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Your personal statement is the first, and sometimes only, chance you get to impress admissions tutors as part of your history university application. This makes it a crucial element in a successful application.

You should use your personal statement to demonstrate your dedication to studying history at university level, show tutors that you would be a good student to teach, and prove that you have the skills and motivation to receive an offer.  

A lot of applicants understandably find writing personal statements difficult. It’s hard to balance your academic interests with your personal achievements, all the while keeping everything relevant to the history courses to which you are applying. Not to mention fitting it all into around one page of A4.

To help you get on the right track, out Personal Statement Guide takes you through everything you need to know to create a great history personal statement: 


Why are Personal Statements Important? 

The personal statement is a written piece that you submit as part of your UCAS application. You write and submit one statement that is sent to all your university choices, and it must fit within either 4,000 characters or 47 lines in the UCAS form (whichever limit you reach first).  

The personal statement gives Admissions Tutors a feeling of who you are as a potential student. It gives a personality to the rest of your application and helps universities decide between applicants with very similar qualifications, based on who they think is best suited to the course.  

As an applicant, you have to tick certain boxes in your personal statement. You must prove that: you have the skills to succeed on the course, you are academically curious about history, and you are motivated and passionate about studying history at a high level.  

This means that a successful history personal statement needs to be unique, interesting, and packed full of specific interests that you have within the field of history.  

If you’re applying to Oxbridge or other top-level universities, you especially need to make sure the statement is focused on your academic interests and only includes history-relevant achievements.  

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What Should I Include in a History Personal Statement? 

A good history personal statement needs to demonstrate your passion for the study of history, any work experience or academic achievements you have gained that relate to history, and evidence of your independent research into history as an academic discipline outside of your classroom study.

Passion for Studying History 

You must show admissions tutors that you are dedicated to studying history without giving them unnecessary background or being overly general.  

This is best done by thinking about why you personally are interested in history: what led you to the decision to apply for history at university? Which parts of history have you enjoyed the most so far? Questions like these can help you unlock the answers.  

Each person will be different here: for one person, it was learning about 20th century United States history and how it led to present day geopolitics; for someone else, it was hearing family stories about the second world war. For another, it may have been childhood cartoons of Egyptians and Romans that first motivated them to learn more.  

Whatever you tell the tutors here must be true to you, and should not be a generic answer or copied from someone else. Tutors are very skilled at sniffing out insincere or plagiarised statements!  

Academic achievements and experiences 

Think about your development as a history student so far, what are you proud of having achieved?  

This could be more formal accomplishments such as participating in or winning essay competitions or a school subject prize, or it could be a more personal marker, such as reading beyond your A level course or writing a complex essay of which you are proud.  

Experiences you discuss can be from a wide range of categories provided you can link it, or the skills you learned, to studying history.  

Especially for humanities subjects like history, transferrable skills are certainly applicable here. Perhaps interning at a newspaper helped refine your writing skills, or volunteering as a sports coach encouraged your team working and logical thinking skills?  

Specific interests and evidence of research 

For Oxbridge personal statements this is the area tutors will look at most closely. It shows that you have immersed yourself in history and have thought about it well beyond the classroom.  

You could discuss interesting academic books you have read, relevant news stories that relate to or involve history, or multimedia sources like documentaries, films, or TV programmes that in some way relate to or have inspired you to pursue history.  

One mistake applicants often make is simply listing everything they have read. To impress tutors (and convince them that you have engaged with the sources properly) you should highlight the key academic learnings you have made from each. If you are applying to Oxbridge, these are the kind of things tutors will use to open discussions in your interviews, so consider this engagement good interview preparation as well!

 


What Should I Avoid in a History Personal Statement? 

Firstly, you should try not to be general in any of your assertions. Remember that tutors will read hundreds of history personal statements this year, and you want yours to stand out.  

Rather than saying you are passionate about the past, perhaps discuss a specific period of history and how it informs your view of the present; instead of name-checking a famous historian, discuss a key idea of theirs and link it to the themes of your wider research.  

Targeting specific ideas and digging down into what you have read will show admissions tutors that you are a good potential fit as a university history student.  

Avoid cliched statements like the plague. Even though you are passionate about history, don’t state “I am passionate about history”; find a less cliched way to say it instead.  

