Writing your personal statement

Advice from Oxford students on how to approach your personal statement for grad applications.

Reading room in Oriel College | Photograph by Vinesh Maguire-Rajpaul (DPhil Astrophysics)
Our masters’ students talk personal statements, colleges and their Oxford experiences in our video on applying for masters’ courses

1. Before you start

“The academic work is the most important reason why we’re here, but that also translates into work experiences, internships, volunteering. I think a big part of the personal statement is crafting that narrative of academic self that fits alongside your professional experiences, to give that greater picture of who you are as an academic.”

“I think a big part of the personal statement is crafting that narrative of academic self” | Lauren (MSc Modern Middle Eastern Studies)

Presenting yourself

“When I was writing my personal statement, I went onto my course website. I looked at what they emphasised and what kind of students they were looking for, and I wrote about my experiences based on that.”

Get to know your department

“I said, ‘why do I actually want to be here? What is it about being at Oxford that’s going to get me to what I want to do?’”

Talk it out

“I spent a lot of time talking out loud. My written process was actually very vocal, so I did a lot of talking about myself in my room.”

2. The writing process

A course page for MSt English (1550–1700), with the ‘How to Apply’ tab selected.
If you need a personal statement to apply, you’ll find instructions for this on the ‘How to Apply’ tab of your course page.

Know your format

Don’t panic!

“I found it really, really difficult to start mine. I think I was really scared that, if I started it, my idea would fall apart. That’s the hardest bit.”

“First — write down anything and everything. In the first round, I was just dumping everything — whatever I’ve done, anything close to computer science, that was on my personal statement.”

  • areas of the course at Oxford that are the most interesting to you
  • which areas you’ve already studied or had some experience in
  • what you hope to use your Oxford course experience for afterwards.
Don’t be intimidated by the blank page — look at what your Oxford department wants, to give you a rough length and structure, and then focus on getting some words down | Kayla (MSc Clinical Embryology) and Mayur (MSc Computer Science)

3. Finishing up

“I had them look over it to see if they could find any places to strengthen it, or any cracks that they would want repaired before it got sent in.”

“Because they’re the first people to say, ‘Who is that person?’ You want the people around you to recognise that it really sounds like you. It can be scary telling family and friends you’re applying for Oxford, because it makes it real, but be brave enough to share it and get feedback on it.”

Finally — be yourself (you’re the only one who can)

“Don’t fake it. Be as you as possible, and bring out the best in you.”

Want more? Listen to our masters’ students talk personal statements, colleges and their Oxford experiences in our video on applying for masters’ courses.

Get moving on your application today

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Advice and guidance from staff and students on applying to the University of Oxford.

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A perspective on masters’, DPhil (PhD) and other graduate courses from Graduate Admissions at the University of Oxford