Personal Statements for Further Study | The Careers Service Personal Statements for Further Study – Oxford University Careers Service
Oxford logo
Overview

A personal statement is usually one or two pages long. Guidelines given vary from the simple “Provide evidence in support of your application” to the more common “Tell us why you are interested in the course to which you have applied. Describe your academic interests and reasons for applying to XXX”. For some courses there may be a much more prescriptive and structured approach, which you should follow carefully.

If you are applying to more than one university, each statement will need a slightly different emphasis – do not use the same statement for all applications. 

What will they be looking for?

In your statement, you should demonstrate:

  • Motivation, enthusiasm, and a clear understanding of why you are making the application to this particular course, and to this particular institution.
  • How your academic background and other experiences have shaped your decision to apply and how the course contributes to your plans for the future.
  • Evidence that you have the ability, experience, skills and motivation to successfully contribute to the course, and to complete it.
Structure & content

The opening paragraph sets the framework for the rest of the statement, think of it as your ‘trailer’. This is where you can grab the reader’s attention or lose it… You might start with a powerful anecdote, a brief narrative of your initial inspiration, or a thought-provoking statement linked to your academic interests.

Main body

Within the main body of the essay you should aim to cover:

Why you want to study this topic or field

Is it a natural extension of your current interests? How did you become interested in this area? Why does it continue to fascinate you? What have you done within your degree or outside of your study to fuel this interest? Would the course provide a step towards a longer-term goal?

Why you have chosen this specific course and institution

Are there particular options or modules that interest you? Is there particular expertise in that department? Has access to specific resources such as museum collections, libraries or laboratory equipment been a factor? Has the reputation (through recommendations or other means) of the course inspired you? Are you attracted by opportunities for collaboration or work placements? Have you attended any Open Days or other visits?

How your experience equips you for the course

Consider the subjects you studied at undergraduate level; your relevant skills (technical, language, computing, research methods); independent study or research; prior (relevant) experience; academic awards and other achievements. The focus here is likely to be on your academic suitability for the course, but if you have relevant work experience or extra-curricular activities that provide further evidence of your interest or ability then include them too. Your non-academic achievements might also provide evidence of project management, resilience, effective communication and so on.

Where the course might lead you

You don’t need to have a detailed career plan, but you do need to show how this course fits in with your general aspirations. Are you intending to continue on to a PhD? Do you have a broad interest in contributing to a particular issue or field, e.g. social enterprise, public policy, human rights, sustainability? Or do you have a more specific goal in mind? How will your chosen course help you to achieve your goals?

Closing paragraph

Use your closing paragraph to summarise your application, return to any themes you introduced at the beginning, and to restate your enthusiasm for the course.

Practical advice

Writing effective personal statements takes time. Expect to go through several drafts and ask tutors, peers, careers advisers and others to review your statement before you submit it.

Good English, grammar and spelling are essential. Avoid jargon and make sure it can be understood by non-experts.

Keep the tone positive, fresh and lively in order to convey enthusiasm and make yourself stand out, but remember that this is a document introducing you in a professional capacity.

It’s a good idea to mention relevant individuals whose work has truly inspired you, but avoid name-dropping for the sake of it, and excessive and evidence-free flattery of the institution or the course.

If you refer to any papers or books then reference these correctly in a bibliography at the end of the statement.

Pay attention to any word limits. If none are stated then aim for no more than two sides of A4 or 1000-1500 words.

It is usually possible to apply for multiple courses at a single institution. Many (including Oxford) will require you to complete a separate application form for each course that you wish to apply for.

Research proposals

For PhD and some research Masters applications the personal statement is often accompanied by a research proposal – a document that sets out your research interests and proposed area of study. The detail required in this section varies hugely for different disciplines. For some science subjects it may simply be a list, in order of preference, of the named PhD projects you wish to be considered for. However, for most areas – and especially in the arts, humanities and social sciences – you will need to devote a considerable amount of time to developing your ideas, discussing them with potential supervisors and writing a proposal. Your academic tutors should be able to give you some guidance on writing research proposals, and there is some useful advice from Vitae and from Find a PhD.

Admission essays for US graduate schools

The information in this handout applies also to applications to American universities. However, there are subtle differences in the style and approach to essays aimed at the US context. A statement written for the US is likely to feel more personal; think of it as your academic biography – setting out your inspiration for the academic path you have followed in the past, the present and into the future. The Careers Service runs a workshop on US applications early each Michaelmas Term. The Fulbright Educational Advisory Service also publishes guidelines on completing US applications. US university career services often provide useful advice on writing graduate school admissions essays. See for example: MIT, UC Berkeley, UNC and Yale

Teacher training applications

The UCAS personal statement for postgraduate teacher training is the key part of your application. The question is quite prescriptive, and your focus should be on your motivation for becoming a teacher: particularly how your teaching and other experiences have contributed. Ideally you should also set out how these have helped you to understand the role, and the sort of teacher you aspire to be. The Careers Service runs a workshop on routes into teaching each Michaelmas Term, which includes advice about the application process. For more information, see our webpage on Teaching.

Graduate entry medicine

Applications to graduate entry medicine courses are submitted via UCAS and include a personal statement. Much of the advice in this document also applies to medicine applications, but you are likely to need to place considerable emphasis on the relevant work experience you have gained prior to your application.

