The personal statement is arguably the trickiest part of the postgraduate application process, and it's essential that you get it right
This is your first real chance to sell yourself to the university. It should be unique to you and tailored to the course that you're applying to. You should use it to show off your skills, academic ability and enthusiasm, and demonstrate that the programme will benefit from your attendance as much as you'll benefit from studying it.
How long should my personal statement be?
Usually, it should be one side of A4, equating to around 300-500 words. Some universities require more though, so check the guidelines.
What should I include?
You should discuss your:
- reasons for applying and why you deserve a place above other candidates - discuss your academic interests, career goals and the university and department’s reputation, and write about which aspects of the course you find most appealing, such as modules or work experience opportunities. Show that you're ready for the demands of postgraduate life by demonstrating your passion, knowledge and experience.
- your goals - consider your short-term course aims and long-term career ambitions, relating the two.
- your preparation - address how undergraduate study has prepared you, mentioning your independent work (e.g. dissertation) and topic interests.
- your skillset - you should highlight relevant skills and knowledge that will enable you to make an impact, summarising your abilities in core areas including IT, numeracy, organisation, communication, time management and critical thinking. You can also cover any grades, awards, placements, extra readings or conferences that you've attended
How do I write a good personal statement?
Give yourself plenty of time to complete your personal statement. Tutors will be able to tell if you're bluffing, and showing yourself up as uninformed could be costly. Before you start, read the rules and guidelines provided, check the selection criteria and research the course and institution.
You should structure your personal statement so that it has a clear introduction, main body and conclusion. Capture the reader's attention with enthusiasm and personality at the outset, before going into more detail about your skills, knowledge and experience. Around half of the main body should focus on you and your interests, and the other half on the course. Finally, summarise why you're the ideal candidate.
Be sure to address any clear weaknesses, such as lower-than-expected module performance or gaps in your education history. The university will want to know about these things, so explain them with a positive spin. Lower-than-expected results may be caused by illness, for example. Admit this, but mention that you've done extra reading to catch up and want to improve in this area.
Continue drafting and redrafting your statement until you're happy, then ask a friend, family member or careers adviser to read it. Your spelling and grammar must be perfect, as the personal statement acts as a test of your written communication ability. Memorise what you've written before any interviews.
What do admissions tutors look for?
Admissions tutors will be looking for:
- an explanation of how the course links your past and future;
- an insight into your academic and non-academic abilities, and how they'll fit with the course;
- evidence of your skills, commitment and enthusiasm;
- knowledge of the institution's area of expertise;
- reasons why you want to study at the institution;
- you to express your interest in the subject, perhaps including some academic references or readings.
What do I need to avoid?
- be negative
- follow an online template
- include irrelevant course modules, personal facts or extracurricular activities
- include other people's quotes
- lie or exaggerate
- make pleading statements
- namedrop key authors without explanation
- needlessly flatter the organisation that you're applying to
- repeat information found in your application
- use clichés, gimmicks, humour or Americanisms
- use overly long sentences
- use the same statement for each application
- use your undergraduate UCAS application as a template
Example personal statements
The style and content of your personal statement will depend on several variables, such as the type of qualification that you're applying for - such as a Masters degree, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or teacher training. Here are four examples to help you get started:
LPC personal statement
Although CABs, the centralised applications system, allows space for up to 10,000 characters in length, many law schools aren't expecting students to fill this space. It's therefore important not to unnecessarily pad out your personal statement with irrelevant detail. Students apply to three courses ranked in order of preference, so your personal statement must reflect this. Discover more about the Legal Practice Course.
Psychology personal statement
Applications for conversion courses such as these are fairly straightforward and made directly to individual institutions. You need to explain why you want to change subjects and how your current subject will help you. Explain what experience you have that will help you with your conversion subject, and what you hope to do in the future.
Personal statement for PGCE primary
This is your chance to explain why you want to teach primary age children and convey your enthusiasm for teaching. You need to back everything up with examples from your classroom experience, reflecting on what you did, how this made a difference and what you learned about teaching and learning within Key Stages 1 and 2. Find out more about applying for teacher training.
PGCE secondary personal statement
If you want to teach children aged 11 and over you'll need to apply through UCAS Teacher Training (UTT). The UTT teacher training application process includes a single personal statement, whatever route(s) you're applying for. You should tailor your personal statement to reflect the specific requirements of secondary level teaching. Learn more about applying for teacher training.
Find out more
Written by Editor
Prospects · June 2016
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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.