Nailing An Oxbridge Personal Statement

At the Oxford college I went to (and I believe it happens elsewhere, too), we have a formal meal after we have completed our finals. At this meal, it is traditional for one of the tutors to read out some of the most hilarious bits of the personal statements we submitted to them three years earlier. Although some of us said some pretty embarrassing stuff, the Oxbridge personal statement really isn’t too hard to get right!

Here are some top tips to secure that interview.


  1. Tutors like enthusiasm. Demonstrate academic curiosity through discussion of wider reading you’ve done.

  3. Tutors like originality. Try to imagine what all your rivals might be putting in their personal statements, and think of something a bit different. For instance, if you’re applying for History, talk about something more unusual than EH Carr.

  5. Don’t be too pompous. You might quite like your subject, but you haven’t lived and breathed it since you were in a pram. Your subject isn’t the only thing that matters in the world. Try to be keen and interested in what you want to do without sounding insincere – or insane!

  7. Don’t make claims you can’t back up. Tutors will definitely notice if you’re not fluent in Mandarin when you say you are! If you get an interview, you will almost certainly be asked to discuss parts of the statement, so it is best to know what you’re talking about.

  9. Be opinionated. Tutors like students who think for themselves: the personal statement is a great place to demonstrate you can do this.

  11. But don’t be too opinionated! Dogmatism won’t get you anywhere, and you run the risk of someone important fundamentally disagreeing with you. Intellectual flexibility can be crucial.

  13. Polish it! There is no excuse for spelling or grammar mistakes, factual errors, or being misinformed about the course you’re applying for. Check it, check it again, get someone else to check it, and then check it again.

Don’t forget: this is the first time the tutor will meet you, so it is best to make a good impression!

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