How To Write A Postgraduate Personal Statement
As experts in this area, you may have visited us several years ago when scratching your head over the undergraduate UCAS personal statement.
If not, rest assured you’re in the right place for getting the best help and advice that will lead to a successful application.
The personal statement may seem like an overwhelming task, but if you begin early enough and give yourself plenty of time to redraft it, you can easily write a stress-free statement.
What is a postgraduate personal statement?
A personal statement for a postgraduate course is a piece of writing that you submit as part of your application.
Essentially, it's your first chance to sell yourself to the university and demonstrate to admissions tutors you are a great candidate for the course.
Personal statements should be unique and tailored to the course that you're applying to.
You should use the opportunity to show off your academic interests and abilities, and demonstrate that the programme will benefit from your attendance as much as you'll benefit from studying it.
How long should a postgraduate personal statement be?
A Masters personal statement should generally be around 500 words long.
This is roughly one side of A4, although some universities require more, often two sides. Some institutions also set a character limit instead of a specific word count, so check the guidelines before starting to write your statement.
Postgraduate personal statements shouldn't include autobiographical information about your personal life. Instead, focus on why you want to study a particular programme and your potential to successfully complete the course.
What should I include in a postgraduate personal statement?
You should tailor your Masters personal statement to fit the course you're applying for, so what to include will largely depend on the course requirements. However, in general you should write about:
- Your reasons for applying and why you deserve a place above other candidates - discuss your academic interests, career goals and the university and department's reputation, and write about which aspects of the course you find most appealing, such as modules or work experience opportunities. Show that you're ready for the demands of postgraduate life by demonstrating your passion, knowledge and experience.
- Your preparation - address how undergraduate study has prepared you for a postgraduate courses, mentioning your independent work (e.g. dissertation) and topics that most interest you.
- Evidence of your skillset - highlight relevant skills and knowledge that will enable you to make an impact on the department, summarising your abilities in core areas including IT, numeracy, organisation, communication, time management and critical thinking. You can also cover any grades, awards, work placements, extra readings or conferences that you've attended and how these have contributed to your readiness for Masters study.
- Your goals - explain your career aspirations and how the course will help you achieve them.
How should I structure my personal statement?
Your personal statement should follow a logical structure, where each paragraph follows on from the one before. Capture the reader's attention with an enthusiastic introduction covering why you want to study a particular Masters. Then, engage the reader in your middle paragraphs by evidencing your knowledge and skills and demonstrating why the course is right for you.
Around half of the main body should focus on you and your interests, and the other half on the course. Your conclusion should be concise, and summarise why you're the ideal candidate. Overall, aim for four to five paragraphs. You can use headings to break up the text if you prefer.
Address any clear weaknesses, such as lower-than-expected module performance or gaps in your education history. The university will want to know about these, so explain them with a positive spin. Lower-than-expected results may be caused by illness, for example. Admit this, but mention that you've done extra reading to catch up and want to improve in this area.
The majority of postgraduate applications are submitted online directly to the university. If this is the case, present your personal statement in a standard font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman, text size 11 or 12. If your course application is submitted through UKPASS (UCAS's postgraduate application service) font style won't matter as personal statements will be automatically formatted.
How do I write a successful postgraduate personal statement?
They're often the trickiest part of your postgraduate application, so knowing how to write a good personal statement will help.
Give yourself plenty of time to complete it. Tutors will be able to tell if you're bluffing, and showing yourself up as uninformed could be costly. Before you start, read the rules and guidelines provided, check the selection criteria and research the course and institution.
The best personal statements adopt a positive, enthusiastic tone and are presented in clear, short sentences. Avoid elaborate or overly-complicated phrases. Unless otherwise stated in the guidelines, all postgraduate personal statements should be written in English and your spelling, grammar and punctuation must be perfect, as the personal statement acts as a test of your written communication ability.
Don't use the same supporting statement for every course - admissions tutors will be able to spot copy-and-paste jobs. Generic applications demonstrate that you have little understanding of the course. Masters study is much more advanced, so your undergraduate personal statement will be of little relevance in this instance. In order to stand out from the crowd postgraduate personal statements must be unique and specific to the course and institution.
Continue drafting and redrafting your statement until you're happy, then ask a friend, family member or careers adviser to read it. Proofreading is incredibly important to avoid mistakes. Memorise what you've written before any interviews.
Our step-by-step guide below will help you make sure your statement is the best it can be.
1. Starting your personal statement
The aim of the postgraduate personal statement is to highlight your relevant skills, knowledge and experience for the course.
Admissions tutors want to know what you can offer, and why they should choose you over everyone else.
