U qualifications) Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics.
  • Have a good read of Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering’s website and other related Imperial websites. (links given at the end of this article)
  • Watch Imperial’s admission info video (link given at the end of this article)
  • Kacau your seniors/friends who got into Imperial ChemEng for tips! Haha

Tips during interview:

  • Arrive at the venue earlier; mingle with the other applicants to ease your nervousness (perhaps they will share their tips with you). This also gives you sufficient time for some final preparation before the interview.
  • Wear appropriate formal and polite attire – it does not have to be too formal (e.g. tie and coat), but it’s up to you, as long as you feel comfortable. I wore a buttoned formal shirt (without tie), slack pants and leather shoes.
  • My interviewer was very friendly, so do not feel stress and panic, just take it as a normal conversation with a friend.
  • Do not feel shy to ask for hints if you are stuck at certain questions – they love “teach-able” and humble students.
  • Turn the interview session into a discussion – don’t just answer the interviewer’s questions, try to ask your own questions when appropriate, and pay attention to him/her.
  • When you are answering the interviewer’s questions, don’t just give short & brief answers; elaborate on your answers as well, and mention more related topics or issues.
  • Also, body language is very important! Sway your hands or head maybe?
  • Perhaps you could try googling “interview tips” to find more general tips for interviews.

Questions that I was asked during the interview:

1. How are you?

2. Where are you from? How did you travel here (the interview venue)?

3. Which school are you from?

4. What have you been doing after graduating from the A Levels? (FYI, I took my A2 in Nov 2013)

5. We then discussed about the haze in KL in March 2014.

I thought the interviewer should have known, but he asked me WHY the haze was so serious in KL. So I answered that it was due to the burning of forests in Indonesia, with the wind subsequently blowing the dust particles to West Malaysia. (So knowing some current issues might be good for you, because I think it’s not sensible to say: “I don’t know”)

6. Why do you want to read Chemical Engineering in university?

  • Sounds like a lame question huh? But you will have to answer it – not just repeating the lines you wrote in your PS! Tell the interviewer more even though it’s not asked. Like what I mentioned above about further reading/research, this is where you are gonna impress the interviewer!
  • For this question, I answered the interviewer based on what triggered my interest with ChemEng, why I wanted to study ChemEng, explained that I wanted to work in Oil & Gas field, how I want to produce petroleum with lower sulphur content, and that I want to find alternative sources of energy. (this is just a summary, in reality I elaborated more)
  • During this part, as I was speaking, the interviewer stopped me at a few parts, and asked me questions based on what I have said.
  • For example, he asked why I want to produce petroleum with lower sulphur content, doesn’t the current technology already produce petroleum with low sulphur content enough? I then told him about my findings regarding oxidative desulphurization and hydrodesulphurization which are currently being used in industries and it will be better if I can create another process which is able to greater reduce sulphur content in petroleum to minimise the acid rain problem …. ….
  • Another example, at the energy part, initially I only talked about biodiesel, but then he asked me about the potential of having other alternative sources of energy in Malaysia.. I then talked about solar energy and hydroelectric energy – how they are practical in Malaysia, their advantages and disadvantages.
  • So, some readings, common sense and background knowledge could be helpful when interviewer asks you unexpected questions.

7. Here comes the Mathematics question after a round of rigorous discussion with the interviewer:

Differentiate the following function using 2 different methods:

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 10.49.09 AM

Not a hard question if you have studied A2 Mathematics differentiation. I had to demonstrate my workings on a paper to him. While solving the question, try to explain your workings to the interviewer (hence, interaction!). Not going to type out the workings here, so do it yourself!

8. Chemistry question:

The interviewer showed me the following simple graph:

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 10.05.31 PM

And then he asked me a few questions:

  • Why the concentration of reactant becomes constant after reaching a certain point? Give 2 reasons.
  • What will happen to the shape of the graph if the temperature of the reaction  is increased? Will the graph reach plateau at the same concentration? Why? Sketch the new curve on the graph above.
  • What is the effect of increasing the reacting pressure on the rate of reaction if the reactant is liquid? How about if the reactant is gas? Why?

I had to explain the answers to the interviewer verbally (in addition to sketching the curve on paper). So you have to be knowledgeable on the topic and explain all your reasoning to the interviewer. If you happened to say some wrong answers, just apologize: “I’m sorry that I made a mistake just now, and it should be ….” The interviewer might stop you while you’re speaking, to question your answers, but if you’re confident that you’re right, then just be confident! If I was not wrong, this is AS Level Chemistry.

Everyone got different mathematics and science questions during the interview. The above were the questions I got, and luckily they weren’t too hard for me.

9. What do you expect from studying at Imperial?

10. Why choose Chemical Engineering at Imperial?

11. What do you think about the academic modules of Imperial Chemical Engineering course? What is its uniqueness compared to other universities’?

Well, to answer questions 9 – 11, you need to do some reading on the website of Imperial’s Chemical Engineering Department, and also other related Imperial websites such as the “Life at Imperial” (like what I mentioned in the Preparation part above). After answering question 11, here comes the question 12.

12. From where you learnt about those information?

I then answered Imperial’s website.

13. How did you know that what mentioned in Imperial’s website is true? Perhaps we lied about certain things.

Well for this question I just said that I also read some other educational forums such as the Student Room so that I can see the corroboration.

14. How will you fund your studies at Imperial, if you’re selected?

15. What is the probability of you coming to Imperial, if you’re selected?

The interviewer will request you to bring along a copy of your most recent results in the interview invitation email. The perks of this interview experience was: the admission tutor told me he would make me an offer right after the interview!! However, the official offer came 2 weeks later.

So this is my Imperial ChemEng interview experience this year, but I have no guarantees that things and questions will be the same in the following years. Overall, I hope I gave you a picture of how a Imperial ChemEng interview would be like. Nothing too stressful right? Haha 😀


I wish you all the best in applying to Imperial ChemEng! Hope to see you in Imperial next year!

If you are selected for the interview, it means that the admission tutor is satisfied with your actual or forecasted results and personal statement, and likewise, everyone has bombastic results, so the key to success is your interview!

Work hard to get good grades in your actual or forecasted results. You might just need to work way harder if you get the conditional offer – a few of my friends got a bloody condition of A* for all subjects (but this depends on the applicants’ ability every application cycle and might differ from year to year). I obtained my actual A2 results before the offer came in, so my offer didn’t come with any condition for grades.

Links which you may find useful: 

  1. Imperial Chemical Engineering Department-
  2.  Imperial Chemical Engineering Course Information-
  3. Imperial Chemical Engineering Entry Requirement-
  4.  Life in Imperial-
  5.  Admission – What Imperial is looking for-

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!

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

Image Source

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!