Your statement might require several drafts to ensure the language is interesting yet accurate, but it’s worth it: if you came up with something in a minute, then it’s likely so did lots of other applicants. 

Don’t be tempted to mention personal achievements that are not related or involve transferable skills relevant to history. Every year we see applicants itching to mention their grade 6 trumpet, award-winning dance performance, or silver Duke of Edinburgh award. Unless you can clearly argue its relevance to studying history, it’s unlikely that such an achievement will impress the tutors.  

 

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Advice on How to Start a History Personal Statement  

There is no one correct way to open a personal statement. This gives you room for creativity, but can also make it difficult to begin.  

The opening of the statement sets the tone for the entire personal statement, so it’s crucial that it’s in your own words and reflects your own personality; admissions tutors will be able to tell if it’s someone else’s words.  

If you’re struggling to find an opener, we recommend drafting the rest of the personal statement before coming back to write the introduction. This can help you have a better idea of what opening will best set the groundwork for the rest of the statement body.  

Some applicants begin with a quote from a historian they admire, others might explain how they first came to realise their passion for history, whilst another might jump straight into a specific historical event which they find interesting.  

Do whichever works for you but be sure to avoid cliches (no ‘dictionary definitions’ here). 

 


Advice on How to Finish a History Personal Statement  

Closing a personal statement can be just as difficult as beginning: how to sum up what could be almost 1000 words of writing in a brief statement?  

The final paragraph must be short, snappy, and highlight the headline reason for your potential as a university-level history student.  

Like the opening, the final section of your personal statement will likely need a good few rewrites, so don’t feel disheartened if you haven’t captured it perfectly first time round.  


FAQs

Getting started is one of the trickiest parts of the personal statement process. We recommend making a big list of everything you have done or are interested in to help focus your mind.  

Whilst reading is the cornerstone of an Oxbridge history degree, we understand that non-stop academic reading can begin to get stale (even for the most dedicated of students).  

Why not get the creative juices flowing with some alternative forms of research: 

  • Watch films centred on key historical events and periods (the most famous examples would be Forrest Gump, Lincoln, or Gladiator, with more recent films being released all the time, such as Oppenheimer and The Zone of Interest). 
  • Get into a podcast about history. There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of good podcasts looking at history via themes, regions, or periods. Try the BBC podcast You’re Dead to Me for a light-hearted take on various historical subjects featuring comedians and celebrity guests.  
  • Watch documentaries on history aimed at the general viewer. While these programmes and films may not give the most in-depth analysis of historical events, it can be an easy way to find new topics to research further.  

Remember to keep note of the things you read, watch, and experience that inspire you as you do them; this will help make writing the statement easier. Check out our blog on alternative personal statement research methods for more ideas!

UCAS has strict limits for all personal statements: 4,000 characters or 47 lines on the UCAS form (whichever limit is reached first). This is roughly one to two sides of typed A4.  

This may feel like a lot of space, but once you get going you’ll realise that it’s not. We recommend using up the majority if not all the space given to you so that you give admissions tutors the best possible idea of who you are as a history student.  

It can be difficult to decide what you should or shouldn’t include in a history personal statement.  

As a general rule, if you include something, you must be able to relate it to history – either through its content or through transferrable skills.  

For example, if you have worked part time at a history museum, participated in historical reenactments or historical plays, or tutored history to younger students, then these can clearly be mentioned.  

However, we also encourage you to think more creatively: perhaps you study foreign languages which help you access a new set of sources, or maybe you have won maths competitions, proving your logical thinking skills which are helpful in planning history essays. 

The key is to think creatively, and for every activity you mention (even the ‘obvious’ ones), clearly state how it links to history, either through content or transferable skills.  

Tailoring a personal statement to any one course is difficult, since the same statement is sent by UCAS to all of your university choices (of which you have up to five). This means that you should not directly mention the specifics of any one course, since it signals to other universities that you are not considering their course as your main option.  

Instead, we recommend targeting Oxbridge through the style of your statement: keep it tight to the academic study of history and demonstrate your analytical skills.  

Showing that you’ve researched history outside of school to a high level, and leaving out any personal interests that don’t relate to history, is a good way to keep Oxbridge tutors interested.  

Book your 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 History, we have admissions test guidance and interview preparation readily available. 

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