Writing a great Personal Statement is a prime opportunity to showcase yourself and stand out from the crowd. What Oxbridge looks for is a little different from other universities, so here are some tips to help you write a standout Oxbridge Personal Statement.
1. Start Drafting Early
The extra level of preparation that an Oxbridge application requires, combined with the mid-October deadline, means that you should try to start planning your Personal Statement towards the end of Year 12.
It usually takes a few drafts before you have a perfectly polished Personal Statement staring back at you, so ideally your first draft should be done by the end of the summer holiday before Year 13. This means that you should try to have completed any extra reading or work experience that you want to write about in your Statement by then as well.
Tip: If you haven’t decided which course you want to study yet, start planning a more general Personal Statement, or even two separate ones for two different subjects. Writing about your enthusiasm and experiences will probably help your decision-making process!
2. Focus on your academic interests and achievements
Admissions decisions at Oxford and Cambridge are solely based on academic ability and potential, so you should focus on showcasing your understanding and passion for your chosen subject. We’ve written a guide about navigating Oxbridge’s attitude towards extracurriculars which explains more about this.
You can show your interest and ability in your subject with examples of books you’ve read, an EPQ you’ve written, a prize you’ve won, lectures you’ve attended, documentaries you’ve watched, podcasts you’ve listened to, or really anything you can think of!
- Instead of: “I am interested in molecular biology”
- Try: “My interest in molecular biology led me to read X”
3. Set yourself up for an interview
All successful Oxbridge candidates are interviewed as part of the admissions process, and interviewers often draw on things mentioned in the Personal Statement.
To help put you in control of the interview as much as possible, you can leave ‘hooks’ for the interviewer which direct them towards topics you’ll be able to talk about confidently. For example, if you write:“I was fascinated by the similarities between Ovid’s Amores and contemporary love poetry”, you should expect to be asked what in particular you found fascinating.
This is one reason why it's really important to be honest in your Personal Statement. You should never claim to have read a book that you haven’t (even if you plan to read it after submitting your UCAS form, because who knows what will happen!) You also shouldn’t pretend to have an interest in a something just because you think it will sound impressive. Interviewers are likely to ask you about it and it will be pretty clear if you aren’t genuinely interested.
4. Show that you are intellectually curious and thoughtful
Oxbridge admissions tutors are looking for thoughtful and perceptive students who are curious about their chosen subject. How much material you have consumed on your subject is not as important as how deeply you have thought about each one. For example, there’s no point listing thirteen books that you’ve read with no comments or thoughts about any of them.
To demonstrate a thoughtful approach to your studies, you can do things like:
- Give an example of something you found particularly interesting in what you learned, and explain why you found it interesting.
- Write about the process that led you to discover a new material or idea.
- For example: “Learning about A at school led me to read X. I was particularly interested by the chapter on B, because …. This led me to further research B by watching Y.”
- Draw links between topics, books, articles, films or lectures to show that you are not just capable of consuming information, but processing and analysing it.
- For example: Did two different theorists interpret a concept differently? Is there a theme that runs through a set of books you’ve read? Did you disagree with an opinion presented at a lecture?
5. Try to be original…
In 2019, Oxford University received more than 23,000 undergraduate applications for roughly 3,300 places. The vast majority of these applicants have really good grades, which can make it difficult to stand out from the crowd. This is where your ability to be perceptive and original comes in. Think about how the subject that you are applying for relates to your other studies, the world around you, and even your personal experiences.
For example, almost every Classics student out there will know the plot of Medea, but how many of them will be able to demonstrate that it’s since been stolen by the screenwriters of Eastenders? Did campaigning for the most recent election remind you of a piece of propaganda from the First World War?
Remember that the people who will read your application, and interview you, have made a career out of their chosen subject, and it really is their passion. They will genuinely be interested to have a conversation with you if you can bring an interesting or original thought to your Personal Statement and interview.
6. …but don’t overdo it
Don’t try to be original for the sake of it. And don’t go overboard with the thesaurus - concentrate on being clear rather than trying to be a lexical aficionado (annoying, right?)
7. Proof-read, then proof-read again
One thing which can negatively affect the opinion of Admissions Tutors is a typo. Even if it’s something really minor, some tutors are very strict on accuracy, and it could be the difference between receiving an offer or not.
Proof-read your Personal Statement several times yourself, and then ask your parents, friends, or teachers to read it over, looking specifically for typos or grammatical errors. A lot of the time, it's easier for someone with fresh eyes to spot a typo than for the person writing.
8. Don’t name drop Oxbridge
Remember that you need your Personal Statement to be relevant to all five of the universities you are applying to. This means that you shouldn’t mention Oxford, Cambridge, or any other university by name.