Applying to Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government: What makes a good personal statement?

The Personal Statement plays a key role when our Admissions Committee are considering your application file. There is no right or wrong way to structure a statement but you should think carefully about its content: after all, this is your forum to showcase your passion, commitment, achievements, and potential. It can feel strange to ‘sell yourself’ in this way, especially if you’re not accustomed to doing so. This blog will give you some ideas on how to approach the task, since you have only have 800 words and need to use them wisely!

MPP students after exams
Some of the MPP students (Class of 2015) after their final exam.

Before you start writing consider the criteria your application will be assessed on: academic excellence, commitment to public service, and evidence of leadership and impact. Try brainstorming some of your relevant skills and qualities, and roles or projects where you have demonstrated these well. Consider getting a friend or co-worker to come up with some ideas as well – they may highlight elements which you wouldn’t have considered. You could also try imagining you are writing on behalf of someone else – look at your experience and achievements and think about how you would sell these if you were writing a reference for a colleague whom you rate highly.

When it comes to actually writing your statement there are four key questions that you should be considering:

1. What are your achievements?

Don’t just list your achievements or previous roles – this is what your CV is for.
Do expand on particular roles or projects that you feel exemplify your intellectual ability, commitment to public service, and ability to have real and tangible impact. Focus on the skills and qualities you have demonstrated in these roles.

If you worked as part of a team think about what your contribution was. Did you bring fresh perspective to a recurring problem? Did you help your teammates to identify and enhance their own skills and impact? Did you identify small ways to increase the efficiency and impact of the team’s work as a whole?
Don’t just list the team’s achievements as your own.
Do make it clear what your contribution and successes were.

When demonstrating your ability to lead and have impact this does not necessarily mean just pointing to leadership positions you have held. For instance, the above teamwork-based examples are all demonstrations of leadership qualities that don’t rely on assuming a traditional ‘out-front’ leadership position. Remember that good leadership is shown through your interaction with others, not just the titles you have held. The best leaders are adept at enabling and empowering others to succeed. Sometimes the most impactful work is also the quieter work which takes place behind the scenes, facilitating the more visible contributions of others.
Don’t just rely on having held traditional leadership roles.
Do think about leadership and impact more broadly.

2. How has this benefitted others/served the public good?

We want to know about the tangible impact that you have had. This can be big or small – perhaps your team was able to lobby for passage of a bill which will have a key impact in your area, or your local volunteer initiative was able to provide much needed support to a small but vulnerable community. The key point is that you show us that you are capable of being a committed and effective public servant, contributing to the good of your community.

Don’t just list projects you have been involved in and assume the assessment committee will understand the impact of your work.
Do be specific and explicit on the impact you have had.

There’s a world of difference between telling us that you conducted field work in an indigenous community and telling us that you worked with local indigenous leaders to identify the factors having an impact on maternal mortality rates, which resulted in establishment of a free clinic in the area for expectant mothers. We can’t rate your file on the basis of information that isn’t there, so make sure you explicitly talk about how your projects delivered positive change!

3. What do you aim to do in future?

Don’t just list jobs you want to have.
Do tell us how you want to have positive impact in the future.

Studying for a MPP shouldn’t be an end goal in itself. Our aim is to equip you with the skills needed to go back into the world and have even greater impact. Think about what your career goals are – not just the positions you wish to hold but the work you plan to do and the impact you aim to have. Perhaps you want to work on the implementation of the bill which your team lobbied for, or plan to scale up your social intervention initiative to a regional or national level. What will we see in five years’ time when we look at the achievements of our alumni?

4. How will the MPP at BSG enable you to achieve this?

Don’t just list modules or professors you want to engage with.
Do outline how completing the MPP will make your public service more effective.

What are the specific skills you want to gain through the MPP course; how will these enhance or complement your existing skill set; and, most importantly, how will you utilise these to become a more effective and impactful public servant? Our course is unique in its interdisciplinary scope, its intensity, and it international focus. We need to know why we are right for you, and how you are going to help us to further our vision of a world better led, better served, and better governed.

Focussing on these four areas will help you craft a statement which should tell us everything about you as a candidate, what you would bring to the MPP and what the MPP will do for you. In addition, last year’s interviews with Dr Adam Ritchie, who is now our MPP Tutor for Admissions, are still completely valid and a great source of useful tips. Good luck!

Sarah Randall works in the School’s Admissions team and is responsible for the administrative aspects of the admissions process from an applicant’s first enquiry until their arrival on course.

The MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government is now open for admissions for 2017 entry – visit our website for more details.

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