Here’s an example of a personal statement from a student wanting to study a joint honours degree in English and Spanish. The student got an interview at Oxford and received offers from Edinburgh, Manchester and Exeter…
According to Richard Poirier, Robert Frost wrote his poems in an armless overstuffed blue chair because it gave him "the room he needed" - I relate strongly to this.
Frost needed space to compose his poetry: I enjoy the space that the arts allow you to expand. And, to extend the metaphor, I hope university will be my own ‘armless overstuffed blue chair’ and allow me to develop my passion for Spanish and English.
I spent last summer working as a waitress in a café in Barcelona. My experience living and working in Spain really gave me the drive to become fluent in Spanish so that there are no limits to my engagement with Hispanic culture.
Reading Lorca’s famous 1933 lecture, "Juego y Teoría del Duende", brought to life some of what I experienced working in Spain. That word, 'duende', perhaps best represents why I love Spanish. The country is replete with passion born of struggle: it is something which still burns in the streets at night and sings soulfully through their arts.
I’m fascinated by the idea of communication and this forms part of the reason why I want to study English Literature and Spanish. The struggle to communicate really piques my interest and I’m fascinated by the idea of the untranslatable.
It appeals to me not just as a conundrum but because it goes beyond language; it requires one to shape words into something more than a definition, to turn them into emotion. I particularly enjoy reading Virginia Woolf, as I see in her work a fundamental struggle to convey words and meaning, which I believe reaches its climax in her last book Between the Acts.
My other interests lie in acting, art and ballet. There are few feelings to equal that 'on-stage rush', but I am not just addicted to the adrenaline. Acting stretches the boundaries of experience and empathy. For example, although I had studied Shakespeare, I only truly began to appreciate how the flexibility and variety of blank verse illuminates meaning when I played Titania on stage.
Performing Isadora Duncan's notoriously avant-garde dance in my Grade 7 ballet exam helped me to develop a better understanding of modern art, particularly Matisse, who also sparked a revolution in expression.
It is this interaction between subjects that I love about my current study and I can already see the benefits of combining English and Spanish. Reading foreign literature forces us to make sense of socio-political backgrounds. I am trying to dedicate as much contextual thought to English language novels as I do Spanish, and in doing so I think I am beginning to learn how to truly read.
After enjoying Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things in class, I was inspired to read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Both writers evoke brutality and hardship with an exquisite economy of words but I was particularly interested by the paradox of exotic imagery telling a story of deep, dark terror. I find it fascinating how different countries shape literature in this way.
I am fully aware that I have merely skimmed the surface of English and Spanish. What excites me most about the prospect of studying these subjects at university is the space it will give me to broaden my thinking beyond the constraints of my current A-level course.
The significance of the personal statement in the selection process cannot be overestimated. Given the nature of the Combined Honours programme, we will expect to see evidence of a serious interest in and commitment to two or more subjects.
We appreciate that you may be applying for other programmes which could have a number of different titles, and so we do not expect you to mention ‘Combined Honours' by name anywhere in your personal statement, but we do expect you to say why you are interested in studying two or more subjects. If you are also applying for Single Honours programmes and the personal statement on your UCAS application is aimed towards this, you can submit a substitute personal statement directly to the University to show your interest in studying more than one subject:
We also appreciate that you will probably have more to say about subjects which you have studied for many years (such as Geography, or Economics) than about subjects which you might have had no opportunity to study before (such as Anthropology, or Archaeology, or Philosophy), so please remember that we are looking for evidence of your interest in these subjects, rather than a record of achievement, since you may not yet have had an opportunity to establish such a record.
Your personal statement should explain, in some detail, why you are interested in the subjects that you wish to study, and tell us about some of the topics that you have studied, and/or the topics that you have read about in your free time, which have made a difference to you, and, perhaps, the way in which you look at the world. If you can make interesting connections between subjects, and, where possible, between your studies and your extra-curricular activities, this will make your personal statement better. Once you have set out your academic interests in this way, you can write about the skills and experience which would enable you to make a valuable contribution to your College and the University - your community activity, your involvement in music or the arts, or your sport, for example. But you must not write about these at the expense of making a serious case for studying two or more subjects.