Downing Outreach Blog

Personal Statements

5 Sep 2017 | Jess Lister | Uncategorised

A personal statement is a 4000 character piece of writing that is key for university applications. In preparation for the 2018 admissions deadline on the 15th October, we’ve put together our top tips and advice in the first of a series of posts about the Cambridge admissions process


Writing a personal statement can be a daunting task – and it can be difficult to find the relevant guidance and information. We’ve collated our personal statement information regarding applying for Cambridge into the three headings below. The content is adapted from the ‘Cambridge Explained’ power points delivered at our outreach events.

1: How are they used? 

Personal statements are used as part of the Cambridge admissions process for the following reasons:

  • To confirm the appropriateness of the chosen subject.
  • To confirm your commitment and organisation.
  • As a starting point for discussions at interview.
  • To find out about:
    • Subject focus
    • Reading and other wider subject exploration
    • Relevant work experience
    • Extra curricular activities

This means that your personal statement should be focused on why you are a suitable candidate for your chosen course, as well as highlighting the key skills that will make you a successful university student. Any wider reading or subject experience mentioned could be brought up in your interview- so make sure it’s content you’re comfortable with (and have actually read!).

2: What should I include? 

You only have 4000 character (or 47 lines) which works out at around 500-600 words. It should therefore be concise and to the point – cut out any flowery language or unnecessary detail.

Remember that it’s a chance to tell universities why you want to study your chosen subject, as well as why you would be good at it. It should therefore include evidence that you have:

  • Academic ability and potential
  • Motivation and suitability for a chosen course
  • Commitment and self discipline

3: What makes a successful personal statement?

The best personal statements are specific. It’s better to discuss fewer interests in depth, than simply list a range of extra reading and achievements. Think about what you’ve learnt, what you think, and any links between topics.

They should be 75-80% subject based. Extra curricular information should be condensed into a closing paragraph and linked to relevant wider skills.

Our 3 top tips:

  1. Keep a log of any super-curricular extra reading, podcasts, or subject exploration as you do it.
  2. Start early so you have enough time to edit ( and spellcheck!)
  3. Get teachers, friends, parents and/or pets to read it – but remember it should be your own personal work.

Remember you can visit our resources page for inspiration!

Our top personal statement tips

Jess Lister

Former history student at Emmanuel College, and Downing College Schools Liaison Officer My role involves organising outreach work primarily in the South West, advising both students and teachers in all things related to Cambridge and Higher Education more generally