That is the platinum rule from personal statement gurus Guy & Gavin Nobes, but what are you supposed to be showing and how do you show it?
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 your enthusiasm 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:
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.