Personal Statement for HSPS at Cambridge
Thinking, to me, occurs in patterns.
I’m a scavenger when it comes to ideas: borrowing from this, considering that, using a thought to spark off another. The process of peeling back the layers behind something - be it an institution, a symbol or a person - and trying to engage with its various levels of significance is, to put it simply, what makes me tick. Over time, it is what has drawn me to the arts and social sciences, where adopting diverse perspectives has allowed me to ‘dive back and forth’ between the concrete value of things and their more abstract meanings.
Learning about anthropology and sociology, through “Small Places, Large Issues” was one of the first steps I took towards focusing my interest. I was captivated by Eriksen’s discussion of religion and the cultivation of the ‘social person’, both of which made me question how behaviours and world-views are passed across generations. This enriched my exploration in Theory of Knowledge at school. The consideration of the formation and impact of cultural knowledge systems on people inspired me to inquire about the duality of shared and personal knowledge, as well as how modes of thought are shaped.
Later, as I read “The Invention of Tradition”, Hobsbawm’s explanation of the ‘mass production’ of traditions to form claims for nations was thought-provoking. It made me reflect on how the ritualization of symbols can be used for political causes, an idea which took on a key role in how I developed my Extended Essay on the causes of the Rwandan genocide. My critical understanding of an event where a society fragmented encouraged me to consider the wider structures which support societies and pushed me to investigate a variety of sources. Though the project was not without challenges, it taught me to refine my analytical skills and undoubtedly, reinforced my love for academic research.
The IB diploma content has, overall, been very stimulating. My analysis of “The Great Gatsby” in English encouraged me to think about how emblems of status and conspicuous consumption shape social relationships, as well as how they might arise. I was drawn by the novel’s use of symbol and form to convey a sense for the collective fantasy of the ‘American Dream’. These themes and their relevance to the context of the 1920s challenged me to bridge my interpretations of literary elements to social commentary. This has led me to wonder how art informs cultural perceptions and vice versa. A literary portrayal of material excess was complementary to our more practical study of sustainable development and the water-food-energy nexus in Geography. In this module, I uncovered links between cultural attitudes and social policy, growing to understand their dynamics in relation to political agendas. Above all, it is these interdisciplinary connections which I find most fascinating in my pursuit of knowledge.
My extracurricular activities also allow me to engage with contemporary issues. My participation in MUN for over 5 years has given me the chance to ‘experience’ facsimile scenarios of international politics, which encouraged me to throw myself wholeheartedly in debate. My involvement with Security Council committees, in particular, has made me more comfortable voicing my ideas and shifting between ‘big picture’ and specific thinking. As the editor of my school magazine, I have realised the importance of keeping an open mind when managing diverse opinions. It’s also taught me that strength lies in heterogeneity and empathy - values I hope to carry as a student and person.
These ideas have made my mind their habitat for a few years - now, they’re looking for an intellectual expansion. That’s why I want to study at an academic institution; a place where inquiry is at the epicentre of learning. It certainly feels like one of the ways I might be able to pursue the questions I wonder about... or at least begin to understand the social forces that are driving me to ask them in the first place.
As an IB student applying to the competitive Human, Social and Political Sciences course at Cambridge, I wanted my personal statement to really stand and highlight my engagement with knowledge at various different levels. Although this personal statement was mainly written with an Oxbridge application in mind, it also granted me offers to my 4 other UCAS choices, namely Durham (Combined Honours in SocSci), UCL (Social Sciences), KCL (Liberal Arts) and York (Soc and Pol Sci with Philosophy). The most important advice I would give to someone writing their personal statement is to highlight what really makes their relationship and understanding of their subject unique. I would also recommend to start with a punchy opening line that immediately summarizes to the admissions officer what kind of person, and more importantly thinker, you are. Showcasing your mental model and the way you approach the world is the best way to portray yourself as an attractive applicant! Make sure you're also going in depth about the books you've mentioned and find a way to relate them back to your academic experience. Be ready to be questioned on any part of your PS! For Oxbridge arts applicants in particular, I would go as far as say it is perhaps the most important component of your application, as your interview may be largely based on it. Best of luck to all!