The perfect personal statement (also known as the ‘section 10’) is the holy grail of the quest for Oxbridge entry. Often spoken of in hushed, mysterious tones and surrounded by conflicting myths and theories, it can be a daunting prospect for any applicant. Different ideas and advice about what to put in, what to leave out and what style to write in can leave your head spinning, so follow our simple, no-nonsense tips to guaranteed personal statement success.

  1. Focus on academia. The main aim of the statement is to show you are right for the academic course you want to study, so devote at least two-thirds of the statement to describing your academic achievements and how your A-level subjects have stimulated you.
  2. Be specific. Don’t just waffle about vague reasons for wanting to study your chosen subject (“I want to help people” is a famous lead balloon!) Give specific, interesting reasons for your choice and what fascinates you about the subject, as well as mentioning particular areas you are especially looking forward to studying.
  3. Influence your interview. Your interviewer will almost certainly pick up on specific topics and texts you mention in the personal statement, so be sure to refer directly to those areas where you feel the most confident you can shine under questioning. Mention a text you can discuss in depth and detail, or a topic where you feel you will excel.
  4. Be prepared. Whatever you do don’t mention a book you haven’t actually read – it’s guaranteed to come back to haunt you later on!
  5. Keep it personal…but not too personal. The admissions tutors want to get a sense of who you are, so don’t be afraid to include anecdotes about what originally attracted you to the subject, or experiences you have had whilst studying. But don’t try to make personal jokes or be too funny or witty – sticking to a formal tone is advised.
  6. Extra-curricular activities. Showing a range of interests and activities is important to demonstrate that you are sociable and well-rounded – include any sports, debating, music, dramatic or artistic hobbies. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate just a little; “represented the school at hockey” sounds much better than “reserve goalkeeper for the C’s”).
  7. Demonstrate responsibility. Mentioning a position as prefect, monitor, librarian, house captain or similar shows you’re able to be part of a team and interact well with others.
  8. Outline your qualities. When mentioning activities and hobbies, explain what they say about you as a person or what you have learned from them. “Playing the violin really taught me how to manage my time effectively,” kills two birds with one stone.
  9. Ask for help. Asking teachers and friends what they see as your best qualities and talents may help you to think of a whole new way to present yourself!
  10. Check it through. Twice. Then check it again. Spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes in a personal statement are one of the most common reasons for admissions tutors to reject an applicant without interview. This is your one chance to sell yourself – don’t let your presentation sabotage your chances.