By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


The quest to write the perfect UCAS personal statement, and have all the right things to say in a university interview, is as old as the process itself.

We know how much higher education means to a lot of young people. Of course, achieving a degree is not the only route to success. But for thousands of prospective students, going to uni is their first taste of independent adulthood – and the first step in their career journey.

Writing a stand-out personal statement is key to catching the eye of admissions officers. Particularly when applying to STEM* courses, it’s important to be able to back-up an expressed interest in a topic with proof; a lot of candidates will have competitive grades so extra-curricular activities and projects in a student’s chosen field are a brilliant way of showing passion, alongside aptitude, for their subject and helping them stand out.

And that’s where we come in! CREST Awards are the perfect achievement for students to include in their UCAS statements. Achieving a CREST Award demonstrates interest in and dedication to a topic above and beyond classroom study, an ability to think critically and work independently – among many other skills.

But you don’t have to take our word for it.

Toby's CREST journey

Meet Toby Hill. Toby is a trainee patent attorney at Mewburn Ellis – one of Europe’s leading intellectual property law firms – a job he began after graduating from the University of Cambridge with a degree in Engineering. He is also the proud recipient of a Gold CREST Award.

At a CREST Discovery Day event in November 2022 with his employer Mewburn Ellis that is also a partner of CREST, Toby helped 24 Year 8 students work towards their very own CREST Awards.

Toby working with students during the CREST Discovery Day

Standing out from the crowd

Later, Toby spoke to us about how he completed his Award in the summer before his final year at sixth form as part of a Nuffield Research Placement. He talks us through the skills and confidence the Award helped him to develop, and how it provided him with a useful way to demonstrate his subject knowledge during the admission process for the University of Cambridge.

I think completing a CREST Award demonstrates to universities that you're committed to your subject because whenever you say something, you want to try and back it up with evidence. “I enjoy engineering” is OK. But why do you enjoy it? Why do you want to study it? “So I've gone and spent four weeks of my summer in a lab working on an engineering-related project.” It just adds a lot more impact to what you're saying and I think being able to talk about it [the CREST experience] in your personal statement was really useful.

Interview talking points

He explained how, once his UCAS application had earned him interviews with universities, his Gold CREST Award came in handy as a talking point to demonstrate his knowledge of engineering:

They [the interview panel] want something that you're familiar with so that they can ask you questions about it and see what you know and how you think. And this project [the Gold CREST Award] was perfect for that because it was a technical project, which I've spent quite a lot of time doing. So there was an expectation that I knew what I was talking about.

From CREST to career

After graduating from the University of Cambridge with a degree in Engineering, Toby joined Mewburn Ellis as a trainee patent attorney. He speaks about how having a background in STEM gives you transferable skills that can open doors to careers you might not realise are possible:

I find the job fascinating. You’ve got the scientific side of it, in terms of understanding the inventions themselves, then you’ve got to consider how the law plays into it. I think a lot of people don’t know that, to be a patent attorney, you don’t need a law degree. You actually learn all the law on the job but what you really need is a STEM degree.

Watch the video to see the full interview with Toby – you’ll hear about what he investigated for his Gold CREST Award project, how it helped to set him up for university, and how he now supports students who are working to achieve their own CREST Awards in his role with Mewburn Ellis.

Support with UCAS applications

Do you want more support with your UCAS application? 

Check out these expert tips to make your UCAS personal statement stand out

Explore our Gold and Silver CREST Awards

Stay up-to-date with our latest education news

Sign-up to our newsletter for the latest education news, opinion and resources

Find out more about our CREST partnership with Mewburn Ellis

Visit our Mewburn Ellis partner page