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There is actually no set formula for writing the ‘perfect’ personal statement – part of what will make your statement successful is how you convey your personality, interests, academic motivations and potential.  Your statement should be an expression of your academic interest in your subject, as specific as possible and supported by practical and theoretical examples where relevant. Importantly, make sure that everything you write in your statement is something you really do believe, it’s an idea you hold dear and want to share with admissions tutors seeking to understand how you connect with your subject.

As it’s often the sitting down and getting to it that’s the hard part of the personal statement, with this in mind, here are suggestions of how you can keep yourself motivated at each stage of the process.

  • Getting off to a cracking start – the beginning: The best way to get started is to ask yourself a series of probing questions to help you clarify your thoughts and focus your ideas.  Why do you want to read this subject at university? What has convinced you it’s the right choice for you? Think about what really excites you about your course and why.  What part of your current studies has inspired you most and why? What work experience have you done? Which books and articles have you read – what did you enjoy and learn? Did anything challenge you? Did you agree or disagree with what you read? If so – what exactly? Think about yourself and what interests you have that are individual to you.

Check out our mind-map, which will prove super useful in getting your thoughts on paper – why not open this up, put your ideas down and then review!

When you review this document, think about what you’ve written from the perspective of an academic who loves this subject and wants to take those who seem most able, engaged and academically have the greatest potential!

  • Keep it structured! – writing a plan: Think of your personal statement as an essay – with a beginning, middle and end. Try and plan what should go in the beginning, middle and end of this statement, bearing in mind it functions as an argument as to why you should be accepted to read this course at this university. This is your chance to show your potential tutors that you can structure your thoughts. Your first paragraph could, for example, explain why you love your subject. Support your points with personal examples, but avoid broad clichés. Every mathematician has a love for numbers and historians are always passionate about the past informing the present, but why does that matter to you, and most importantly, how are you different from the competition?
  • What do you like about your subject – middle section:  Here you should look to provide in-depth, well-explained examples as to why you are a strong applicant for your course. Use your further reading to provide the core narrative and illustrate your interests.  Avoid the temptation to merely list your accomplishments or be too anecdotal without showing the relevance. Explaining what you learnt or enjoyed about a specific book is worth more than listing all the books you’ve ever read. Engineering and Medical applicants may want to draw on their work experience, a Geography student on a field trip.  If you are applying for Maths or Physics, have you just been crowed chess Grand Master? Think about what you have done and how it has helped you develop as an individual – both academically and in terms of skills.  Do analyse your experiences – don’t just tell a story.
  • Parting words-Why the admissions should tutor pick you: A good conclusion, as with the opening sentence, will refer directly to what you have said in your statement without repeating it. Make sure you end on a strong, positive note.

Some advice from those who have been there and done it:

  • Honesty: NEVER suggest knowledge you don’t possess, or refer to a book you haven’t read.  By mentioning something in your personal statement, you are inviting the interviewer to bring it up in interview. Ensure you’re prepared for this possibility.
  • The ratio of academic content to extra-curricular: Oxford and Cambridge’s primary concern is your academic motivation, achievements and potential – and this needs to occupy most of your personal statement. That said, remember that your personal statement will be read by admissions tutors at other universities – who often say they want to see evidence of extra-curricular activities, gap year plans (if relevant) and career aims.  Try to link your extra-curricular activities to your subject as much as you can, but don’t feel you need to go overboard if there is no clear connection. Use your extra-curricular activities to illustrate how you have developed rather than just listing them, and certainly don’t let them form the bulk of your statement.
  • Style, Tone & Language: Try to make the statement as fluent as possible. You want the admissions tutors to see that you can write with clarity and precision.  This does not mean however that you should get someone else to write it for you. While you would be hard pressed to find an admissions tutor who truly believes that a personal statement is the exclusive work of a student, it’s essential that the style, language, tone and vocabulary are your own. Only include words and phrases that you would be comfortable using at interview. At the same time, do not be too informal: making jokes is dangerous and likely to strike the wrong note, sound over-confident or fail to impress. And beware of overusing superlatives. It is believable that you are ‘fascinated’ and ‘committed’ to your subject, but not ‘completely fascinated’ and ‘utterly committed’.
  • What not to include: Your personal statement is not the only thing that the universities will read about you.  Your teacher’s reference will generally cover any positions of responsibility in the school, your contribution to classes, any health, social or learning difficulties that might have affected your education and your school’s opinion of you, so you don’t need to include this.  Likewise all your academic grades are recorded on your UCAS form. Remember that if you are applying to Cambridge you will have to fill in the Supplementary Application Questionnaire, so if there is something specific about the Cambridge course that interests you, you can explain here.
  • Too much tinkering… Getting the personal statement right takes a good deal of time and effort. The process of redrafting is important, but at the same time you need to know when to stop. Many a promising statement has been spoiled by excessive and often, last minute meddling. 

One last thing! When it all starts getting a little too much… keep reminding yourself that this is the chance to write about a very interesting subject – that no one else will be writing about – YOU!  If you want some further, tailored help, why not book onto our Personal Statement Masterclass in London on 25th August or call me, Poppy, to book a Private Consultation.

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Our Oxbridge-graduate consultants are available between 9.00 am – 5.00 pm from Monday to Friday, with additional evening availability when requested.

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