Your personal statement for Oxford or Cambridge is just one aspect of one of the most rigorous university applications in the world. You need to clearly articulate why you have elected to apply to your chosen course, what skills you have that make you an ideal candidate, and how your work experience and extracurricular activities will help you succeed during your degree. The key to succeeding at this stage is to make yourself stand out against the thousands of other applicants. This could be through highlighting the personal motivations that you have for applying, or putting an interesting and unusual take on why you are so interested about your chosen subject. Admissions tutors have to read hundreds of applications and will often make up their minds during the first few lines of your statement so it is crucial to make sure that you sit down and think about how you start your statement before writing.
There is no ‘best way’ to write a statement, different applicants have varying experiences and reasons for applying. This means that statements will look and read differently. Start by thinking why it is that you want to apply, don’t worry about clichés at this moment, just try to get down on paper the key reasons why you feel the course is for you. As I’ve already mentioned, this is your chance to differentiate yourself from others, so think about this carefully and make sure you write something that is personal to you and not something that you feel the admissions tutor would want to hear as they will pick up on this during the interview.
Sit and think about the real reason why you want to apply to this course. Was there a moment in your life where you appreciate the work that someone in the profession did, is this different to what someone else would write? Think specifics, the more detailed you can be at this stage, the more you can differentiate yourself from the competition. Can you write about a key aspect of the profession or your future career that relates specifically to an element of the course? This could relate to a module or class that you could take and that would teach you skills and knowledge that you could apply in the future. This opening statement should then be the overarching theme of your statement, you should be able to easily refer back to it and it will give your statement a real sense of consistency.
This should lead clearly on from your opening lines. You should carry the theme from your opening statement through and ensure that it is reflected. It’s easy at this stage to ‘dump’ all the knowledge that you have regarding your subject and the course, you need to refrain from dumping too much information here. It’s far better to have fewer points in this section, but articulate them clearly and succinctly, relating the points back to your opening lines and ensuring that your reasons and skills remain consistent. Feel free to refer to readings at this stage, but try to make sure that you don’t describe what you have read. Summarise the key point and the way in which it relates back to the point. Demonstrate that you understand the key point of the reading, and expect that this will be followed up in interview. You cannot be expected to write mini-essays in your statement – so don’t try to!
It is important to note at this stage that alongside you demonstrating why you love your course you need to demonstrate that you are ‘teachable’ and that you will suit the learning environment of an Oxbridge degree. This is an important marking criteria of the statement as the teaching style used at these institutions is both rigorous and challenging, demonstrating that you can function in situations such as these will certainly stand you in good stead.
After having demonstrated your reasons for applying to the course, you need to highlight how your academic experiences to date have set you up for success in your chosen degree, and also highlight any topics that you have both enjoyed studying and look forward to studying further at university. Admissions tutors do not expect you to critically analyse every topic or subject that you have found interesting. It is far better if you can ‘cherry pick’ memorable topics and briefly explain their relevance as opposed to writing less about several topics. You need to make sure that whatever topic you chose is both relevant to your chosen degree, and that you demonstrate that you have gone away and thought/analysed the subject further. This is a great opportunity for you to bring in any extra reading that you may have done. As mentioned previously, do ensure that you don’t spend time describing what has been said. Just mention a key point, perhaps acknowledging a limitation, and then move on. Do expect to have this picked up during your interview, however.
Now is the time that you may find helpful to bring in any experience that you have in the field. Have you done any work experience? What did you learn? Can it be applied to your degree? What key skills did you come away with? Do remember that tutors don’t expect you to have started your own business or spend months working in a hospital abroad. If you have experience specifically in your chosen field then that’s very helpful, make sure that you demonstrate what you learned and link it to your course. If not, not to worry, try to think about what skills you may need during your degree or future career and then think about what experiences you have had that allowed you to demonstrate these skills. Try to apply them specifically to your degree, avoid making generic statements about being a good team player or good at communicating. Instead, you should focus in on how these skills can be applied to your degree.
You can also bring in extra curricular activities here, what have these taught you and how will this help you. It is important to note that the onus is on you to link these to your degree. It is imperative that when making a statement, you ask yourself “what is this adding to my statement?”. If the answer is nothing, or that it just tells the tutor what you have done then you need to rethink your point. Every point you make needs to link back to your degree and your motivation for applying.
Do not underestimate this final section. This is the last chance you get to make sure that the admissions tutor remembers you. Make sure that you tie everything together in a concise manner, briefly summarise what you have covered and why you are confident you have the skills needed to succeed during your degree. Don’t introduce anything new, just neatly tie up the points you have made so the tutor comes away feeling that they have read a well planned, concise and direct statement.
The admissions tests that you will need to take will give you a chance to experience the type of academic problem solving and critical thinking that you will experience at university. These tests are designed to assess your mental aptitude and as such, you will not benefit a huge amount from multiple practices. By all means, get a feel for what they might look like, but focus more on developing your general knowledge and problem solving skills as these will help you get through.
When submitting an essay, you don’t necessarily need to go for the one you got the best mark for. You will certainly have to discuss this essay during your interview so make sure it is one that discusses a subject you are both passionate about, and one that you are confident you can talk knowledgably about. It will impress tutors more if you can demonstrate that you learned from the experience, and that you found writing and researching the essay fascinating.
The Oxbridge interviews are extremely demanding, and designed to test you and give you the chance to demonstrate your ability to work under pressure. You will be asked questions that relate to your chosen subject, be prepared to think abstractly and in a way that demonstrated that you can practically apply the knowledge you have taken away from school. List all the questions you think they could ask and make sure you have an answer for them. Don’t worry too much if you a thrown by a question, this is perfectly acceptable and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet – a key skill that they want you to demonstrate. Remember, be personable and try to come across as best you can, they want to find out about you and test your skills. If you get given the chance to ask questions, make sure that you ask ones that demonstrate your mental aptitude, use them as an opportunity to create dialogue and to show the tutors that you have thought about what they might know and how it interests you.