People sometimes think that there is a trick to writing a personal statement for Oxford, or that we are looking for some special secret formula, but this is not the case. Writing a personal statement for Oxford is no different from writing a personal statement for any other university. In fact it’s important to remember that the same wording will be seen by all the universities you apply to and should therefore focus on the course you want to study, not the universities themselves. Please read this helpful advice from UCAS about writing your personal statement.
How important is the personal statement?
Universities build a picture of you as a student from all the different information you provide, to help decide whether or not to offer you a place. The picture is made up of several different pieces: your personal statement, academic record, predicted A-level grades (or equivalent), and your teacher's reference. For most courses at Oxford you will also need to take an admissions test or submit written work as well (check the details for your course). If your application is shortlisted, your interview will also be taken in to account. This means that your personal statement is important but it’s not everything: it’s just one part of the overall picture.
What are Oxford tutors looking for?
Tutors at Oxford are only interested in your academic ability and potential. They want to see that you are truly committed to the subject or subjects you want to study at university but it’s not enough just to say that you have a passion for something: you need to show tutors how you have engaged with your subject, above and beyond whatever you have studied at school or college. This can include any relevant extracurricular activities.
Try to avoid writing your personal statement as though you are ticking things off a list. There is no checklist of required achievements, and tutors will not just scan what you have written to look for key words or phrases. Tutors will read your personal statement to try to understand what has motivated you to apply for their course. It’s a good idea to evaluate your experiences, to show what you have learned from them and how they have helped develop your understanding of your subject.
Should I include extracurricular activities?
If you're applying for competitive courses, which includes any course at Oxford, we typically suggest that you focus around 80% of your personal statement on your academic interests, abilities and achievements. This can include discussion of any relevant extracurricular activities. The remaining 20% can then cover any unrelated extracurricular activities.
There’s a myth that Oxford is looking for the most well-rounded applicants, and that you will only be offered a place if you have a long list of varied extracurricular activities. In fact, extracurricular activities are only helpful in so far as they demonstrate the selection criteria for your course.
Do I need experience of work and travel?
We understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do work experience or to go travelling so these activities are not a requirement for any of our courses. Tutors won’t be impressed by your connections, or the stamps in your passport, but they will be impressed by how you’ve engaged with your subject.
For example, some of our applicants for Medicine may have had work experience placements in prestigious hospitals but not be able to evaluate their time there. If you have no more experience than some simple voluntary work, or even just discussing medical matters with your friends and family, you can still write an effective personal statement by reflecting critically on what you have learned and discussed.
To give another example, for the History of Art, tutors will not want to hear about all the galleries and exhibitions that you have visited around the world if you cannot discuss the art that you saw. You can come across more effectively in your personal statement by evaluating art you have seen, even if you’ve only seen it online or in books without ever leaving the school library.
Don’t be put off by any friends who you think have more impressive things to say in their personal statements. Remember that tutors do not have a checklist of achievements that they are looking for: they want to see how you have engaged with your subject.
I’m applying to different courses at different universities – how should I write my personal statement?
If you are thinking of applying for completely different courses at different universities (eg Physics and Accounting, or Biology and Music) we’d encourage you to reconsider. It’s important to choose a subject area that you really want to study, and focus on that one area when making your applications. Also, you can only write one personal statement which will be seen by all the universities to which you apply, so it needs to be relevant for all your courses.
If you are thinking of applying for related courses at different universities then we suggest that you avoid using course titles in your personal statement. We recommend that you write about your interest in the general course themes, and how you have engaged with relevant subject areas, so that your personal statement is equally relevant for each of your course choices.
Does my personal statement need to stand out?
Students sometimes feel that they need to say something dramatic to stand out from the crowd and be really memorable in their personal statement but this is not true. Applying to Oxford is not like a talent show where you may only have a few seconds to make an impression. Tutors consider each application carefully on its individual merits, looking for evidence of your commitment and ability. If you use your personal statement to demonstrate your academic abilities and your engagement with your subject or subjects, then your application will be memorable for all the right reasons.
Where should I start?
Think about talking to your friends about what you want to study at university: what would you tell them? What have you read or watched or seen that has inspired you? (This might have been at school, at home, in a museum, on TV, in a book, on YouTube or a podcast or anywhere else.) Why was it interesting? What do you want to find out next? What did you do?
If you find this difficult, it might be time to think about whether or not you’ve really chosen the right course. If you can’t think of anything that has inspired you, this lack of enthusiasm will probably come across in your personal statement, or it will become clear at interview, and you’re unlikely to gain a place at Oxford. If you find it easy to answer these questions, you will have a long list of ideas to help you write your personal statement.
