We pay particularly close attention to the personal statement. We are looking for signs of individual engagement with the course of study, as well as empirical evidence of a commitment to the subject that goes beyond the A-Level (or equivalent) syllabus.
Successful candidates tend to be those that demonstrate independent, critical engagement with the themes and controversies that underpin the discipline. This is not simply a case of applicants describing the issues they are interested in or listing the books they have read (though relevant reading or research beyond the A-Level syllabus is strongly encouraged). It is about addressing the ‘why’ question. What is it – specifically and explicitly – that so enthuses them about the debates they engage with, the books they read and the ideas they discuss? In most cases, there is a clear sense of the applicant’s own intellectual journey and how this has forged their interest in and passion for the subject.
In all cases a sense of the individual is crucial. A personal statement should be just that – a personal reflection on what it is that interests the applicant about the subject and why. We are not looking for a model answer. Indeed, there are countless different ways to write a successful application. For this reason using a template is STRONGLY DISCOURAGED as it will result in a generic statement that will not distinguish the candidate from the other applicants following the same model.
This is from the University of Bristol, but I think it’s pretty good advice for anyone applying to anywhere, to be honest.