It’s that time of year again, and you’re hopefully looking at a set of AS Level results capable of propelling towards a possible Oxbridge place. Now it’s time to start your Personal Statement to show the universities how strong a candidate you are, and that you’re not just a string of exam results.
The aim of a Personal Statement is to show your desire to study the subject you’ve chosen, and everything included should be relevant to this. For example, there is no point including a Biology book you’ve read if you’re applying for Engineering.
For your first draft, include everything and don’t worry about the limit. It’s much easier to cut things out than add filler.
Also, get different people to read it. You want it to be relevant and interesting, which can be a difficult combination (please hold comments about this blog).
In this entry I will attempt to break the Personal Statement down.
The introduction should sum up why you want to study your subject. This doesn’t need to be longer than two or three sentences. So perhaps keep that meaningful Neil deGrasse Tyson quotation for a post on social media.
Along with random quotations, avoid the classic clichés “For as long as I can remember” and “Since I was a child”. Neither adds much to your statement, both use up space, and neither makes you stand out.
Keep it short, keep it simple. Write your introduction after you’ve completed a first draft of everything else. This will stop you writing a lengthy paragraph as you’ll be able to see how tight on space you are.
This is where you really show your strengths as a candidate. Finalist for a design project? Wrote a prize-winning essay about cell division? Do you have a relevant work experience? Include it all here. Start with your most recent or your most relevant item and try to keep it focused on yourself.
For example, if you have a relevant work experience, state your role and not the company’s. If you were part of a team, don’t say “the team did … and I did ….” just say “I did ….”.
If in doubt follow a format of:
3) How did your actions help/affect the company/team (positive)?
4) Whether this linked to another relevant work experience or project.
For Oxbridge (but relevant to all), number 3 is the most important. They want to see if you are a problem solver, and can think for yourself.
When applying for hard science subjects, you want to avoid just listing relevant books. Instead, say what book you have read, what areas you found interesting, and how it affected you (did a chemistry chapter make you perform an experiment?). There isn’t really a prescribed reading list, so rather than asking what to read, pick what you find interesting. This may be one chapter of a book rather than the whole thing, or even online project blogs from engineering websites.
Just make sure you say why you found it interesting, and what it led to.
Given that you may be asked about what you’ve written in an interview, do not claim to have knowledge that you do not have. Make sure you’ve read a book you claim to have read – you may have the author interviewing you. If you also include that you are passionate about airplanes, make sure you know how a wing generates lift.
There is no need for a proper conclusion paragraph in your Personal Statement and it can just end after you’ve gone through your relevant experience, projects etc. However, if you are involved in extra-curricular activities that aren’t directly related to your subject (captain of a football team, netball coach etc.) this is where you should include it.
Having a short paragraph to show that you’re a rounded person is a nice way to end a focused Personal Statement.
There is a warning with this however: do not waste characters. It will not help your chances of entry if you describe in detail your path to the 2014 national badminton final by beating the county favourites in the second round.
The important point to remember here is to keep it relevant. It’s surprising how quickly those 4000 characters are used (for reference, this blog entry has used 4238).
Click here to read what Oxbridge Applications’ former Head of Programmes, Rebecca Williams, had to say about common mistakes in Personal Statements in her interview with The Telegraph.