Personal Statement Advice
Writing your UCAS Personal Statement might seem like a daunting task, so we asked some Worcester students if they had any handy hints…
Most of this advice is subject-specific, but lots of it applies to personal statements in general.
Look here for more personal statement advice from the university!
It is great to mention some experiences or opportunities that you have had. However, sometimes this can be seen as ‘name-dropping’, or putting an experience in purely for the sake of it. Yes, do mention some experiences, but explain whether those experiences changed your perception of music and if so, how?
~ Hannah-Louise, Music, 2nd year
My biggest piece of advice for personal statements is to be yourself! Don’t think that you have to be a certain type of musician to be accepted – just show what you are truly passionate about. It is also important, however, that you are able to show this passion by supporting your personal statement with evidence of reading around your subject, completing projects and participating in activities, events, experiences etc.
~ Connie, Music, 2nd year
If you’re planning on taking performance as a module, by all means talk about that in your personal statement, but try and keep it in the extracurricular section (20% max) because you need to show tutors why you’re suitable for an academic course and that you shouldn’t just have applied to a conservatoire. The Oxford course treats music with the same rigour as any other humanity, so make sure you bear that in mind!
~ Hannah, Music, 2nd year
As much as it may seem a good idea to talk about the programs you’ve made, why you got into the subject, computers you’ve built, etc., the course at Oxford is very theoretical. They want to see why you’re interested in studying that side of Computer Science. Have you read a book with an interesting bit of theory in it? Has a video intrigued you about Turing Machines or Cryptography? If so, go and read up on it, and write about what you’ve read. Programming experience is good; pursuing an interest in a theoretical aspect of CS will serve you even better!
~ Freddie, CompSci, 2nd year
Whatever you’ve done that you find interesting in maths that you want to talk about in your personal statement, don’t just list those things. For each thing, explain what knowledge you gained or what skills you learnt, and then link them back to how that relates to your maths. Don’t read or talk about something just because you think you “should” – find the bits of maths you find genuinely fascinating, because then your passion for the subject will come across even more! Not everything has to be explicitly mathematical too – if you have something non-subject-related to that you are really passionate about then put it down! Just make sure to say why you’ve written about it and what you’ve learnt from it that has developed you as a student and as a person! Biggest tip of all: don’t worry!Personal statements can seem so intimidating, especially as it’s the one part of your application over which you have total control, but just remember this is just one thing out of loads of different elements of your application that makes you as a whole, so please don’t be stressed about it! ~ Maddy, Maths, 2nd year
Tell the reader why you like the subject and what you’re looking forward to about your course of undergraduate study. State your ideas plainly, in your own voice, writing in a way that you would naturally speak, and avoid over-flowery vocabulary and complicated sentence constructions, where simpler alternatives will do just as well. In particular, there is no point agonising over the perfect opening line or paragraph, or the catchiest way to end your statement: the admissions tutors for your subjects will not be looking to ‘have their attention grabbed’, nor are they likely to be persuaded by dazzling rhetoric. With a limit of 4000 characters you may as well get directly to the point. You are better off trying to write a first draft on your own without looking at examples found on the internet or elsewhere. The admissions tutors are most interested in your experience of doing and engaging with mathematics, so it is not a good idea, for instance, to tell them what you think mathematics is or why it is important to the world. They are likely to have more informed views of their own on the matter.
You should probably start by brainstorming some of the most obvious questions that an admissions tutor might ask you in person, like ‘What have you enjoyed at A-level?’ or ‘What are you most looking forward to about an undergraduate course in maths?’; then see if you can then think of the less obvious questions: this is tricky, of course, but it is something you need to do for yourself.
The best evidence you can provide for engaging with mathematics should consist of examples that fall within your scope of experience as it currently stands: an interesting mechanics problem you did in class, perhaps, or a knotty problem you encountered on the UKMT mentoring scheme. If you’ve read a book on mathematics, think carefully before you decide to talk about it in your personal statement: there are plenty of books which constitute excellent reading (and we can recommend you some), but it’s probably only worth mentioning if it put you through a rigorous mental workout with end-of-chapter exercises which you attempted for yourself. The very worst thing you can do is to read some mathematical text which you only vaguely understand, then proceed to summarise it in two lines—and in a way which shows you haven’t really got the idea—for the admissions tutor.
[For Computer Science you should try to put something in your personal statement which shows (and doesn’t just state) that you are interested in computing. It isn’t a requirement to have done any coding before, but if you have you should say in detail what you’ve done (something independent, such as a project of your own or teaching yourself a new language, is good); if you haven’t, you do need to say something which explains how you know that you will enjoy the course.]
There isn’t really any harm in telling the admissions tutor that you enjoy things other than mathematics (or computing, as the case may be), but for highly competitive universities such as Oxford, the average position is probably one of indifference, in which case one or two throwaway lines at the end will more than suffice.
~ Amrit, Maths, 2nd year
PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics)
I had the impression before applying that all the people who do PPE would have snazzy work experience with politicians, or were debating champions or won loads of essay competitions. These things of course are good for showing your interest and engagement with PPE, but not everyone has the opportunity to do them. I’d done none of those things, and you don’t need to either. Just engage with some philosophy, politics and economics in your own time, through reading the news (try to read across the political spectrum if you can – broadsheets like The Times/The Guardian, The Economist, and The FT are all good) , reading some introductory philosophy and thinking about what and why you are interested. There’s decent introductory reading lists provided on the faculty websites for those interested, and you can pick out some things on there.
~ PPE student