See our webpage on Medicine as a Second Degree for further information.

This information was last updated on 18 July 2019.
Loading... Please wait
Recent blogs about Personal Statements for Further Study

Free Practice Resources for Online Recruitment Tests

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on 16/08/2019.

The Careers Service offers free access for matriculated students and alumni to comprehensive training resources for online tests in partnership with JobTestPrepThe JTP suite of advice and practice tests covers pretty much the full spectrum of tests most frequently used by companies, including verbal and numerical reasoning tests, e-tray exercises, and the Watson Glaser tests used extensively by the bigger law firms. JTP also provide banks of tests specifically developed to mirror the tests used by individual named companies. 

You must apply for your Access Code through your Oxford CareerConnect account. Use the Queries tab to send us a request with the title: JobTestPrep Access Code. 

Access Codes are valid for 12 months from the first time that you log in to JTP with the code. If you already have a valid access code from last year, please do not request a new code until the previous code has expired.

A second very extensive set of practice resources is offered to staff and students in partnership with Practice Aptitude Tests. To get started follow the link to the Oxford landing page and create an account using your university email (ending @***.ox.ac.uk).

Full advice on online tests and how best to prepare for them is given in our briefing on Psychometric Tests.

Start-up Visa Endorsement Application – Information Session

Blogged by Brianna Thompson on 15/08/2019.

This information session (with the Student Visa and Immigration Office and Endorsement Panel Chair) is an opportunity to better understand what the endorsement panel at Oxford are looking for, and the process of making your application. We strongly advise anyone thinking of making an application for endorsement to attend.

  • When: 2 September 2019, 9:15-10:00
  • Where: The Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road
  • TO BOOK A PLACE at this discussion contact brianna.thompson@careers.ox.ac.uk with your name and, if applicable, the course and year(s) of study at the University of Oxford.

We are keen to support entrepreneurial activity at all levels and encourage people from any discipline and with any sort of business idea to apply.

More information can be found on our visas page or you can sign up to our Start-up Visa mailing list.

XTX Markets Global Forecasting Challenge – Cash Prizes and Job Opportunities

Posted on behalf of XTX Markets. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on 08/08/2019.

XTX Markets is excited to present the XTX Markets Global Forecasting Challenge, powered by Correlation One! The XTX Markets Global Forecasting Challenge is an online competition for aspiring quantitative professionals, where contestants are tasked to develop a predictive model based on training data.

  • $100K Available in Cash Prizes
  • Exciting job opportunities in London
  • Compete against the best quantitative minds in the world

The competition is open and the deadline for submissions is 30 September 2019.

Find out more and sign-up >>

Start-up Visa Endorsement – apply now!

Blogged by Brianna Thompson on 25/07/2019.

All applications must be emailed to brianna.thompson@careers.ox.ac.uk by Wednesday 18 September at 12 noon.

If you have an idea for a business, have a venture currently in development, or are piloting a new concept, you may be eligible to apply for our endorsement under the Start-up Visa scheme, which allows non-EEA nationals to reside in the UK in order to develop their business.

Previously endorsed businesses have included:

  • Social enterprises and not-for-profits
  • Technology start-ups
  • Funding generation and investment organisations
  • Digital education tools
  • Energy research

The University of Oxford can endorse up to thirty applicants per year. Calls for applications are held four times a year. The next deadline for applications is Wednesday 18 September at 12 noon. Applications are now open, and you can apply by email to brianna.thompson@careers.ox.ac.uk

You can find more information and details of how to apply on our visas information page or on CareerConnect. Alternatively, you can sign up to our Start-up Visa mailing list.

Interviews for shortlisted applicants will take place on Wednesday 2 October at the Careers Service (date and location are subject to change).

Win £100 with the Internship Office Photo Competition!

Blogged by Internship Office on 18/07/2019.

The Oxford University Internship Office Photo Competition is taking place once again in 2019! We are inviting all students who take part in internships facilitated through the Internship Office to submit photos that best represent your internship experience.

Please submit entries for the following categories:

Through an intern’s eyes…

What does your internship look like? Are there images you are seeing each day that would represent your experience in a positive way? Perhaps a snap of your colleagues, your workstation, field trips, events or meetings, appealing views on your way to work, even interesting objects which you associate with your internship. You can be as creative as you like!

You on your internship

We want to see photos of you in your internship environment. This could be a selfie, or you could task someone else to take a picture of you in action on your internship. This could be a posed shot, a journey, an event, meeting or you in your everyday routine on your internship.

Rules and tips

  • To enter the competition, please send your photos by email to internships@careers.ox.ac.uk with the items as file attachments, or using a file transfer service such as WeTransfer or Dropbox. Please state clearly which categories you would like to enter.
  • You may enter five photos for each category (a maximum of 10 photos in total).
  • The winning entries will be decided by a selection panel at the Careers Service.
  • For information on copyright and usage permission, please see the terms and conditions.
  • There will be one prize winner per category, who will each be awarded a high street voucher worth £100.
  • We are looking for photographs that communicate your internship experience in an interesting way. Creativity and imagination will be rewarded!
  • The closing date for this competition is 17:00, Monday 16 September 2019.

And finally, if you need some inspiration, have a look at some of our favourite entries from previous competitions:

2015 Slideshow

2016 Slideshow

2017 Slideshow

This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.