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Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts

By Poppy Atkinson-Gibson

Personal statements are very difficult and it can be very easy to fall into traps and bad techniques.

Here are a few helpful "Do's and Don'ts"


• Tell the university what they can offer you

• Lie about books you've read, positions in school you've held, places you've travelled. Just don't lie because if you get through to the interview stage the tutors might ask you about it and they'll be able to sniff out your lie in nottime at all

• Just base your personal statement on what you've studied at school; include mentions of extra reading etc

• Use cliches such as "I've loved ... since I was a young child" because the chances are you wanted to be an astronaut when you were young not a English literature student

• Try to avoid using quotes especially as the opening to your statement. I did include a quote in mine but further on and to back up a point I was trying to make: “Only events change and it is their impact on people – their reactions- that changes history: how it is recorded and interpreted. As Hilary Mantel stated, “the past changes a little every time we retell it.” . A quote is a difficult thing to pull off and can often come across as cringey especially if it's inspirational in some ways

• Try to avoid making a mention of something specific to one university- the other universities will see this and know

• Put too much emphasis on extra-curricular activities - Oxbridge, or at least Oxford aren't particularly interested in it. Sometimes they even think it can be a distraction from your schoolwork. It's a difficult balance to strike admittedly


• Do lots of extra reading, so for history this can include the history journal History Today, extra books, articles, museum visits - anything that you've followed up independently that you found interesting

• Try to include some mention of what you'd like to do with your degree after completion - it might change, it doesn't matter it shows some forward planning

• Look at all the universities you're applying to to try and find similarities between the courses. You can discuss this in your statement and it shows a personal touch that actually applies to a few university choices

• Make a new Word document for each draft so you can go back, tinker, lift things and generally move things about

• Start early especially for Oxbridge. At my school we were encouraged to start in the summer and to have a first draft completed ready for September of Year 13 because the deadline is October 15th


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