Teachers' e-guide

Supporting your Oxford Candidates

Female working in library

Writing a Personal Statement

Style and Format

Style:

The style of the personal statement should be personal to the applicant. There is no need for a student to try and be something or someone different in order to stand out from the crowd. For example, attempting to use humour or trying to appear outrageous is not necessarily going to help them stand out in the right way.

As mentioned before, students will need to be prepared to answer questions on their personal statement in the interview, so their choice of language and their ability to define words or statements may be part of this questioning.

The personal statement is part of a formal document, so students need to avoid sounding over-familiar and remember that the quality of their writing reflects the quality of their thinking. Good writing is often concise. Nevertheless, many students worry that they should be using complex language in order to impress an Oxford tutor. It is much more useful for students to use their limited space carefully by putting their point across directly and simply. The UCAS website has some helpful examples of this, click here for further details.

It almost goes without saying that the presentation of the personal statement demonstrates the applicant’s use of English language and grammar and tutors will be looking to see that this is at a standard suitable for entry to Oxford.

Structure:

Oxford tutors, and representatives from many other leading universities, recommend that three quarters of the personal statement should be academic focussed and the remaining quarter may broadly be used for extra-curricular activities. If the applicant knows what they would like to achieve after completing their degree they may like to include a short explanation of this in the academic section of their personal statement.

It is not necessary to go into detailed career plans and students should remember that they are applying for an academically rigorous course so their reasons for wanting to study the subject for three years or more should take precedence. For example, if a candidate is applying for Law, it is more useful for the tutors to find out about their interests to study Law, and specific areas of Law that interest them, rather than how much they want to become a lawyer and work in a particular firm and so on.

If an applicant is applying for a joint course, such as History and English, there is no strict rule on structure but it is important that applicants demonstrate their motivation and interest for both subjects. It is also useful for the applicant to consider the interdisciplinary nature of studying the subjects together and how they may complement each other. Students who have applied for different subject combinations at different universities will find this more challenging; the best advice here is to remind the student that they can usually find five universities offering a similar subject combination or subjects with a compatible concept. PPE, for example, is currently offered at eight other institutions in the UK. The wider context of the subjects the students have applied for and the skills required to study them will be important for students to consider. Using the example of Oriental Studies, the ‘motivation to tackle languages which in most cases will be radically different from languages learnt previously’ is part of the selection criteria and an example of the student’s experience or skills in this area would be useful.