Personal statements have an intended audience: the tutors and academics at Oxbridge responsible for admissions. We therefore encourage you to write for your reader, asking yourself: what do they want to see from me?
Below are some ideas of what Oxbridge tutors want to see from an excellent personal statement, along with advice on how to show those qualities.
Genuine Interest in Your Subject
This is key for any Oxbridge applicant and your interest must be evident in the personal statement. However, it isn’t useful to make generalisations such as 'I’m really interested in Physics/Law/English!' – you must demonstrate this enthusiasm rather than describe it.
Applicants who are enthused about their subject will have experiences, books and articles that they have reflected on, and conclusions that they would want to share. They would have read the 'obvious' or common books for applicants to those subjects; but these books would have provoked an interest that they explored further. Those applying for more vocational courses such as Medicine and Law will have key reflections from work experience and will perhaps have used this as a launchpad for further independent research.
The Ability to Reflect Critically
Rather than simply listing the books that you have read, or the activities you have engaged in relevant to your subject, these should have provoked critical reflections. Think of the books you have read as the means through which you came to interesting conclusions – or dilemmas – that you can share with the admissions team through your personal statement. Rather than ‘I enjoyed Thomas Hardy’s poetry’, what conclusions about his work have you come to through your reading?
The Sense That You Have More to Say
Competitive applicants will be in a position where they have far more to say than they can include in the confines of the personal statement. This means not listing everything you’ve read or done, but instead choosing a small number of themes or ideas and making comments that have obviously taken considered thought. You should have more things to talk about at interview than you could possibly mention in the personal statement.
Similarly, writing style is important. Trying to express yourself in as concise a manner as possible is not just easier to read, but also suggests that you have too much rather than not enough to say.