Writing A Postgraduate Personal Statement
If you're applying for a Masters degree or other type of postgraduate course, we know that writing the personal statement is the most difficult part of the application process.
As experts in this area, we've written this guide to help you understand what a good Postgraduate personal statement should achieve, how to get started on putting it together, and complete a polished final draft ready to send off (if you're applying for a postgraduate course in the U.S, take a look at our Personal Statements for Graduate School section over at studential.com/us).
1. Tailor each application
A postgraduate personal statement is a document used to highlight your personal experience, skills, grades and other supporting factors that will assist when you embark on completing a postgraduate application, either for a Taught Masters, Research Masters or PhD.
Each time you submit an application, you will usually be required to write a personal statement.
Do not use the same statement for each application – each one will require slightly different content depending on the university you are applying to and the content of the course.
Therefore it’s important to research each university and what’s involved in each course, so you can see what is unique about each of your choices and how they each stand apart from the others.
2. Don't write too much
Typically you will be allowed around 1 side of A4 to say why you think you should be accepted on to the course. The structure of your statement we will cover later in this article as there are many things to consider first.
Sometimes you will just be asked to provide a statement that supports your application, though at other times you will be given more of a description of what to include.
For example, if you are applying for a PGCE course you may choose to use the following tip:
Describe briefly your reasons for wanting to teach giving the relevance of your previous education and experience, including teaching, visits to schools and work with other young people.
There will be times when you are not given any clear indication of what you should include in your statement, so we’ve written some guidelines to help you put together a well-structured statement.
Our advice is aimed at giving you a outline to follow if this is the case.
3. Make some notes about yourself
Before starting to write your first draft of your personal statement, use the questions below as a guide.
Try to put together a paragraph of 2 or 3 sentences for each question, as this will help you construct a good personal statement that focuses on what the reader is interested to find out. Think about:
- Why do you want to pursue postgraduate study? This would likely to be based around your career choice and personal development and achievement.
- What are your reasons for wanting to study at a particular university? It may be the university’s educational reputation, the course you want to join is highly recommended for excellence, or that the location is where you would like to pursue your career goals following completion of you course.
- Why is this particular course of most interest to you? Perhaps consider the career route you wish to take means the course is highly relevant to that choice or that you want to study it because of your personal interests.
- What aspects of the course are of particular interest to you? e.g. specialist modules, work placement opportunity. You may have discovered that the chance of work experience whilst you study; or the excellent job prospects upon completion of your course are particularly alluring.
- What previous academic and practical experience have you got that shows your interest in your chosen subject? Did you take up work experience whilst studying at your last educational facility or were your grades particularly impressive? Maybe you have been part of a specialist club or have taken on additional interests in your chosen subject. What about mentioning if you took a year out to get involved in a relevant activity? Make sure you include everything that is relevant to your application.
- What skills do you have that will help you make the transition between undergraduate and postgraduate study and make you succeed in the research area? Consider in this area if you have taken part in a skills programme which helps you with language and study as an undergraduate or postgraduate. Think about the skills you learned or developed during your undergraduate degree or other previous studies. These might include time management, IT, numeracy, communication or analytical skills, as well as practical skills gained from field or laboratory work. Try to give an example that demonstrates you have each of these skills - admissions tutors want to see proof behind your claims.
4. Use examples
Now you've made some notes, go through them and make sure you can back up what you want to say with examples.
Remember that you need to show, not tell, so jot down as many examples as you can, including achievements, skills and knowledge.
The points above in number 3. should help you with this, and if you need some inspiration, take a look at our postgraduate personal statement examples.
5. Pay attention to detail
- Always use good vocabulary and grammar – well-written sentences that flow easily will make your statement more fresh and dynamic compared to other applicants. There are many ways to discover good grammar and language by visiting the library or going online - some pieces of software available free of charge can check your grammar for you. Avoid Americanisation’s (unless of course you are American!).
- Do not use overly long sentences.
- Try to keep the tone of your statement positive and enthusiastic. You also need to demonstrate you are able to make the points required in a concise manner, and make sure you adhere to the word limit.
- Write a draft and keep checking it, shortening if you need to and rewriting it until it feels right. Perhaps get someone else to read it and provide you with any errors they spot as you tweak it. When you've completed your final draft, make sure you use the spelling and grammar checker on your computer to correct any obvious mistakes.
6. Structure your statement
Make sure your statement has a good structure, with a clear introduction, main body and conclusion.
The aim of the introduction is to grab the reader’s attention and hold it so they remain interested and read to the end of your statement.
In the main body of the statement you should concentrate on relating your skills, knowledge and experience in the field and how this relates to the course you are applying for.
When you think your statement is as good as you can make it, ask a few friends or family members to take a look at it and see if they can suggest any improvements. You could also ask one of your last teachers to check it for you.
Print off a copy of each statement you write as what you have written will probably be referred to in your interview. It’s important you remember what you have written so you can answer any questions from the admissions tutors as fully as possible.
7. Sell yourself
As mentioned above, there are many different things to include, which you will need if you are going to sell youself as much as possible.
The following is a list of areas you could potentially cover in your statement, remembering to keep a positive view on all of the things you choose to include:
- Why you want to do this particular course/study this particular area of research – write down your reasons why you are interested in and enthusiastic about pursuing further study into the field.
- Convey your motivation and mention any relevant projects, dissertations or essays that demonstrate your skills. Put down anything that shows creativity, responsibility and independence.
- You should also mention any prizes or awards you have, plus any relevant travelling experiences or time spent studying abroad.
8. Make sure it's personal
It's important to remember that a personal statement is meant to be "personal".
Almost every postgraduate course requires one, it provides the department with information about you whereas your application will cover the formal details such as where you last studied, your grades, which course you are applying for.
No matter which course you intend to apply to you will need to consider the language that you use, get the grammar and spelling correct, and make sure it is tailored to the course and university you are applying to.
There's nobody else who knows you and your experiences as well as you do, so you are the best person to write your personal statement in order to present yourself in the best possible light.
You may wish to ask yourself this question – could my personal statement apply equally to, say, my friend or my neighbour?
If the answer is "yes" then it is probably too general and you need to make it more specific and more personal.
9. Leave plenty of time
Don't underestimate how difficult it can be to write a good personal statement that will do you justice. Therefore make sure you give yourself ample time to write it.
Start writing your notes and getting your first draft together early, then you won't have the added pressure of trying to meet the deadline.
For more tips and advice on applying for a postgraduate course, please see: