Oxford Personal Statement Geography Questions

Geography is the study of the world, and as geographers we hold the keys to the world’s problems. Geography encompasses many things from natural disasters, eco-systems, to globalisation and development, all of which are areas which fascinate me. It is essential for deciphering and solving the issues that the world is faced with, and by furthering my geographical knowledge, it will enhance my ability to tackle the imminent problems such as overpopulation.

My studies have inspired me to further my knowledge. I am a member of the Royal Geographical Society and a regular attendee of their lectures. Sir Crispin Tickell's talk on the human future and his Malthusian view fascinated me, as it couples my passion for food with Geography. Due to this I have focused my Extended Project Qualification on agricultural sustainability. My research has led me to look into agricultural processes, destruction of ecosystems, and questions related to pesticide usage. Reading Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' highlighted the impacts of pesticides, because diseases such as cancer and Down syndrome are linked with their overuse. As part of my wider research I enjoyed reading periodicals such as The Geographical Review, The Economist, The Guardian and the Geographical. An article from the Geographical investigating how sustainable agriculture is implemented in low income countries intrigued me. A method used was vermicomposting, a procedure which allows farmers to create compost from waste. This is cost efficient and sustainable, demonstrating alternatives to current farming techniques.

I have been involved in a range of aspects in my fieldwork, from constructing the trip to the establishment of the initial hypotheses. These trips have enabled me to reinforce my geographical skills, particularly in relation to interpreting and analysing information and data. I was able to see the cross-curricular links my world cities unit had, consolidating my Economics and History knowledge, allowing me to understand how cities develop historically and their wider significance to the world economy.

In addition to my studies, I have taken advantage of numerous opportunities to refine my skills. At my internships at KPMG, Fidelity Worldwide Investments, and Ernst and Young, I assisted in the completion of reports and proposals under strict deadlines, whilst also presenting at partner meetings. Also, I have raised over £3,500 for various charities and completed my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. This has allowed me to apply both my navigation and map reading skills learnt in class to navigate the planned route for the expedition.

Furthermore, I was selected to represent the UK in the International Space Design Competition at the Johnston Space Centre in Texas. Competing with Argentine, American and British students, I was elected president of the international team. During the competition I was able to apply all the skills I had learnt in my extra-curricular activities. We produced an in-depth proposal, detailing everything about our space settlement, from the logistics of building and transporting resources into space, to the costing of the whole structure; all in an attempt to win the contract in just forty-eight hours.

Geography is constantly evolving and relevant. This drives my passion for the subject; I believe that the skills I have attained through my outgoing nature alongside my passion for the subject make me a valued addition to your institution. I am sociable, ambitious and academically able, but most importantly dedicated.

People sometimes think that there is a trick to writing a personal statement for Oxford, or that we are looking for some special secret formula, but this is not the case. Writing a personal statement for Oxford is no different from writing a personal statement for any other university. In fact it’s important to remember that the same wording will be seen by all the universities you apply to and should therefore focus on the course you want to study, not the universities themselves. Please read this helpful advice from UCAS about writing your personal statement.

How important is the personal statement?

Universities build a picture of you as a student from all the different information you provide, to help decide whether or not to offer you a place. The picture is made up of several different pieces: your personal statement, academic record, predicted A-level grades (or equivalent), and your teacher's reference. For most courses at Oxford you will also need to take an admissions test or submit written work as well (check the details for your course). If your application is shortlisted, your interview will also be taken in to account. This means that your personal statement is important but it’s not everything: it’s just one part of the overall picture.

What are Oxford tutors looking for?

Tutors at Oxford are only interested in your academic ability and potential. They want to see that you are truly committed to the subject or subjects you want to study at university but it’s not enough just to say that you have a passion for something: you need to show tutors how you have engaged with your subject, above and beyond whatever you have studied at school or college. This can include any relevant extracurricular activities.

Try to avoid writing your personal statement as though you are ticking things off a list. There is no checklist of required achievements, and tutors will not just scan what you have written to look for key words or phrases. Tutors will read your personal statement to try to understand what has motivated you to apply for their course. It’s a good idea to evaluate your experiences, to show what you have learned from them and how they have helped develop your understanding of your subject.

Should I include extracurricular activities?

If you're applying for competitive courses, which includes any course at Oxford, we typically suggest that you focus around 80% of your personal statement on your academic interests, abilities and achievements. This can include discussion of any relevant extracurricular activities. The remaining 20% can then cover any unrelated extracurricular activities.

There’s a myth that Oxford is looking for the most well-rounded applicants, and that you will only be offered a place if you have a long list of varied extracurricular activities. In fact, extracurricular activities are only helpful in so far as they demonstrate the selection criteria for your course. 

Do I need experience of work and travel?

We understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do work experience or to go travelling so these activities are not a requirement for any of our courses. Tutors won’t be impressed by your connections, or the stamps in your passport, but they will be impressed by how you’ve engaged with your subject.

For example, some of our applicants for Medicine may have had work experience placements in prestigious hospitals but not be able to evaluate their time there. If you have no more experience than some simple voluntary work, or even just discussing medical matters with your friends and family, you can still write an effective personal statement by reflecting critically on what you have learned and discussed. 

To give another example, for the History of Art, tutors will not want to hear about all the galleries and exhibitions that you have visited around the world if you cannot discuss the art that you saw. You can come across more effectively in your personal statement by evaluating art you have seen, even if you’ve only seen it online or in books without ever leaving the school library.

Don’t be put off by any friends who you think have more impressive things to say in their personal statements. Remember that tutors do not have a checklist of achievements that they are looking for: they want to see how you have engaged with your subject.

I’m applying to different courses at different universities – how should I write my personal statement?

If you are thinking of applying for completely different courses at different universities (eg Physics and Accounting, or Biology and Music) we’d encourage you to reconsider. It’s important to choose a subject area that you really want to study, and focus on that one area when making your applications. Also, you can only write one personal statement which will be seen by all the universities to which you apply, so it needs to be relevant for all your courses.

If you are thinking of applying for related courses at different universities then we suggest that you avoid using course titles in your personal statement. We recommend that you write about your interest in the general course themes, and how you have engaged with relevant subject areas, so that your personal statement is equally relevant for each of your course choices. 

Does my personal statement need to stand out?

Students sometimes feel that they need to say something dramatic to stand out from the crowd and be really memorable in their personal statement but this is not true. Applying to Oxford is not like a talent show where you may only have a few seconds to make an impression. Tutors consider each application carefully on its individual merits, looking for evidence of your commitment and ability. If you use your personal statement to demonstrate your academic abilities and your engagement with your subject or subjects, then your application will be memorable for all the right reasons.

Where should I start?

Think about talking to your friends about what you want to study at university: what would you tell them? What have you read or watched or seen that has inspired you? (This might have been at school, at home, in a museum, on TV, in a book, on YouTube or a podcast or anywhere else.) Why was it interesting? What do you want to find out next? What did you do?

If you find this difficult, it might be time to think about whether or not you’ve really chosen the right course. If you can’t think of anything that has inspired you, this lack of enthusiasm will probably come across in your personal statement, or it will become clear at interview, and you’re unlikely to gain a place at Oxford. If you find it easy to answer these questions, you will have a long list of ideas to help you write your personal statement.

When you start to write, remember not just to list your achievements but show how they have affected you, how you have benefited, and what you’d like to learn next. Be honest about yourself and what has inspired you, whether that’s been text books, museums and literature, or websites, podcasts and blogs. Be sure to tell the truth, as tutors might check later, so don’t exaggerate and certainly don’t make any false claims. Don’t hold back either – this is no time for modesty.

When you've written a first draft, have a look back at the selection criteria for your course and think about the evidence you've given for each of the criteria. Have you covered everything?

How many versions should I write?

Ask a teacher to read through what you’ve written, listen to their feedback and then make any updates that they suggest. You may need two or three tries to get it right. Don’t keep writing and rewriting your statement though, as it is more important to keep up with your school or college work, and to explore your subject with wider reading. (See suggested reading and resources.)

Some dos and don’ts

  • DON’T be tempted to make anything up, as you might be asked about it at interview.
  • DON’T copy anyone else’s personal statement. UCAS uses plagiarism detection software.
  • DON'T list qualifications like your GCSE grades or anything else that's covered elsewhere on the application.
  • DON’T just list your other achievements: you need to evaluate them.
  • DON'T feel the need to be dramatic in order to be memorable.

 DO:

  • Apply for a course you really want to study.
  • Be yourself: tell the truth about your interests.
  • Sell yourself: this is not the time for modesty.
  • Reread your personal statement before an interview – the tutors will.
  • Read the UCAS guidance on personal statements.

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