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Oxbridge Practical Personal Statements Tips

By Chantale Davies

Personal statements can be frustrating and certainly daunting when it is your first attempt at writing one. What is a personal statement? Think of it as a short essay that best expresses you, a chance to show what you enjoy about your subject and why, and make you stand out to any university you apply to amidst hundreds and thousands of other UCAS applications. Not many people applying to university for the first time will have ever written a personal statement (I certainly had not), so it can seem like a real challenge. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you write your personal statement, and plenty of places to find advice. Here are some practical tips for writing your personal statement.

Firstly, I suggest reading example personal statements. There are many available online, and some universities even have personal statements from past students available for prospective applicants to read. If you have time, you can even read some personal statements for different courses. This will help you familiarise yourself with the format, structure, and style of different personal statements, and can help you find your own style and structure as you begin to write your personal statement. However, do not plagiarise or copy from online examples – universities want to get to know you, after all. Research some personal statements do’s & don’ts to familiarise yourself with what is expected from a personal statement.

The best advice that I have ever received regarding writing my personal statement was to write a list of all my past accomplishments and extracurricular activities. For example, as I was writing a personal statement for English Language & Literature, I felt it important to mention some subject-related accomplishments, such as attending summer schools, and co-running a creative writing club in secondary school. Creating a list of everything I had done during my school years (outside of the classroom especially) helped me narrow down what I wanted to include, what I was proud of, and made it easier to find suitable achievements to spruce up my personal statement and make me stand out.

If you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, try to keep extracurricular activities and accomplishments reserved for the end of your personal statement, unless it is something linked to your academic subject – Oxford and Cambridge do not place as great a significance on extracurriculars as other universities, but you can still mention them at the end or link them to your subject.

Keeping a book journal, like keeping a list of achievements, accomplishments, and extracurricular activities, can help you add to your personal statement too, especially for English Language & Literature, and other similar subjects. My book journal was small, only containing a list of books that I had read between Spring and Summer with a short description of what I remembered best about each book – but those short descriptions were crucial to developing my personal statement as I could discuss more aspects of what I particularly enjoyed about English and showed my chosen universities that I had read beyond my subjects at school. Like the list of accomplishments and extracurriculars, you can refer to the book journal if you need to reflect on your chosen subject, if you do not have many extracurriculars or achievements you want to share, and if you are ever stuck about what you could mention.

Of course, try to mention books that are related to the course that you are applying for. You should also try to read around your subject – think of what you like to read and study most within your subject and try to find more in-depth knowledge outside of the classroom. This does not always mean reading lots of books, however; podcasts, documentaries, trips to museums and reputable journals can also be good resources for developing your knowledge independently.

Finally, begin writing the first draft of your personal statement early (if possible). As I was applying to Oxford, I wrote my first draft in early summer and redrafted at the end of summer.By doing this, you will have one or two drafts prepared before you are back to school and will likely be ready to redraft again. If this is not possible, try to write a draft as soon as you can – beginning your personal statement as early as possible can save you from the stress of rushing to write it before the UCAS deadline, and will put you at ease during the rest of the UCAS application process.

Additionally, share drafts of your personal statement with your teachers, friends, and family – anyone who will give you feedback on what you can improve. My teachers helped a lot with all my personal statement problems; whether it was too long, too short, if I had made any grammatical errors or had left out a crucial paragraph.

Above all, especially if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, remember that your personal statement is only one aspect of the application process. Do your best, write as many drafts of your personal statement as it takes to feel confident in your UCAS application, but feel reassured that it is not the only part of the application process. It is a good chance to stand out and set yourself apart from many other applicants, but it can take many redrafts to get there, so take courage and do not lose hope. Good luck writing your personal statements!


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