How to: Get into Cambridge!!
The dos and don’ts of the personal statement
I must have been only a young whippersnapper my father sat me down on his knee, promptly groaned under my weight remembering I was fifteen and not five, and shoved me off, before giving me the best piece of parental advice he has ever uttered;
“My son,” [O, how he had always longed for a boy!] he rasped, through a screen of tears, “you’ll never get anywhere in life if you don’t do triple science GCSE and your Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award.”
Nearly five years on and I am in my second year reading history at Cambridge. I did triple science GCSE- got a B in Physics- and not only Bronze Duke of Edinburgh, but Silver as well. Then I conked out halfway through Gold.
Without these great, great achievements, I wouldn’t be where I am now. In a room that hasn’t been renovated since 1956. Slowly asphyxiating thanks to the overwhelming prescense of mould, and also contracting hypothermia because the windows wouldn’t have made it into ArcSoc (they’re single glazed) and the heating doesn’t work.
My personal statement is probably my single greatest work to date. And now, out of the kindness of my own heart, and because my editor has reminded me to write this article at least 50 times, I’m going to tell you how to construct yours. I’m like the great St. Francis of Assissi, of UCAS. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.
Your school will probably have been scaremongering about the personal statement, but you’ll soon discover that everything your school claims to know about applying to university is frankly incorrect, so any advice that you get that you didn’t find in this article- ignore.
Laugh heartily at anyone who claims that you need to demonstrate you have “varied interests” to get into Oxbridge – I’ve been here for over a year and I can count on my four fingers and one thumb how many interesting people I’ve met. And I don’t even need to use the thumb actually, or at least three of the fingers. The point I’m making is that if you’re worried that you’re not interesting enough- that’s a very, very, very good start.
The personal statement is just about appealing to your Admissions Tutor and future Director of Studies. So you have to work out what will appeal to them and this often can be tricky. Now my Director of Studies recently described me as “utterly frivolous”, and “dead weight” so it’s sometimes difficult for me to remember what about myself she once approved of. But for the sake of this article, I will try.
There are in fact very few skills needed to succeed at Cambridge, but an important one is your ability to bullshit through your teeth or through your keyboard at any given moment. Whilst Present You might be unwilling to give in any essay that wouldn’t even earn a “you tried hard” sticker, Future You will literally give in any old shit which is completely bereft of research that you cooked up in about 2 hours whilst crying uncontrollably.
So clearly an extra curricular in Drama or something theatre-related is essential here. Saying “I recently played Macbeth in a local youth theatre production of the play. This taught me a lot about ambition, and prompted me to research 15th century Scottish hierarchies of power, which I found really interesting” would be an EXCELLENT, repeat for emphasis, EXCELLENT sentence in a personal statement.
To an admissions tutor, this reads “I really enjoyed playing a character who would quite literally kill someone to get to the top and stay there, and I too would do this”. And to an admissions tutor, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’ve also included some academic-sounding crap in there with the Scottish stuff which once again, is very attractive.
So the drama, mixed in with the Scottish history, proves that you would both be good at lying to your supervisor's face about the amount of work you’ve done, and bullshitting your way through a poorly- researched essay on paper. Two birds with one stone, my friends, or as the ancient Romans would say, deux accipiter nisus avec uno lapis. (It’s also good to break into ancient languages at random points in your personal statement – old men chatting shit in Latin will become a theme of your time here, so you might as well prove you’re willing and able to play ball early on.)
In 2016, a number of fellows wasted A LOT of their time arguing for, and voting for, keeping up the tradition of displaying everyone’s grades on a massive noticeboard in the centre of town for everyone to gawk at. Sort of like public executions of heretics during the reign of Queen Mary I. So even if you’re not applying for History, including something in your personal statement about your appreciation of Medieval to Early Modern rituals and how you’ve even tried to implement them in your own school, will get you far. Again, your aim is to simply play on the sympathies of the Powers that Be.
Once you get here, you'll realise that any form of entertainment which doesn't include……. er, your course, is strictly taboo, so you may as well stop now. You should never participate in extra- curricular activities simply because you enjoy them. They don’t care if you’re on a sports team, but if you mention how you like to wake up at 6am to go running and watch the sun rise, this is a big tick from the perspective of your ability to force yourself to do absolutely pointless things and convince yourself that you’ve got a good reason for doing it. Remember, an application to Cambridge is subtly different to applying anywhere where the concept of fun is allowed. I've become so used to having to pretend that I'm doing everything for an intellectual reason that when I was applying for a pub job over the summer I literally wasted about 200 words describing why I admire pubs as a social space for human bonding from an anthropological perspective.
Needless to say, I didn't get the job. I didn't even get an interview. But you will, now that you've finished reading this article. As long as you take every single piece of this advice, all of which is 100% true, to heart.