Teachers' e-guide

Supporting your Oxford Candidates

Female working in library

Writing a Personal Statement

What don’t Oxford tutors look for?

The University picks the best and brightest students purely on their academic merit and potential for their chosen course. Some institutions may be looking for ‘rounded’ students who are successful across a broad range of both academic and extra-curricular activities. It is important to reassure candidates who have preconceptions that Oxford expects applicants to excel in all aspects at school or college that all our admissions decisions are based on academic criteria, and excellence in an extra-curricular activity will not compensate for lower academic potential. 

Those students who live and breathe their subject will be able to write a full personal statement concentrating on their chosen course and why this particularly motivates them. Those students who do many things beyond their academic subjects and feel unsure which activities to include need to focus on linking their extra-curricular activities to their proposed course of study as much as possible. For example, a student who plays a musical instrument and is applying for Engineering may wish to expand on the engineering acoustics behind their violin. The key point is for students to turn a shopping list of additional activities into demonstrable skills which link to their own interests in the course they have applied to.

Tutors are more than aware that differences in applicants’ social, cultural, geographical and economic backgrounds are likely to affect their opportunities to engage in their subject beyond the school curriculum. No emphasis is placed on whether an applicant has travelled abroad or attended a particular event or exhibition to strengthen their subject knowledge. In the same way that work experience is not expected, tutors are looking for applicants to engage critically with the opportunities they have had at school or college and beyond. Dr Helen Swift, Tutor of Medieval French, is less interested in whether an applicant has visited France recently and more concerned to find out about the section on reading Molière and Voltaire in the applicant’s statement.

Details of mitigating circumstances do not need to be included in the personal statement. The UCAS reference is often the best place to share this information.