Personal Statement Guide Questions For A Book

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.

 DO:

  • 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.

The personal statement is an important part of the UCAS application. It's your chance to describe your ambitions, skills, and experience.

Our personal statement tool

You can write up to 4,000 characters of text that show you’d make a great student – so it might take a few redrafts until you’re happy with it.

This tool will help you think about what to include in your personal statement, and how to structure it. It also counts how many characters you’ve used, so it’s easy to see when you’re close to that 4,000 character limit.

Write your personal statement now


  • Course descriptions mention the qualities, skills and experience it’s useful to have for each subject – take note of these to help you decide what to write about.
  • Remember it’s the same personal statement for all the courses you apply to, so avoid mentioning unis and colleges by name. Most students choose similar subjects, but if you’ve chosen a variety, just write about common themes – like problem solving or creativity.
  • If you've got a question about writing your personal statement, don't worry you're not alone. Check out our blogs:

What to write about

  1. Why you are applying – your ambitions and what interests you about the subject, course providers and higher education.
  2. What makes you suitable – any relevant skills, experience or achievements gained from education, work or other activities.
  • Extracurricular activities

    These are great ways to prepare for higher education.

    If you do or have done any of these before, they could be ideal things to mention in your personal statement. Or you might be able to organise or start a new activity before you send your application.

  • International and EU students

    As an international student there are a few extra things you should mention.

    1. Why you want to study in the UK
    2. Your English language skills and any English courses or tests you’ve taken
    3. Why you want to be an international student rather than study in your own country
  • Mature students

    Here’s where you can mention any alternative entry requirements you’ve used – like an Access course or APL – demonstrating the skills and knowledge you’ve gained through your previous experiences.


How to write it

Feel free to use our personal statement mind map and personal statement worksheet for planning your personal statement.

There’s no definite formula to follow – just take your time and follow these guidelines.

  • Structure your info to reflect the skills and qualities the universities and colleges value most.
  • Write in an enthusiastic, concise and natural style – nothing too complex.
  • Try to stand out, but be careful with humour, quotes or anything unusual – just in case the admissions tutor doesn’t have the same sense of humour as you.
  • Proofread aloud and get your teachers, advisers, and family to check – then redraft until you’re happy with it and the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct.

We recommend you write your personal statement first, and then copy and paste it into your online application when you’re done.

Check the 4,000 character and 47 line limits though – some word processors get different values if they don’t count tabs and paragraph spacing as individual characters.

When you do add it to your application, save it regularly as it times out after 35 minutes of inactivity.

Applying for Teacher Education in Scotland?

If you're applying to study Teacher Education in Scotland, you'll need to make your application through the UCAS Undergraduate scheme. Read dedicated personal statement advice from Scottish training providers about what to include in your personal statement.


  • European characters and other languages

    You can use some ​European characters in your personal details, personal statement, employment and referee details. Some of these will be substituted with UK equivalent characters. Check our Extended character sets substitutions​ for more details.

    It’s not possible to apply in an alternative language, unless you’re applying to Welsh course providers and you’d like to make your application entirely in Welsh.

    1. To register in Welsh, when you go to the application service ‘Apply’, you can select ‘Cymraeg’.
    2. When you’re logged in to your application you can change the language to English or Welsh on the ‘Options’ page.
    3. The help text in Apply is available in Welsh too.
    4. In Apply you can choose to receive correspondence from course providers and from us in Welsh.

    Sut i ymgeisio

  • What happens to personal statements that have been copied?

    We screen all personal statements across Copycatch our Similarity Detection system – so make sure your personal statement is all your own work. Don’t copy from anyone else or from the internet and don't share your personal statement with other applicants.

    If we find any similarity in your personal statement, your application will be flagged. Then we’ll email an alert to you and your university or college choices and this could have serious consequences for your application.

  • Want to say more?

    You can only submit one personal statement – the same one for all the courses you apply to – and you can’t change it after your application has been submitted.

    If you want to send any more information you can ask your university and college choices if they’ll accept further details.

    • If they agree, you should send it to them, rather than us.
    • After we receive your application, we’ll send you a welcome email that includes your Personal ID – quote your Personal ID along with the further information you send to the unis and colleges, so they can link it to your UCAS application.

 


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