How to Write a Compelling Personal Statement

Summer Boarding Courses pulls on the expertise of fellow Dukes Education company, Oxbridge Applications, on how to write a compelling personal statement. Oxbridge Applications share some key advice to getting started, what to include, what to avoid and how to leave that lasting impression on the tutor…

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is your chance to the give admissions tutors at universities to which you are applying a chance to meet the real you. It should demonstrate your interest in the course, show what you would bring to the university and convince the admissions tutors to offer you a place. You have limited space to express yourself, so every sentence in your personal statement will need to pull its weight. Bear in mind that you can only write one personal statement for all your university choices, so make sure that you are tailoring your statement as much as possible for each of the courses to which you are applying, otherwise your tutors might doubt your commitment to their university and course. One thing’s for certain: you won’t come up with a polished personal statement overnight.  It will take many drafts, a lot of editing and a few late-night flashes of inspiration, but it will all be worth it when those university offers start rolling in. To help you get started, we’ve got a few useful tips to point you in the right direction.

What should you include?

Although it’s called a personal statement, the idea is not just to give the admissions tutors a short history of your life to date. You need to be expressing your academic self, your interest in the subject that you are applying for and your achievements in that area. Your personal statement is a good place to write about:

You should mention your extra-curricular achievements as well, but the amount of space that you dedicate to this section should depend on the university to which you are applying: if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you should keep your extra-curricular activities to a minimum as these universities are focused primarily on your academic achievements.

How do you start?

There are about a million ways of starting your personal statement  and there is no one correct way to begin. Some people start with a quote which encapsulates their interest, others with an anecdote that explains where their curiosity for their subject stems from. Your opening should set the tone for the rest of the personal statement, show your enthusiasm and interest in your subject and introduce the admissions tutor to your personality. Don’t feel like you need to pretend to be someone else in your personal statement; just make sure you are your academic self.  Speak as you would to your headteacher– clearly, maturely, but retaining a sense of who you are.

How do you finish?

Almost as hard as starting is finishing! Your final paragraph doesn’t have to be long – just enough to round off your statement and reiterate your interest and dedication for your subject.  Be careful that you don’t come across as too arrogant or self-assured here; it can be easy after almost 4000 characters of own-trumpet blowing to get a little carried away!

Is there anything to avoid?

Your personal statement is your space to sell your own subject interest. You haven’t got much room, so make sure that you’re not repeating anything that the admissions tutors could find out somewhere else on your application form, such as listing your qualifications or grades, as these go on the form in a different section. You should aim to be positive in your personal statement. This is not the place to attempt to explain a lower predicted grade due to a disagreement with a teacher or the fact that you needed to miss school for an extended period due to illness.  If there is something in this vein that you feel the admissions tutors should know, ask the teacher writing your reference whether he or she could include this in the reference section of your application form. It’s more appropriate for your teacher to bring this to the admissions tutor’s attention and it means you don’t waste space trying to explain yourself – instead you can just dazzle the university with your interests and achievements.

Final advice

It may not be the most exciting activity and after days, weeks and even months of drafting, summoning up the motivation to proofread your statement might be a challenge, but it is absolutely essential! You know that feeling you get when you spot a typo in an article – no matter how insignificant, it lowers your opinion of the content of the piece and the author. Admissions tutors are likely to be sticklers for accuracy, so make sure you get your teachers, friends and parents to proof-read it a couple of times.  One tip is to begin with the last sentence and work your way through your personal statement backwards; it keeps you focused on individual sentences and not the full statement.

Best of luck with your personal statement! Look on it as a challenge, but also a very important opportunity to talk about a fascinating subject – you!

To find help with writing subject-specific personal statements or to find out more about how Oxbridge Applications can help you, please click here.

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