Writing a personal statement is daunting as it is, but when it’s being used to decide if you get into one of the top universities in the world, it becomes even more intense. Here are my tips for writing a great Oxbridge personal statement.
Featured post by Maddie Wills
9 Tips for writing your Oxbridge personal statement
To write a personal statement with a good chance of success at Oxford or Cambridge, there are some specific tips that can be worth following. The admissions tutors are looking for slightly different things to normal admissions teams, and being aware of this can allow you to tailor your statement to be successful.
Additionally, to be clear, writing a personal statement geared towards Oxbridge admissions will not disadvantage your application at other universities – you’re only making slight changes, and with the high predicted grades you need for Oxbridge, you will still be a strong candidate for other universities.
Plan – and keep track of your notes
Similar to my advice for regular personal statements, make sure you have a cohesive plan and draft before editing down. Plan what you want to include in the statement, making sure to highlight your best achievements and the most interesting things you have read. Cambridge and Oxford especially want to see that you’ve read around your subject and can think in a wider context than your core A-level coursework. As you are planning, keep a log of any texts or theories you reference in your statement, and your wider thoughts about them – this will come in handy for the interview preparation.
Don’t get sentimental
Oxbridge admission tutors are interested in your personal response to the subject; it may feel harsh, but they’re less interested in your wider life. Try to avoid phrases that reference your ‘passion for xyz from childhood’; it is much more valuable to discuss your current interests within your subject, and how you have pursued them. You need to demonstrate a real interest, and a desire to explore beyond your subject, as this signifies that you would be suited to an academically rigorous university course.
As with a normal personal statement, the character count is essential to keep in mind. This can become trickier with an Oxbridge personal statement, which devotes significant time to precise academic discussion and ideas. Try and keep your writing concise, there is no need to over explain academic concepts You need to elaborate on your own ideas and thoughts, but with definitions and ideas; be careful not to waffle. Your personal statement will be read by a tutor with experience in your field; there is no point explaining a simple academic definition which will take up characters and distract from your personal response.
Go beyond the curriculum
Using the A Level curriculum as a jumping off point for your personal statement discussion is fine, but try and refrain from staying within the curriculum throughout the entire statement. Highlight wider reading, work experience, and practical application, and discuss how you have discovered new interests as a result of this. For example, if in school you explored democracy in the UK, perhaps explore democracies in other countries, and how they compare. This demonstrates that you are showing interest in school, and then taking your academic passion outside of the curriculum to develop personal interest in the subject.
Be sure to reference your own ideas about your wider reading and experiences in your statement. It shouldn’t be a list of achievements – you should explore what you learned, how it developed your initial thinking, and the steps you took afterwards to develop your interest. This also provides a jumping off point for your interview, so these need to be original opinions that you form through your super-curricular activities.
This will show Oxbridge admissions that you are self-motivated, and able to form original ideas from reading and activities, making you suited to a high intensity academic course.
Think carefully about structure
Regular personal statements largely follow a simple three step structure, where you discuss reading, then work experience, and then extra-curricular pursuits. You can follow this structure for an Oxbridge personal statement, but if it feels more natural to follow a different structure, then do so. The application process is all about originality, and ability to follow your own academic interest, so write your personal statement however you feel will best showcase your ability. For example, I wrote my personal statement themed around ideology, which allowed me to connect my work experience, reading, and personal interest into a cohesive and sensible piece of writing.
Always keep interview prep in mind
Aim high! Assume you will reach the interview stage, and so when you are writing your personal statement, make notes alongside the statement that will aid your interview preparation. When I was writing my statement, I added comments on the document alongside any text or idea I mentioned, which elaborated on my ideas and clarified some comments I had made. This meant that in my interview, I was able to draw on my statement and develop my ideas well. Also, aim to keep a log of any wider reading you have mentioned with its main arguments, even if you do not reference these in your statement. You will be expected to know anything you reference in your personal statement very well, and tutors may ask you about a point in a text you have not explored in your statement if you reference a longer book or article.
Be careful with extra-curricular discussion
Whilst extra-curricular discussion is required for non-Oxbridge applications, it is much less relevant in an Oxbridge personal statement. Admissions tutors acknowledge that applicants will want to include reference to sporting or musical interests, for example, for their other applications, but will give little weight to this section in their decision. Keep your extra-curricular discussion brief, aim for the majority of your personal statement to have an academic focus, with a short paragraph on extra-curricular activities.
Having said that, depending on your degree, tutors are able to reference your extra-curricular activities in an interview. They could discuss how your activities relate to your wider field of study, so perhaps be prepared for a short discussion themed around your non-academic interests.
Get lots of feedback on your personal statement, and keep notes on it. This can help to reduce your character count by making your writing more concise, help to clarify ideas, and provide a jumping off point for interview prep. It is essential that you enlist someone with expertise in your broad subject area to look through your personal statement; a statement with academic errors or missteps will not make it through the Oxbridge admissions process. Choose tutors at school, university alumni in your network, or even your parents friends who have been to Oxford or Cambridge, or who have experience in your chosen subject.
Most of all, have confidence in yourself! If you are truly interested in your subject, and want an Oxbridge-type course, this will come across in your personal statement. Good luck!