When you start to write, remember not just to list your achievements but show how they have affected you, how you have benefited, and what you’d like to learn next. Be honest about yourself and what has inspired you, whether that’s been text books, museums and literature, or websites, podcasts and blogs. Be sure to tell the truth, as tutors might check later, so don’t exaggerate and certainly don’t make any false claims. Don’t hold back either – this is no time for modesty.
When you've written a first draft, have a look back at the selection criteria for your course and think about the evidence you've given for each of the criteria. Have you covered everything?
How many versions should I write?
Ask a teacher to read through what you’ve written, listen to their feedback and then make any updates that they suggest. You may need two or three tries to get it right. Don’t keep writing and rewriting your statement though, as it is more important to keep up with your school or college work, and to explore your subject with wider reading. (See suggested reading and resources.)
Some dos and don’ts
- DON’T be tempted to make anything up, as you might be asked about it at interview.
- DON’T copy anyone else’s personal statement. UCAS uses plagiarism detection software.
- DON'T list qualifications like your GCSE grades or anything else that's covered elsewhere on the application.
- DON’T just list your other achievements: you need to evaluate them.
- DON'T feel the need to be dramatic in order to be memorable.
- Apply for a course you really want to study.
- Be yourself: tell the truth about your interests.
- Sell yourself: this is not the time for modesty.
- Reread your personal statement before an interview – the tutors will.
- Read the UCAS guidance on personal statements.
Food Science Personal Statement
From a young age I've always wanted to know how and why the things around me work. Science was my favourite subject throughout primary and secondary school, and I still love studying Biology, Chemistry and Psychology at A level. The reason I excel in these subjects is largely because I find them incredibly interesting and I love learning new things. I always knew that I wanted to go to university and study a scientific subject and when a family member described her experiences of studying food science, I knew it would be the perfect course for me.
I've always loved baking and cooking, as a result I often cook for my family. This means I know the importance of the nutritional value, convenience, safety and shelf life of foods. Food Science is relevant to our everyday lives, and that’s what makes it so interesting to me. The food industry is the largest industry in Europe. I'm eager to be a part of this important industry and to help further research in how to produce better quality food. Without research that has already been done, we would all be living a much poorer quality of life. We have to be able to trust the people who produce the things that we eat. To work with food is a huge responsibility. One day, I'd love to be able to see a food product on the shelf of a supermarket and know that I had helped to produce it. Because of this, I want to learn exactly how those working within the food industry ensure the quality of their products and the scientific processes involved.
My interest in science probably stems from other members of my family who also have an enthusiasm. When I was a child, my dad always used to spend long car journeys sharing his knowledge of anything from animals and plants to how a car engine works. He was always willing to answer my many questions and always encouraged me to explain to him anything I had learned at school. My brother and I shared a subscription for the New Scientist magazine before he moved to university. He also lent me books such as "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre, which I enjoyed very much because they made me look at how science is presented in the media in a different way.
For my Extended Project Qualification, I am producing an essay on why many food manufacturers have stopped using artificial food additives, a subject which is vastly important to people who care about what they eat. I will be analysing articles and documentaries on the subject and assessing whether they give an unbiased view of food additives. The EPQ will prepare me for the work I will do at university by requiring me to be organised, and while completing it, I will learn valuable methods of researching and presenting information. I hope it will also help me with my future career by giving me a further knowledge of the food industry.
The people who know me would describe me as very responsible, thoughtful and mature. Outside of school, I am a youth leader at church, a position that means I help organise and participate in weekly activities that can range from playing volleyball to learning how to cross stitch. This has taught me to be versatile, prepared and considerate of the needs of those around me. The adult leaders know that I am someone they can rely upon not only to be at the activities on time and prepared but also to be a good example to the younger girls. Aside from this, I also have to be ready to support the girls I am responsible for if they are having any problems. They can approach me because they know that I am a down to earth person who can give them sensible advice on how to deal with difficulties in any area of their life. Attending early morning classes at 6:30 AM every school day has taught me perseverance and also how to manage my time effectively.
The more I learn about Food Science the more it interests me. After visiting universities on open days and attending tester lectures and demonstrations I’m really looking forward to finding out more about how our food is produced.
Universities Applied to:
- Northumbria (Food Science) - Offer (BCC)
- University of Leeds (Food Science) - Offer (BBB) Firm
- University of Nottingham (Food Science) - Offer (BBC) Insurance
- Coventry (Food Science) - Offer
- University of Reading (Food Science) - They offered me an interview which I rejected.
- Biology (A2) - B
- Psychology (A2) - B
- Chemistry (A2) - C
- General Studies (A2) - GB
Article by TSR User on Thursday 15 February 2018