The perfect personal statement | Varsity Education

How to write the perfect personal statement

Getting into Oxbridge requires crafting a single A4 page that does you justice

The Oxbridge UCAS deadline isn’t too far away now. As many of you will already be very aware, admission to the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge involves applying a year before the start date of your course via the UCAS application website (www.ucas.com). Applications open in early September and there’s a strict deadline of 6pm (UK time) on 15 October.

Your personal statement is your chance to give the admissions tutors a realistic impression of you and your interest in the subject. However, there’s limited space to express yourself: just 4000 characters or 37 lines in the Personal Statement section (whichever you reach first), which translates as approximately one page of typed A4. It goes without saying that every word counts – especially because the same UCAS application goes to every university you apply for via UCAS (a maximum of five).

Although it’s called a personal statement, you shouldn’t write a potted history of your life so far. Instead, you need to articulate your motivations for choosing that academic field, paint a picture of your academic self and highlight your achievements in relevant areas. Mentions of non-academic pursuits should be limited to one or two sentences, at most.

Students writing drafts of their personal statements for Oxbridge universities

Remaining completely sincere and authentic at all times is vital, as Oxbridge academics often use the personal statement to guide their questioning during the subsequent subject interviews.

“We’re checking that their enthusiasm is genuine. In particular, we should get an idea of where within your subject this enthusiasm lies,”

Dr Sam Lucy, Director of admissions at Cambridge.

Meanwhile, Dr Gadja, a history professor at Oxford University told The Guardian that candidates who consider their subject in relation to other academic avenues are likely to impress: “Historians take insight from a huge range of perspectives, so we’re always delighted when students demonstrate how their interest and ability at foreign languages, philosophy, or political thought, literature etc, might intersect with their historical interests. This can be a valuable inclusion in your personal statement.”

Students walking to lectures in Clare College's Old Court

Here are our top 5 tips to help you write a brilliant personal statement:

  • Create a narrative – Share the story of why you want to study your chosen subject. Use anecdotes that are indicative of your personality and passion for your subject without straying into clichés like “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer”.
  • Share your opinions – By reading widely, visiting places of interest, attending conferences and lectures and getting work experience to deepen your knowledge of your subject, you can critically engage with it and form your own opinions.
  • Keep your finger on the pulse – Knowing what’s been happening in your subject area this summer shows a committed interest. So, watch the news and read influential titles such as The Economist, New Statesman and New Scientist.
  • Show individuality – From an unusual childhood achievement to a personal anecdote, it’s always worth showcasing your unique personality.
  • Use an authentic tone of voice – This is your personal statement, so avoid the thesaurus and just use language that feels natural.

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