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Tips for Approaching a History Personal Statement

By Lucy Mercer

I just read back over my personal statement, a few years after submitting it. With hindsight, I find it a pretty concise and to-the-point piece of writing. Within the relatively small character limit, you won't really have space for lots of lovely long flowing sentences! The key is to communicate your points fluently but efficiently.

When I first approached planning my personal statement, in my head I was answering two questions:

1) Why did I want to study history?

2) What made me well suited to study history at university?

I first made a rough list of bullet points of anything that could be relevant, such as books, museum exhibitions, trips, online courses and extra-curricular activities, focusing on demonstrating enthusiasm and an interest outside of my school syllabus. I also alluded to some of the *bigger* more *conceptual* questions about history as a discipline - why it is important for us to study history, linking areas of historical study to current issues, and what the challenges are in analysing the past.

I would say do NOT feel pressured to go and read a whole reading list of proper full-length history books - that just takes forever and you don't have time for that on top of your school work and the general frenzy of sixth form life. Articles, videos, exhibitions, talks, documentaries etc are fine! In Covid-19 times, online content such as recorded lectures or TED talks found on YouTube will be more relevant than ever. It would probably be advisable to mention one or two books but no more than that is really necessary. I also reflected on my other A Level subjects and indicated how they tied in with my interest in history and the skills and perspective I had gained from studying them.

Oxford often suggests that it doesn't give much consideration to extra-curricular activities but a) other universities do and b) they are relevant if they can be linked to academic study by highlighting the transferable skills, such as time management, communication skills and self-motivation. I think Oxford does subtly value when a candidate is able to show that they lead a well-rounded life and are able to balance multiple commitments. So do briefly allude to activities such as volunteering, school committee responsibilities, your part-time job or sport/music/drama achievements. (But no more than a small paragraph on this.)

Essentially, the tone should be enthusiastic. Demonstrate your love for learning and that you are curious about the world around you. Show that you have thought about what History at undergraduate level entails, and that you are ready to embrace that. Finally, and crucially, remember that anything you refer to in your personal statement you have to be prepared to talk about in an interview! So stick to the truth and don't draw too heavily on anything you actually find super dull and wouldn't be able to expand upon / give an opinion on if it came up at interview.

Good luck!


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