This means your statement needs to be clear and focused throughout, so the best way to begin is by thinking about and making notes on the following points:
- Why are you applying for a postgraduate course? Reasons might include your passion and enthusiasm for the subject, a new challenge, and your career aspirations.
- What is it about this particular course that appeals to you? Look at the course content - what interests you about the topics covered, and why? If you’re applying for a Research Masters, why do you want to undertake a research project in the subject?
- Why are you applying to this university? Make sure you research all the institutions you are considering - what do you like about them? What facilities do they provide? Do they have a good reputation in your field? What does the surrounding town/city have to offer? If you’re invited to interview, it’s likely you will be asked why you have chosen their university, so make sure you have some good reasons, or it will look like you don’t really care.
- What work experience do you have that demonstrates your interest in the subject? Think about any placements you’ve completed since your GCSEs - what did you learn, and how is this related to your subject? Part of writing a good personal statement is being able to provide examples in order to back up your claims. Work experience is a great source to use for this, so note down anything you think might be useful or relevant.
- What skills have you gained from your undergraduate studies that will help you make the transition to postgraduate study?Again, think about what you learned during your degree. Skills you might talk about include communication, analytical, problem-solving, IT, numeracy, teamwork, public speaking, practical e.g. laboratory or fieldwork (if you are applying for a Research Masters). How did you improve or develop these skills? Try to think of specific projects as examples.
- What hobbies and interests do you have, and how might they help you on the course? If you’re part of any clubs or societies, done voluntary/charity work, or held a position of responsibility during your degree, e.g. student representative, then write a bit about your experiences and how they could assist you with your postgraduate studies.
Try to be as detailed as possible with your notes - the more you get down at this early stage, the easier it will be to put together your first draft.
2. Writing the introduction
From your notes, you can now begin to write the first draft of your statement.
The opening should grab the readers’ attention, so they want to carry on reading until the end.
One way of doing this is to talk about an incident or experience in your life that has compelled you to study the subject to postgraduate level. Take a look at our Postgraduate personal statement examples to see how others have used this technique.
Another way of starting your statement is to pick one aspect of your subject and talk about why it fascinates you. Look back at your notes to point #2 above.
Although these suggestions will help make your opening unique and more likely to stand out from the crowd, you don’t have to use them.
If you can think of another way to achieve the same effect with the first few sentences, then that’s fine.
3. Selling yourself
This is the point where you should read through the rest of your notes, and draft several paragraphs that cover your skills, experience and knowledge.
The easiest way to do this is to allocate a paragraph to each point: one for work experience, one for your skills, etc.
Make sure you include everything you jotted down earlier, and most importantly, relate it to the course you are applying for. Remember, making claims are no good unless you back them up with evidence.
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, paragraph structure etc. at this stage - you can fix all this later once you’ve got the essentials in place.
4. Concluding your personal statement
Generally, it’s a good idea to conclude your statement with a short paragraph about your career aspirations and/or how you believe a postgraduate course in the subject will help you in the future.
You’ve spent the rest of the statement talking about the past and what you’ve learned from your experiences, so looking to the future is a nice, positive way to round things off.
5. Next steps
Now you’ve got a basic draft down, show it to your family, friends and anyone else you think might be able to help.
Don't feel bad about asking other people for help - it's actually a great way to get that perfect personal statement in shape. Sitting and staring at it yourself for too long will just give you a headache, and a fresh pair of eyes will pick up on things that you would otherwise have missed.
Take their comments on board, and make any necessary amendments to your statement.
You don’t have to implement all recommendations, but showing it to several or more people should highlight any common areas where changes need to be made.
It’s advisable to redraft and ask for other people’s input at least several times before polishing it up into your final statement. This will give you the best possible chance of success with your application.
6. Before you send your postgraduate application
Check your statement carefully for spelling and grammar mistakes. Remember that a Spellcheck tool isn’t infallible, and could easily fail to pick up errors.
Go through it several times, and ask someone else to take a look in case you’ve missed anything.
Also check that it isn’t overly long - if you’ve been given a word count, make sure you’ve stuck to it. Generally, you will be allowed one side of A4 for your statement.
If the application form has asked you to answer a specific question in your statement, or talk about particular aspects of your skills, experience or background, check these have been covered as well.
For more advice and tips on postgraduate study and writing the personal statement, please visit:
- Writing A Postgraduate Personal Statement
- Types Of Postgraduate Degree
- Postgraduate Personal Statement Examples
- UCAS Postgraduate Course Search
- Oxbridge Postgraduate Study
- Benefits Of Postgraduate Study
- Research Vs Taught Masters
Best of luck with your application if you're applying for a Masters degree. If you have any of your own tips you'd like to share on writing the personal statement, please post them below!
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2013, but has been updated for 2023 to reflect changes in advice on applying for a postgraduate university course.