By Poppy Atkinson Gibson
A terrifying thing. An enigma. A mystery.
The personal statement is usually the pièce de résistance of any application but none more so than for Oxbridge as it's the only way to set yourself apart from a sea of excellent grades, Duke of Edinburgh awards and Head Boy/Head Girl title holders.
I remember when I began to write my personal statement, my tutor and referee, the wonderful Mrs Jennings, said "Everyone's got As and A*s predicted. What's so special about you?". I was gobsmacked. Nobody had every asked me that before. I couldn't think of an answer. This was tough love and no mistake.
I can speak generally and then only specifically about History applications and personal statements so take my advice with a pinch of salt if you're choosing a wildly different degree.
My first draft of my personal statement sounded like I was trying to win the UK's biggest boaster competition. It was a little too much of "I'm amazing you'd be lucky to have me". This was the wrong tack. So after much 'head on desk despair' I started again.
My second draft began with a brief overview of when and why I started to love history, although beware the trap of "I've wanted to study ... since I was a young child" because the chances are you didn't and the tutors will know that. I then went on to explain how areas of history I had studied as part of my A levels had interested me further and what areas I particularly liked. It's really useful to look at the courses of all your prospective universities to find similarities as some of the topics I mentioned studying and enjoying in school were module options at my university choices. Throughout this I mentioned independent reading such as the online journal History Today , books I had read or was reading and extra research I had undertaken. I also commented on what I'd like to learn more about for example;
"During my study of history, I have explored British and Western history through classwork, including American civil rights and their rise to the status of “Superpower” which has enabled me to understand how the power of the West developed. However, it has a left a hole in my knowledge of Eastern empires that I have begun to fill through my independent reading of “The Silk Road” by Peter Frankopan that details the rise of empires and society to their present day status from an Asian rather than a Eurocentric perspective. "
At the end I rounded off with what my aspirations were for the future, what I wanted to go on to do and how history would help me with that. Throughout as well, where appropriate, I mentioned extracurricular activities and responsibilities such as:
"Being on the Sixth Form Council ignited in me an enjoyment for debating contentious and important issues which has led me to want to follow a career in politics after my degree".
The personal statement is a really difficult thing and mine went through several drafts before it was given the OK so don't lose heart!