Admissions and Outreach Blog

Striking the balance: making a very personal statement

by Dan Pugh-Bevan on Jul 14, 2018

Personal Statements: the phrase that at this time of year can sink the hearts of many sixth formers. Being asked to summarise your academic profile in 4000 characters (including spaces) is a daunting task. So I would like to offer some advice: 

1. Research course content (and that of related courses) using the 2019 Undergraduate Prospectus – does the course content on the right hand page really match your academic interests?

2. Take note of the statistics for interview/’successful’ on the left hand page of your selected course.

3. Identify whether there are any attributes that academics are looking for in successful applicants.

4. Match your own experiences from your academic life to the attributes you have identified. 

5. Turn your attribute-matching list into prose. Follow ‘PEE’ – Point, Evidence, Explain to ensure you are fleshing your personal statement out according to examples of your experiences and, crucially, what you have learned.

6. Most (65% to 80%) of your written statement should discuss your academic interests, attributes and experience.

7. That leaves space for you to talk about other things that you think universities should know about. At Oxford this section may not inform of our admissions decisions, but other universities may use this information when considering your application.


  • Quotes use up characters that aren’t your own words. They are also difficult to make work structurally in a short personal statement.
  • Don’t lie or exaggerate. You could be questioned in an interview about anything you write in a personal statement.


  • We want to know about your academic interests – saturate your personal statement with strong evidence of these.
  • ‘Wider reading’ means anything beyond school that has engaged you academically. It could be academic texts, ‘TED’ talks, lectures, radio programmes, television programmes, newspaper comment sections etc…
  • The Oxford ‘Very Short Introduction’ series can be a useful starting point for wider reading.
  • Try out some texts on the first year reading lists.
  • UCAS displays your personal statement as an unattractive blob of text without paragraph breaks. Make sure your writing style exhibits good linguistic ‘signposting’ to overcome the subsequent lack of paragraphing or indentation.
  • Try NOT to be one of these people.  
It is important to remember that there are several different elements that inform our admissions decisions. The personal statement is just one part of a much bigger whole. Please don’t allow the personal statement to overtake your life: strike a balance between writing a strong introduction to your academic personality, and preparing for the admissions tests and interviews.
More on those soon!

Farewell from the Project Administrator

by Marianne Talbot on Apr 11, 2018

Welcome to my last update as Project Administrator.
My year of leading the project is almost up, and it has flown by. I leave St Peter’s knowing that the project has got off to a really good start, with nine schools working with their mentors to reignite teachers’ passions for their subjects and enhance their knowledge and understanding of admissions at Oxford.
When I set the project up in Spring 2017, I thought it would be tricky to recruit schools – teachers are amongst the busiest people on the planet after all. However, I was pleasantly surprised that we had more applications than places, but of course then we had to make some tough decisions about which schools we should select.
We tried to choose schools that had the most to gain from working with the college, both in terms of improving their knowledge and understanding of the admissions process and life as a St Peter’s undergraduate, and in terms of teachers’ own subject knowledge, enthusiasm and capacity to benefit.
From feedback so far, it is obvious that the project is having a positive impact in all our ambassador schools – on the teachers, on their students, and on the school more generally:
  • I have recognised students with the potential to study at Oxford and have had positive discussions with them about working toward this goal
  • It has been an invaluable and enriching experience. It also reminds me why I love teaching as I enjoy sharing the information with students
  • After my first 2 sessions I acquired a greater depth of understanding in my chosen area. This has informed my teaching and I have delivered my topic more successfully to students than last year
  • The project provides a framework in which to plan and ensures that it remains at the forefront of priorities in what is a busy work schedule. It allows the member of staff a platform in which to talk to other colleagues and to address students on this matter
  • The event has raised the profile of Oxbridge - students are talking about trying for Oxford
It is also having a positive effect on St Peter’s academics who are mentoring the teachers:
  • It’s great to see how the things we’re discussing in our meetings can directly translate to discussions and work in the classroom
  • I sense that it is a big ask for [the ambassador] to read a couple of plays on top of contextual material on top of a full time job!
  • The sessions have been much more interactive and engaging [than expected]
We are of course looking to get more suitably qualified students to apply to Oxford, and St Peter’s in particular, not least from students with under-privileged backgrounds. This project builds on the original aim of the college to provide a low-cost Oxford education for promising students of limited means. It was wonderful to meet the ambassador teachers and senior leaders at the launch event in September, and I look forward to the 2018 application cycle with cautious optimism, to see if application numbers (and offers) start to increase.
The recruitment of Year Two ambassador teachers plus a few additional schools to join the second year of the project is getting underway, so watch out for future blogs announcing the new participants.
As I depart, I am handing over the day-to-day management of the project to Daniel Pugh-Bevan, Schools Liaison Officer, who can be contacted via
Thanks to everyone at St Peter’s, and especially to all the mentors and ambassador teachers, for making my year here so enjoyable and productive. I look forward to seeing all the participants at the end-of-year exhibition and celebratory barbecue in June!

This project has completed its first full term of operation, and stories about it have appeared in press local to several ambassador schools (the Bournemouth Echo, Lynn News, Eastern Daily Press, and the Hertfordshire Mercury), as well as nationally in Schools Week and in the Oxford Mail.

The project was mentioned in the Vice-Chancellor’s Oration in October 2017:

“St Peter’s is launching a new initiative linking the college with nine secondary schools focused on providing professional development to teachers and educating them about the University admissions process.”

Dr Marina MacKay conducts a mock interview with a current St Peter's student

Several stories have been posted on the St Peter’s website and on the university website. The ambassador schools have also published stories on their own websites.

We wanted to share a few key facts:

  • Seventeen members of staff from the nine ambassador schools attended the launch event on 22 September.
  • Thirteen members of staff stayed overnight in college, to get a better feel for the undergraduate experience, including breakfast.
  • Eight academic mentors attended the launch event, and the ninth has since visited the ambassador school to meet with the ambassador teacher and a group of students.
  • Numerous academic mentoring sessions have taken place, face-to-face and via Skype.
  • Baseline data has been collected from telephone interviews with all nine ambassador teachers, and launch event feedback from all 17 school-based participants.

It has been great getting to know our ambassador schools a little better, hear what they already know about the college, and find out what they want to know more about. For example, with a couple of exceptions, they initially had very limited knowledge of St Peter’s College specifically – something that is no longer the case. They had varying levels of confidence about their students’ ability to fit in socially at Oxford and cope academically as an undergraduate here, although one summarised thus:  St Peter’s is a “small and friendly college – less daunting”. 

The ambassador teachers worry about their students having the initial confidence to apply and/or performing well in interviews – other potential barriers we are working hard to remove.

But what has perhaps been most interesting has been hearing about the wide variety of ways the ambassador teachers work so hard to inspire their students to academic excellence. A few examples are:

  • holding debates
  • exposing their students to academic heavyweights
  • encouraging questions
  • never take anything for granted
  • telling extracurricular stories…

The feedback from the launch event was very positive, with all sessions being well-received, especially the mock interview carried out by a St Peter’s teaching fellow with a current undergraduate. Participants also found attending the evening dinner and having the opportunity to meet college staff especially useful.

We are hoping to be able to expand the number of schools involved from September 2018. For more information, or to join the waiting list to apply to join the project, please email Daniel Pugh-Bevan at or Marianne Talbot at