Okay, results are in and for many of you considering applying to Oxbridge, you will finally know for sure whether it’s on the cards or not. It’s at this point that you will want to start preparing your university application. If you do decide to apply to Oxbridge you will know, the process of gaining a place is a lot more competitive, strenuous and arguably altogether more rewarding for it. The challenge facing you now is writing your personal statement. personal statements for Oxford and Cambridge need to be the best that they can be and furthermore, Oxford and Cambridge both state that they are looking for applicants with certain distinguishing features, which I call the ‘Oxbridge Mindset’.
The personal statement is your first opportunity for you to demonstrate that you have the ‘Oxbridge Mindset’; thereby immediately engaging the admissions tutors and interesting them in your application. Essentially, Oxford and Cambridge are looking for students with the ‘highest intellectual potential’, a true passion for and commitment to their chosen subject, a curious mind which is hungry to learn and is capable of constructing intelligent theories and arguments. This sounds like a lot to get to grips with, but the chances are, if you are a worthy applicant, then you’ll already be enthusiastic, reading around your subject and enjoying learning more both about your course and the wider subject in general. The key is to demonstrate this to the admissions tutors. For example, the personal statement isn’t the place to list all the books that you have read; its an opportunity to tell the tutors what you have gained from reading these books, what questions occur to you when you read them and how much you enjoy thinking about the implications of these questions.
To maximise your chances of gaining a place, you need to start thinking like this now, questioning interpretations and considering other possible meanings or solutions to subject related questions that arise as you study. Think of it as Oxbridge brain-training, because Oxbridge students constantly have to think originally, look for solutions to problems and examine different approaches and interpretations to their given subjects. It’s not about regurgitating text books, but forming entirely independent views regarding your reading. If you can begin to do this during the application process, you will be demonstrating that you can think like an Oxbridge student, which is of course just what the tutors are looking for. There are a number of ways to that you can do this in your personal statement. Demonstrate your commitment to the subject by discussing the extra reading and learning that you have undertaken beyond the A Level curriculum. Briefly examining some theories and interpretations of topics that you have really connected with as a part of your wider reading will demonstrate a willingness to explore your subject further and in depth.
Choosing intriguing topics that you have really enjoyed exploring will also help to show your passion for the subject and demonstrate your potential to admissions tutors. Furthermore, trying to demonstrate your curiosity regarding the subject by questioning given concepts and your own views helps demonstrate that you are keen to examine and challenge subject content and think originally. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge have said that they consider extra-curricular achievements as secondary to your academic interests, other universities don’t – and remember that Oxbridge is not the be all and end all. Generally use 20-25% of your personal statement for your extra-curricular achievements.
The bottom line is that you should try to use the personal statement not only to demonstrate your determination to study the subject but also how you think and how you are hungry to learn more and keep exploring. This will show the tutors that you are an applicant who has the academic potential to succeed in the Oxbridge system of tutorial/supervision teaching. In my next blog, I’m going to talk in more detail about how to structure the personal statement, using your further reading to full effect, what else you should try to demonstrate and most importantly, when to stop writing. So for now, enjoy making a start and happy writing!