Personal statements for postgraduate study applications
On this page:
Before you start
When considering postgraduate study, as with any career move, it is essential that you think carefully about what you want to achieve before you get started with the application process. Postgraduate courses can be costly in terms of both time and money. However, properly selected, they can be an enjoyable and effective way of enchancing your career prospects. It’s therefore very important to spend time researching the available options; doing this thoroughly will also enhance the quality of your personal statement.
What is a personal statement?
In a nutshell, it is your opportunity to demonstrate to postgraduate course providers that a course is right for you and that you have the potential to successfully complete the course or research programme. Often you are given prompts to give you an indication of what areas you need to cover in your personal statement.
In most cases you are given one page of A4 to make your case which equates to between 300 and 500 words. Not all postgraduate course providers will give you prompts so it is worth looking for those that do so for similar courses to help you identify the key issues that need to be addressed. If you are applying for a postgraduate research degree, your personal statement will almost certainly need to include an outline of your research proposal, and you should speak to the department you are applying to before embarking on this.
Who will read the personal statement?
This will usually be either an admissions tutor for a taught postgraduate course or the project supervisor for a postgraduate research programme (e.g. MRes or PhD supervisor). For taught and research masters courses there will probably be a large number of applications. Admissions tutors will often have several decisions to make. Firstly, they will decide who is eligible to be accepted on the course. Secondly, if there are too many eligible applicants they will decide who has priority. Thirdly, where there are studentships available that pay for fees, living expenses etc. an admissions tutor (or a panel of academics) will decide which applicants will be given such awards.
How to write an effective personal statement
- Write in excellent English or another relevant language
- Proof-read your personal statement for any grammatical or linguistic errors
- Write in a style that is clear, logical, concise and not too elaborate or complicated.
Before you start
- Research the course, department and institution thoroughly.
- Think about the evidence you will include to demonstrate that you have the right skills, knowledge and experience for the course.
- Decide how you will structure the personal statement. There is no ‘ideal’ structure; make sure that you present your case in a clear and logical way.
Those reading your personal statement will be looking for:
- A clear understanding of why you want to do the course.
- An understanding of why you want to do the course at that institution.
- An insight into your overall abilities (including academic, work based and personal achievements) and an explanation of how they have prepared you for the content and demands of the course.
- How your academic background and work experience will contribute to your ability to get the most out of the course.
- A sense that the course links to (and potentially builds on) what what you have done in the past, and how it relates to what you want to do in the future.
- Evidence of your communication skills, an indicator of how well you are likely to perform on course assessments and course requirements in general (e.g. presentations, group work, written reports).
- Commitment and enthusiasm. This is usually revealed by the way in which you write about the reasons that you have selected the course. It is not good enough just to say that you are committed and motivated; it needs to be very clear why this is true.
Do's and don'ts when writing your personal statement
- Do allocate enough time to writing your statement – it usually takes a lot of time to get it right, so don’t leave it to the last minute.
- Do make sure that you carefully read and follow any instructions relating to the personal statement.
- Do find clear and specific reasons for wanting to do that specific course at that institution.
- Do write a response within the word limit set. Don’t be tempted to get around limits by using a very small font.
- Do write a separate personal statement for each application. Even if the courses you are applying for are very similar and at similar institutions it is unlikely that they will need exactly the same response.
- Do make sure that you think carefully about your positive qualities and achievements and how they help demonstrate that you will be successful on the course.
- Do remember that work experience, hobbies, volunteering activities etc. are potentially important sources of evidence.
- Do be as definite as possible in the way you word your statement. Don’t say "I hope to do this", "I might like to do that". Instead it would be better if you could say "I want to/intend to do this".
- Don’t try to flatter the organisation that you are applying to, unless they really are the very best in the world.
- Don’t put any embellishments or untrue information into your application.
- Don’t overstate your achievements - write them in a way that makes your achievements clear but does not seem overly boastful.
- Don’t repeat information that is already dealt with in sufficient detail elsewhere in the application.
After you've finished the personal statement
- Review your personal statement several times, making sure you’ve included all information asked for and checking for errors.
- You can get feedback on your application from a Careers Adviser by booking a quick query appointment.
Other useful information and example personal statements
Personal statements for teacher training applications
Before starting your application you need to think carefully about whether you want to be a primary school teacher or a secondary school teacher and which subjects you want to teach, as well as looking into the various training options. It is well worth looking at the Get into Teaching website provided by the Department for Education and at the relevant sections of the Prospects.ac.uk website (search for either primary or secondary school teacher).
Advice and examples on writing a personal statement for teacher training applications:
You should say why you’re applying for this particular course and institution, talking about what makes it such an appealing place to study. Perhaps there’s a member of staff who you’re especially excited about working with, or a unique element of the curriculum that jumps out at you. Demonstrate how and why you are invested in your subject. It’s important to mention your academic and employment history, explaining its impact on your choice of a postgraduate course.
Give examples of some of the skills you’ve developed at university or at work, and how they’ll help you succeed with a Masters degree. These could include:
- Time management
- More course-specific instances of experience
Your personal statement is an opportunity to write about your future career goals, and how you think this Masters will help you achieve them. You can also discuss preliminary ideas you might have for your Masters dissertation, giving the admissions tutor an indication of the specialist knowledge you have in your field.
If there are any significant gaps in your education or employment, you should offer a brief explanation of those extenuating circumstances (for example, illness or a gap year).