Oxford tutors admit they ignore personal statements

Several Oxford academics have voiced agreement with the Cambridge Head of Admissions in stating that personal statements are an irrelevant part of the application process.

Earlier this week, Geoff Parks, the Director of Admissions at Cambridge declared that the personal statement reveals little about a student and is rarely the sole work of the applicant.

Michael Allingham, the former Head of Admissions at Magdalen College said, “I know people who don’t read [personal statements] on principle, who believe that they muddy the waters…Whereas we look at everything, they are far from the most important thing.”

He added that the decision over which applicants to invite for interview is based on only objective information such as GCSE or A Level results, predicted grades or a subject-specific entrance test. Consequently, a student would never be refused an interview on the basis of a poor personal statement.

Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s Head of Admissions agreed that the personal statement is less important than other parts of the application. He said, “the amount of emphasis that will be placed on the personal statement will be much more limited than at most other universities.”

However, he added that the personal statement may be helpful to evaluate students who wish to undertake a course not linked to their post-16 subjects. He said, “the personal statement provides scope to draw upon the wider range of experiences.”

Zoe Hallam, a first year PPE student stated that she was asked a question based on the first eight words of her personal statement. She said, “I don’t think they particularly cared about the personal statement in the interview, but I think they’ve used it to shift through the applicants.”

One first year Magdalen said, “When I was writing mine, I was told that different colleges treated personal statements differently. Some scrutinised statements and others completely ignored them. I just wished they’d told me which was true for the college I was applying to.”

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Several students have expressed anger at the revelation of admissions tutors. Harry Philips, first year linguist questioned the processes that decide interview places, saying “I’m sure that at this educational establishment, not everyone who sends in an application is given an interview. It can’t surely be done just on academic grades?”