Right, welcome back, in the last blog we examined some ways you can really capture the interest of the Admissions Tutors tutors and produce a personal statement which shows that you can think like an Oxbridge student. In this post, I would like to say more about how to structure the personal statement and what to include. As you will all now be aware, drafting your personal statement involves a somewhat precarious balancing act: trying to demonstrate your interest in the subject, elaborate on your further reading, whilst giving the tutors some idea of who you are as an individual, is quite a challenge. Essentially, you need to ensure that your personal statement has a crystal clear structure and a concise, direct writing style, with each paragraph making a separate point that helps to sell yourself to the Admissions Tutors.
As we have already discussed, Oxbridge tutors are looking for certain things in the personal statement, chief among which are; a genuine interest in the subject, commitment and passion to learn more with a good degree of knowledge already imbibed. It’s also important to understand that Oxbridge doesn’t set a lot of stall by extra curricular activities, unless they directly relate to your chosen subject, but if they do, these activities can be a useful way to further illustrate a passion for your chosen discipline. Bear in mind, other universities that you apply to however, will be interested in these activities too, so it’s also a good idea to include something of your extra curricular commitments in your personal statement. Therefore I suggest that you separate your personal statement into four or five paragraphs, which cover the following aspects of your interest in studying your chosen subject at degree level.
First, create a relatively succinct introductory paragraph explaining where your love of your subject originated from. If you do this right, this will help to demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in your subject (a big tick for the Admissions Tutors, who are after students who can cope with the intense pace at Oxbridge). This paragraph gives you the opportunity to be honest and original – no one has ‘always wanted to study’ a subject from birth – that approach is clichéd and lacks imagination. Think carefully, when did you first really start engaging with your subject – did one of your GCSE teacher’s spot you and give you some extra books to read and discuss with them? Did reading one particular book or paper fire your imagination; did a day trip to the zoo in year seven spark an interest in science and Biology? If you can relate this moment of discovery to a tutor and have your excitement come across in your personal statement, this is a sure fire way to capture the tutor’s attention.
The bulk of your personal statement should (in my view) substantiate the claims that you are passionate about your subject that you have made in your opening paragraph. In other words, its time to expand upon your further reading. Further reading is crucial in demonstrating not only the enthusiasm that you are trying to get across, but academic ability as well. Try to avoid discussing A Level topics in your personal statement, because this doesn’t demonstrate that you are prepared to do more work than the bare minimum, which Oxbridge students have to do constantly. An exception to this might be when these topics led you to exploring those topics in more depth than the syllabus required. Two or three paragraphs (that can be as much as 3000 characters) of your personal statement allow for you to really explore topics in depth, discussing your reaction, interpretations and posing questions that you have regarding your further study. Then, to close the personal statement, a short, concise paragraph on your extra curricular activities and hobbies (again linking them to your subject interest) can help to give the tutor’s a more rounded picture of you as a student and an individual. This is a paragraph that can however, go badly wrong and end up being a total waste of words as far as Oxbridge is concerned. To avoid this pitfall, you need not just to write about what you do, but write about how it makes you better at your subject, what you learnt from it and how it has deepened your understanding. If you study English for example, does participating in Youth Theatre give you a better understanding of modernist dramatisation of Shakespearian plays?
The key is to link everything back to a love of your subject and to wanting to discover more about your subject. Keep to this structure, be concise and be prepared to re-draft and re-draft until you are sure that it ‘hits the nail on the head’ so to speak. Good luck!