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'How to smash your personal statement' - Applying for a Classical Subject at Uni

This guide has been put together to help prospective students write a Classics personal statement. It was collated by our team who are all currently studying a Classical subject for their degree at top UK institutions including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, UCL and Edinburgh.

Often writing a personal statement can be an overwhelming prospect, although the aim of this guide is to provide some useful tools to help you write and edit your personal statement. We will also include a few exemplar personal statements from our academic team so you can see how people have tailored their statements to particular degree programmes.

Writing your personal statement:

  • When writing your personal statement, start with a list of everything you have done that relates to Classics. The rank the items on the list in order of how much of an impact they had on you and your desire to study Classics at uni.

    • Things worth including summer schools, lectures you have attended (online or in-person), classical plays, online courses, books that you have read (fiction or non-fiction), sites you have visited, classics podcasts and documentaries.

  • If you are not studying any Classical subjects at A-Level it is really great to talk about any extra reading you have done and where your current A-Level subjects tie in with Classics.

  • If you are studying a Classical subject at A-Level don't just dwell upon material that is from your specification, talk about extra reading and areas of interest that show you're prepared to go above and beyond the specification.

  • Try to frame your personal statement thematically, in all the personal statements you'll read there will be some clear themes that either run throughout the statement or in particularly paragraphs.

  • Tailor your personal statement to the particular course you are applying for, i.e. if you are applying for Ancient History don't spend too long dwelling on the literary significance of Antigone as a feminist icon - it's not overly relevant to the course. Instead, it's more effective to talk about Sophocles as a political writer of his time and his engagement with the mythical past to parallel the political present.

  • Make sure to talk about Classics, this sounds obvious but many people get so carried away talking about their strengths in their other A-Levels, reasons why they'll make a good student and all their extra-curricular achievements and forget to talk about Classics itself.

  • It’s worth tailoring your statement to each particular University, noting if there is a notable lecturer or course offered that has drawn you to the place in particular. This shows you have done your research and that you are committed!

  • Be ambitious but not a braggart! Your personal statement will not change the world, but it will be a way to show yourself in the best light. You want to outline, but not exaggerate, what you have to offer.

  • Talk about yourself! The clue is in the title, it is a personal statement, so make it personal. Write in the first person, write about your personal likes and dislikes. The admissions officer of the universities you've applied to wants to get a feel as to what you are like as a candidate, not what the general consensus within the academic field is about whether Homer did or didn't exist- they can find that in a journal/book.

Editing your personal statement:

  • Go through and make sure you aren't over-using words, common examples are passion, passionate, love, fascinate, interests. Where you can try and switch things up.

  • Make sure that your personal statement has a strong introduction and a strong conclusion. No one wants to read something that just trails in and trails out.

  • Make sure you have at least 3 paragraphs to your statement: intro, body and conclusion. (If you want more than 3 that's fine, people just don't want to read one dense block of text).

  • Check your grammar, especially if you are applying for a degree with a language component! If you've used the wrong tense, used the wrong plural or forgotten a word the academic will notice.

  • Get at least 2 other people to read your personal statement and give you feedback. It doesn't matter whether it is two teachers, a parent, your friend or you can get in touch with us regarding our 1-1 coaching service, and one of our team will read it! Get another pair of eyes on your statement before it is sent off.

Things to avoid:

  • Jokes, these never go down well and are often described by academics as being cringeworthy.

  • Intros that read like you've just been picked for X Factor. No one wants to read about how 'You watched Hercules when you were 3 years old and from that point onwards you absolutely knew that you had to be a Classicist'. An Oxford Academic also once told us that the most clichéd personal statement introduction he'd ever read was 'When I was X years old I went to the Colosseum and I was instantly inspired and wanted to be a classicist'.

  • Vague statements. If you include something it needs to be specific and followed up with an explanation. Don't just say 'I find Roman Comedy really interesting'. These academics want to know why you find it interesting and they want you to thoroughly explain yourself. A better answer would be 'Roman Comedy interests me because of the influence of Menander's works upon texts by Plautus and Terence. In particular, I am interested in how the political climate, both Menander under Alexander and Plautus in the Republic influences the impersonal and political comedic styles used in the plays.'

  • Don't only talk about one thing. Avoid making your whole personal statement a tribute to one thing i.e. Virgil. It can make you come across like a bit of a one-trick pony, and someone who is lacking in adaptability. Showing your ability to be diverse is really important because lecturers want to know that you'll be able to balance multiple modules focussing on different areas of Classics throughout your degree.

  • Don't talk too much about your extracurriculars. Particularly if you're applying to Oxbridge or other academically intensive universities, unless your extracurricular activities relate in some way to Classics don't dwell for too long on them. For an academic, writing a paragraph entirely on your Silver DofE is a paragraph that could've have been written about your love of Cycladic Sculpture (or another area of Classics).

  • Don't include things you don't know because the people reading your personal statement are experts in their field and they will see through it, also if your university asks you to interview there is a high chance they will ask you about it. Honesty is essential.

Some words of encouragement from our team:

"One of the things I hated about applying to university was having to write about myself (it either felt like bragging or made me feel like I hadn't achieved anything), but remembering that the main objective of my personal statement was to communicate my interest in classics/continuing my education made me a lot less anxious. " - Sophie

"Let your love of Classics shine through. Don't get carried away in trying to sound intelligent and remember to be yourself. These universities want to get to know you and why you personally love Classics just as much as they want to know you understand the Peloponnesian War" - Emily

"I remember struggling to cut it down because I kept going into too much detail, but remember that any experience or achievements will speak for themselves. The most important thing is to talk about what you love about the subject!" - Isabella

“Don’t try to second guess what a university wants from you, speak with passion about your interests and your individuality will shine through” - Kitty

"Writing your personal statement is the perfect opportunity to outline your passion and commitment to studying your chosen subject at university. It can seem like a daunting task, but it is important to remember not to treat the personal statement like an exam answer. University admission teams are interested in knowing more about you and why you are drawn to your subject. It is more important to express your passion and your hopes for what you want to learn and do during your future at university than it is to outline what you already know. Be genuine and sincere: you are your own unique selling point!" - Meg

Personal Statements

Below is a selection of personal statements from our academic team who applied for a variety of different degrees including pure Classics, Classics and a Modern Foreign language, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, Ancient World, Classical Civilisation and Classical Literature.

Our examples also demonstrate applications from students from the English, Scottish and American education systems.

Personal Statements
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