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The idea behind personal statements is to give universities a clear picture of candidates who are applying to study there. They want to be certain that whoever joins as a student will have the intellect and drive to be successful at that institution.

The aim of personal statements isn’t to tell experts what their subject is about, but rather how you have come to it, what your thoughts about it are, and what about it really fascinates you. It also serves to explain to admissions tutors why you want to study that subject over any other, but it cannot, of course, be designed around any one institution if you’re applying to more than one since each receives the same statement.

Finally, a personal statement helps tutors to decide who to admit onto their courses as they’re eager to have those who’ll benefit most as their students. With all this in mind, where do you begin? This guide will support you through the writing of the statement and address various points along the way, namely:

Why are Personal Statements Important? 

Personal statements exist to provide you with the crucial opportunity to tell universities about your desire to study a particular subject. You can think about it a bit like writing your own reference – it should glow and be highly complimentary, but never lie. It needs to paint an accurate portrait of you as a person and potential student of art history, while also explaining the origins of your interest in the subject, your desire to study it at university, and any relevant skills that you have.

In short, then, a personal statement has to cover a lot of bases with the ultimate intention of convincing the university to let you progress to the next step, be that an interview or being made an offer. Their importance is such that it’s used throughout the admissions process, from the very start to the very end, as a reference document, so it pays to know yours well and to ensure you include everything necessary for a successful application.


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What Should I Include in an Art History Personal Statement? 

Knowing what to include in a personal statement is difficult as the temptation is to put in more than is sensible, but then the word-limit is quickly reached, and the statement seems incoherent. The best approach is to draw up a prioritised list of points from Absolutely Necessary to Unnecessary But Nice to Have, which will help you to organise your thoughts. Some examples of Absolutely Necessary would be relating where your initial interest in art history came from, how you’ve developed it since, and why you wish to study it at university. The statement should make it very clear to the reader how serious you are about your proposed course of study and why.

Well-developed Interest

No university will expect your interest in art history to have existed from birth, but they won’t think much of it coming on only yesterday either. This is because they want to know you’ll be committed to the degree and have enough willpower and resilience to see it through. Therefore, you should explain where the interest came from, what you’ve done to nurture and encourage it, and what about doing the subject at university you’re most looking forward to. This is the perfect place to talk about your extra-curricular activities related to art history.

Show Potential

Universities would like to see that you have not just ‘peaked’ at school but actually have enough academic potential to develop further intellectually. An example you could use would be something like an extended project or piece of independent research you undertook; both of these rely on skills you need at university, namely self-reliance, intuition, and critical thinking. In this section you can also talk about what you might like to get out of the degree course, for example in terms of exploring new visual arts or movements.

Have Clear Reasons

Universities will react best to an application that is clear in its motivation and reasons for wanting to study a subject at degree level. Be specific about what you’re most looking forward to studying (making sure all your chosen universities cater for that) and about why you chose art history in general. If you can, you could also talk about what you’d like to go on to do with the degree, e.g. work in curating, conservation, tourism, etc. and how the degree would help you to achieve it. Don’t be scared to be modest about your knowledge gaps and how the degree will resolve these.


What Should I Avoid in an Art History Personal Statement? 

Any personal statement that begins with a cliché like ‘What is art?’ or ‘Art is the apogee of human self-expression’ immediately turns the reader’s attention off. Avoid clichés, familiar language, quotations, and overly elaborate prose.

Also avoid talking too much about anything other than you, so it’s fine if you drop the name of your favourite painting or artist into the statement somewhere, but don’t begin an involved analysis of the painting.

It may sound obvious, but also don’t lie. If you’re called for an interview, you’ll be questioned in depth on what you put into the statement, so you need to be certain in your knowledge of it.

Finally, avoid being specific about universities if you’re applying to more than one, but be as specific as possible about yourself.


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Advice on How to Start an Art History Personal Statement  

Many people are tempted to begin an art history personal statement with a sweeping observation about art in general or with a quotation from a critic; we don't recommend this. Begin by expressing in captivating but simple and direct language how you came to be absorbed by the subject and why you wish to study it at university.

The opening line should be memorable, but for the right reasons. Don’t set out to shock or provoke as you want the universities to been intrigued by you in a positive way. Remember that you want them to want to meet you and, ultimately, teach you for the next three years a at least.

Sometimes the beginning of the statement is the hardest to write, so brainstorm all the reasons why you’re interested in it and go from there.


Advice on How to Finish an Art History Personal Statement  

You’ve hopefully followed a good structure for your statement and each section has led seamlessly onto the next, so the conclusion should feel like it’s coming at the right time.

The purpose of the conclusion is to condense your motivation and interest for the reader once more, without sounding repetitive. It should reinforce the points you’ve made, and make it sound like the only reasonable next step would be for you to embark on an art history degree.

Remember that you’ll be leaving the reader with another impression along with the first one in the introduction, so ensure it paints you in the best light and makes the reader want to meet you.



The visual arts have a huge specialist lexicon all to themselves. Words like pentimento, chiaroscuro, and geoglyph are common currency in the world of art. It’s therefore good to show some knowledge of these terms, perhaps when describing some art which particularly enticed you, but don’t overuse them (more than two is probably too many) as it will sound like you're forcing them in for the sake of it.

Art history is also a multidisciplinary subject that borders many other disciplines from conventional history and literature to psychology and chemistry. If you can show you have derived skills from other subjects that you could put to use during your degree, then so much the better. If you haven’t such skills, then show a readiness to develop them. Universities like to see you won’t be limited by either your current skillset or your willingness to develop further skills along the way.

The UCAS personal statement is limited to 4000 characters, which includes spaces, or 47 lines of the UCAS form (it depends on which you reach soonest). In a way, it’s a bit of a test to see if you can condense your thoughts concisely and precisely to communicate your desired meaning effectively, but also to make it fair to all candidates writing them (and admissions tutors reading them!)

The most obvious activities are those that encourage you to think deeply about art. Nearly every art history personal statement will talk about gallery or museum visits, which is fine, but try to stand out through your unique observations and thoughts about what you saw. Perhaps you saw an unusual depiction on an elephant tusk or came across an icon you were enticed by for some reason.

Whatever you include, try to make it interesting. Other worthwhile activities could be volunteering in museums or galleries, where you’d be assisting with the public perception and consumption of art, or doing a course either in fine art or an aspect of art history.

The key is to think outside of the box, and for every activity you mention, clearly state how it links to important maths-related skills.  

Whilst you cannot tailor your statement to one university too closely (since it's the same statement for all options on your UCAS form), you can show Oxbridge that you're aiming high in your applications.

It probably comes as no surprise that Oxford and Cambridge put a great emphasis on reading around your subject, even before you’ve started the course. The first place to look are their websites to see if they’ve recommended any titles to start with; remember, though, that it’s not just enough to read the books – you have to think about them too, so write notes and develop views.

It would be beneficial for the Oxford and Cambridge courses if you could also read one or more European foreign language, like French, German or Italian, as much of the critical material for art history is published in these languages. If you can, then mention is briefly, perhaps by implication when referring to an article or book you read.

Book your Art History Personal Statement Package

You can contact our Oxbridge-graduate Consultants on +44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or email [email protected] to discuss our personal statement packages. 

If you’d like to know more about Art History, we have admissions test guidance and interview preparation readily available. 

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