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Friday, 15 September 2017


Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The secret of a good personal statement lies in the rewrite(s).  Creating your perfect academic selfie is a slow process, so don't even think of leaving version one for October. It will probably take  three or more drafts to convincingly show your abilities, as well as your interest in your future course.  Best not to rush it.  

One way to start is by stating what made you aware of an intriguing aspect of the course. Was it a lesson, a book, a school research project, an excursion, a talk or some TV programme?  How are you trying to learn more about it? Is there a science book, poetry collection or article on British history written for adult readers you have enjoyed? What you want to show here is that you are capable of intellectual activity beyond or  independent of school requirements. 

Next, you might want to mention some non-academic extracurriculars.  Have they taught you any skills useful for your course? Do they suggest particular strengths or character traits?  Also, are there any prizes you have won or  disadvantages overcome? Don't worry about length in the first draft. You can cut, paste and edit later.

Keeping the above points in mind will allow you to progress smoothly or at least keep panic at bay. It will also help admissions tutors to fairly assess your suitability for the course. Before you proceed to the final draft, though, make sure you have avoided the most common pitfalls:

1. Not making sure you have the right A-level subjects for your course: there are rigid subject rules when it comes to some Oxbridge courses, while others, including Law, accept quite a wide range. Unless you read the entry requirements first, you may be throwing away one of your four or five UCAS choices. 
2. Not bothering to read the full course description in the university prospectus: before mentioning a subject-related aspect you are particularly keen on (such as medieval studies), make sure it is actually offered in conjunction with the course you picked. At Oxbridge,  this would  probably be History or Archaeology.  Getting this wrong may count as laziness.

3. Thinking about your degree subject only in the context of your future career: far too many Oxbridge applicants write that they chose Economics because they are "hoping for a career in finance”. What admissions tutors want to know is which course-related financial, social or mathematical problems are of interest to you and how you are already exploring them.

4. Overdoing the extracurriculars: you just want to show that you are organised enough to keep up with two or three activities alongside your studies. It would be nice if one of these was also vaguely relevant to your course, has offered you some great insight or given you useful skills. Merely listing five different activities is pointless.

5. Being too impersonal in your UCAS statement: admissions tutors want to know about you as an individual. By mentioning personal strengths, concerns, achievements or life experiences you may become more convincing, as well as more memorable. 

7    6. Sloppy writing: there is no need for formal language, but applicants are expected to use proper subject terms. Also, your statement must be grammatically correct and without spelling mistakes. So, don't just rely on the spell checker.

7. Asking a well-educated relative or family friend to write your statement for you:  any admissions tutor can tell the writings of a middle-aged graduate from those of a sixth former. Also, the type of student Oxbridge seeks has considerably changed over the years!

Still unsure how to make a strong, memorable application? For more detailed and  course-specific advice, read OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE: THE REAL RULES.

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