Further (or wider) reading – reading beyond the texts specified within your current course syllabus – has many benefits. It can:
- Extend your subject knowledge
- Build your skills as an independent learner
- Test the depth of your interest in a subject before you commit to further study
If you are applying to university, you can also reference further reading in your personal statement, using your self-led learning to demonstrate the depth and focus of your interest in a particular subject matter.
Writing about what you have learnt beyond the syllabus can show you are genuinely interested in a subject and can be used to show the reader precisely what your interests are.
There is no perfect formula, or roadmap, for wider reading. Be curious, follow your interests and see where they lead you.
Even if you are aiming to study the same subject as your friends, what interests them may differ from what interests you, and so it’s best to see what captures and holds your attention rather than working from a prescriptive list.
However, students often tell me they don’t know where to start.
These tips may help.
5 PLACES TO START YOUR FURTHER READING JOURNEY
Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series
With almost 700 titles in the series, the A Very Short Introduction books offer an accessible introduction into diverse topics, ranging from accounting and advertising through to refugees, renaissance art, and reptiles. Whatever you are planning to study next, it is worth checking out Oxford’s extensive publication list to see what catches your eye. If a topic or sub-topic captures your attention, use the references supplied to identify your next read.
Reading a subject-related magazine can help you to broaden your knowledge and interests. Examples include The Economist, BBC History, New Scientist, History Today, and Empire, although there are many more. Your local council website (e.g. Kent County Council may feature details of local eLibrary services, which offer online access to thousands of titles. PressReader’s catalogue is one place that you can browse and locate subject-specific titles and you can avail of a free trial before subscribing to the service.
University reading lists
Universities sometimes feature reading lists on their undergraduate course pages, and these can provide a helpful starting point for your reading. If the provider you are considering does not have a reading list, you might look at other providers for inspiration. Here is one example I found: https://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/reading-list.html
Professional bodies, societies, and trade associations
If your target subject links to a specific profession (e.g. law, medicine, engineering, project management), you might consider visiting the website for the trade association, professional body, or society. These organisations often feature blogs, magazines, videos, and webinars that can help you to explore your subject of interest. For example, the Royal Aeronautical Society publishes Career Flightpath magazine, and you can download copies for free online here. You can use the Prospects website job profiles and National Careers Service job profiles to locate professional organisations linked to specific jobs. UK ECC Services offers a useful list of associations/bodies and their websites. I have included some additional links to societies and council websites here:
- Medical Schools Council: https://www.medschools.ac.uk/
- Royal Geographical Society: https://www.rgs.org/
- Bar Council: https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/
Specialist careers websites
A quick Google search on your subject of interest and the word ‘careers’ will likely return options for sites offering content linked to your chosen subject. Before using any site, check out who is behind the site, how credible it appears, and how recently the content was updated. Here are some of the specialist careers sites that I regularly use:
- The Medic Portal: https://www.themedicportal.com
- The Lawyer Portal: https://www.thelawyerportal.com
- SpaceCareers.uk: https://spacecareers.uk/?p=careers_resources
- Creative Careers: https://www.ccskills.org.uk/
- Get into Theatre: https://getintotheatre.org
- Law Careers: https://www.lawcareers.net/Starting-Out/Beginners-Guide-Career-Law
- Careers in Football: https://www.careersinfootball.com
- Maths Careers: https://www.mathscareers.org.uk
- AllAbout Finance Careers: https://www.allaboutfinancecareers.co.uk/
- Tomorrow’s Engineers: https://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk
- I See The Difference (Allied health careers): https://www.iseethedifference.co.uk/
GOING BEYOND READING
Further ‘reading’ is not the only way to explore and extend your interests. Volunteering, work experience, virtual internship programmes, and informational interviews are just some of the ways you can build and evidence your interests and skills. You could also try:
Lectures, talks, and virtual tours
If you prefer watching to reading, that’s fine too. We are individuals, and the way we learn isn’t the same for each and every person. It’s not the medium that counts, anyway. It’s the learning.
You might want to start by watching one of the brilliant TED talks or by visiting Learn Lounge. You could also use YouTube or iTunes to search for videos or podcasts by people already working in your target sector, company, or area of interest. https://lectures.london also features a calendar of lectures and webinars from leading institutions in one handy list. You might even be interested in a virtual tour of a museum or an art gallery.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs)
Studying one of the many free online courses is a great way to further your knowledge and interests. They can help you to discover more about your target subject or to find a specific area of interest to explore.
There are so many to choose from, and courses can be completed at a manageable pace that suits you. My World of Work offers a useful roundup of online course providers. I have personally referred students I work with to the following sites:
- FutureLearn: https://www.futurelearn.com
- Coursera: Coursera.org
- The Skills Toolkit: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/find-a-course
- Edx: https://www.edx.org
- Google Digital Garage: https://learndigital.withgoogle.com/digitalgarage/courses
- Harvard University: https://online-learning.harvard.edu/catalog/free
- Virtual Cyber School: https://cyber-school.joincyberdiscovery.com
Choose one of these places, or visit a few to start your journey, or use it as inspiration to find your own… the choice is yours. Follow your interests, read or listen to what you enjoy, and once you start, you may find that one activity leads to the next. If the author or speaker makes a point or reference that interests you, follow your nose, see where it can take you.
REFLECTING ON YOUR LEARNING
It can be helpful to reflect on what you read, learn, or do to understand what you gained from doing it. Whatever you do, it’s a good idea to make brief notes on:
- What motivated you to read/do it? What interested you about it? Why did you pick it up? What did you hope to learn?
- What were your main takeaways? What did you find out?
- Was there anything you discovered that intrigued you? Or anything that you disagreed with?
- Did this activity lead you to anything else in your further reading journey?
These notes will provide useful points that you can weave into your personal statement.
UCAS offers useful tips on how to write your personal statement here.
BONUS TIPS FROM OTHER CAREERS PROFESSIONALS
“Be careful about mentioning specific titles/authors/articles in a personal statement that you haven’t really read or read in much depth as some universities (including Oxbridge) will use this as the basis of an interview question.”
Victoria Geary, https://victoriagearycareers.co.uk/
“If you are still in school, consider if and how your extended learning links to your studies. Does what you read support, complement, extend, or contradict your learning so far? If so, how? Reflecting on this will help you to craft a strong personal statement.”
Liz Reece, http://lizreececareers.co.uk/