First off, as I write this blog in mid-August I would like to send my very best wishes to those receiving their exam results this week – I hope you all receive the grades that you hoped for! With school restarting in just a few weeks, hopefully many of you have started thinking about, or even writing your personal statements. Having reviewed and helped revise dozens of personal statements for science and medical applicants, I thought I would use this blog to share of the best practices I have encountered.
For medical applicants, these examples typically include work experience or shadowing opportunities where you were able to experience medicine beyond the classroom. Give specific examples of what you did and what you learned when observing procedures being performed. Personal statements contain an element of storytelling; you are telling how the experiences you have had during your teenage life have led to you applying to study a certain topic. Providing a laundry list of books you have read is not informative; rather, mention one and discuss the impact that this had on you and how it led you to do further work or research into a particular topic.
This should be honest but you would be amazed how many students mention books on their personal statements that they never got around to reading. Do not be surprised to be asked during interview “Please tell me about your favourite chapter in Matt Ridley’s Genome?” Also be honest about what you learnt during your work experience. I always thought I would apply to study medicine, but when I shadowed a doctor one summer I found that I wasn’t actually that interested in the dynamics of working with patients and medical ethics, but that my passions actually were the detailed nitty gritty dynamics of biology! As a result, I ended up applying to study natural sciences, a choice that was ultimately much better suited for me than medicine.
When reading hundreds of personal statements, you must forgive admission tutors for sometimes skim reading and not always reading the statements in full. As such, it is critically important to grab their attention from the first paragraph. If you, like hundreds of other students, start your statement by describing how you read New Scientist every week, then there is a strong chance of losing the reader’s interest. Start off instead by diving straight into what makes you unique, be that a unique work experience, an internship, a science competition which you won or a fascinating science project that you undertook. Make a list of those academic achievements that make you unique and try to work them into your personal statement as early as possible.
While writing your personal statements, do allow several weeks as you will not get it right on the first, second or even third draft! Though it may feel a bit embarrassing to share the statement with others, it is really important to get feedback from as many people as possible, such as from parents and teachers. Their feedback will help improve the quality of content and style and in the end, will save you a lot of time and additional revisions! Good luck and happy writing!
Click here to read what former Oxbridge Applications’ Head of Programmes, Rebecca Williams, had to say about common mistakes in Personal Statements in her interview with The Telegraph.