The personal statement is arguably the trickiest part of the postgraduate application process, and it's essential that you get it right
This is your first real chance to sell yourself to the university. It should be unique to you and tailored to the course that you're applying to. You should use it to show off your skills, academic ability and enthusiasm, and demonstrate that the programme will benefit from your attendance as much as you'll benefit from studying it.
How long should my personal statement be?
Usually, it should be one side of A4, equating to around 300-500 words. Some universities require more though, so check the guidelines.
What should I include?
You should discuss 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 goals - consider your short-term course aims and long-term career ambitions, relating the two.
- your preparation - address how undergraduate study has prepared you, mentioning your independent work (e.g. dissertation) and topic interests.
- your skillset - you should highlight relevant skills and knowledge that will enable you to make an impact, summarising your abilities in core areas including IT, numeracy, organisation, communication, time management and critical thinking. You can also cover any grades, awards, placements, extra readings or conferences that you've attended
How do I write a good personal statement?
Give yourself plenty of time to complete your personal statement. 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.
You should structure your personal statement so that it has a clear introduction, main body and conclusion. Capture the reader's attention with enthusiasm and personality at the outset, before going into more detail about your skills, knowledge and experience. Around half of the main body should focus on you and your interests, and the other half on the course. Finally, summarise why you're the ideal candidate.
Be sure to 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 things, 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.
Continue drafting and redrafting your statement until you're happy, then ask a friend, family member or careers adviser to read it. Your spelling and grammar must be perfect, as the personal statement acts as a test of your written communication ability. Memorise what you've written before any interviews.
What do admissions tutors look for?
Admissions tutors will be looking for:
- an explanation of how the course links your past and future;
- an insight into your academic and non-academic abilities, and how they'll fit with the course;
- evidence of your skills, commitment and enthusiasm;
- knowledge of the institution's area of expertise;
- reasons why you want to study at the institution;
- you to express your interest in the subject, perhaps including some academic references or readings.
What do I need to avoid?
- be negative
- follow an online template
- include irrelevant course modules, personal facts or extracurricular activities
- include other people's quotes
- lie or exaggerate
- make pleading statements
- namedrop key authors without explanation
- needlessly flatter the organisation that you're applying to
- repeat information found in your application
- use clichés, gimmicks, humour or Americanisms
- use overly long sentences
- use the same statement for each application
- use your undergraduate UCAS application as a template
Example personal statements
The style and content of your personal statement will depend on several variables, such as the type of qualification that you're applying for - such as a Masters degree, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or teacher training. Here are four examples to help you get started:
LPC personal statement
Although CABs, the centralised applications system, allows space for up to 10,000 characters in length, many law schools aren't expecting students to fill this space. It's therefore important not to unnecessarily pad out your personal statement with irrelevant detail. Students apply to three courses ranked in order of preference, so your personal statement must reflect this. Discover more about the Legal Practice Course.
Psychology personal statement
Applications for conversion courses such as these are fairly straightforward and made directly to individual institutions. You need to explain why you want to change subjects and how your current subject will help you. Explain what experience you have that will help you with your conversion subject, and what you hope to do in the future.
Personal statement for PGCE primary
This is your chance to explain why you want to teach primary age children and convey your enthusiasm for teaching. You need to back everything up with examples from your classroom experience, reflecting on what you did, how this made a difference and what you learned about teaching and learning within Key Stages 1 and 2. Find out more about applying for teacher training.
PGCE secondary personal statement
If you want to teach children aged 11 and over you'll need to apply through UCAS Teacher Training (UTT). The UTT teacher training application process includes a single personal statement, whatever route(s) you're applying for. You should tailor your personal statement to reflect the specific requirements of secondary level teaching. Learn more about applying for teacher training.
Find out more
Written by Editor
Prospects · June 2016
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Postgraduate Study and Personal Statements
I have seen a few students in quick query appointments worried about their personal statements and I therefore thought I would write a quick guide with regards to writing personal statements for postgraduate study.
Event Alert: For those of you interested in postgraduate study in the humanities and social sciences sector, the faculty is running a great information session this Friday December 1st on applying for postgraduate programmes locally, nationally and internationally, and where to look for funding sources. Book your place through MyFuture.
The slight differences in personal statements
Pretty much all postgraduate courses and institutions will ask you to write some sort of personal statements, but be aware that the word limit may be different from institution to institution and each department may also ask you to answer specific questions. It is therefore vital that you always read through the application instructions on the university website before starting. You don’t want to write a two page personal statement and later realise you only have 4000 characters to use.
There are different application formats with regards to different career pathways, for example some postgraduate courses use UKPASS. However, you should always find specific application instructions on the individual university websites, so these are therefore key to research. See some great information from University of Manchester with regards to personal statements for PGCE and medicine.Getting into Teaching also has great advice on writing personal statements for PGCE.
What not to do in personal statements
Typical errors in personal statements is not being clear about why you would like to do the postgraduate course, poor structure and bad spelling and grammar. It also shows if you have not done the research needed with regards to the university and the course you are applying for. Even if you are applying to similar postgraduate degrees at different universities the particular universities and programmes would still like to know why you are choosing them.
Typical content for your personal statements
Again, always read the specific application instructions for your chosen programmes, but this is the typical content of a personal statement. See our careers resource for more details.
- Why this University? Why this programme?
As said above there needs to a clear reason for why you are applying to that particular University and that particular postgraduate programme. Is it the location, what about particular research interest of the academics in the departments? Have you been to campus before? Does the department have good alumni networks or industry opportunities? What about the subject motivates you? Are the particular modules or course options that interests you?
- An insight into your overall abilities (academic, work, extra-curricular and more) and how these experiences have prepared you for the course
What have you done so far that will make sure that you are successful studying the postgraduate degree? Have you completed any relevant research projects, dissertation, relevant module work? It is important to connect what you are doing now academically to what you would like to study on the programme. Have you had any relevant work experience or any senior roles in societies or clubs at University? Or perhaps you have had some personal achievements that should be mentioned? These experiences should also include examples of skills that are essential to be successful in the course such as communication skills (presentations, written reports, group work) or relevant scientific techniques, analytical or research skills.
- A sense that the course links to what you have done in the past and how it relates to what you want to do in the future
It is important to connect your past experiences and what you hope to get out of the course to what you want to do in the future. Where do you see yourself working/doing after the course has finished? The admissions tutor won’t find you in a couple of years’ time to see if you are in the job role you describe in your statement but they would like you to have an awareness of career pathways and an understanding of the reasons for taking the course
- Last but not least, they want to see motivation and enthusiasm!!
This is key to a good personal statement. Your motivation and enthusiasm should shine through and the reasons should be clear. No need to be too emotional, but a reflective and enthusiastic approach and backing these up with evidence is what they would like to see.
Final piece of advice, have your personal tutor read through it as well! Their academic perspective is very valuable when writing a statement.
I wish you the best of luck in writing your personal statement.
Posted in: Advice, Applications, Postgraduate Study