Postgraduate/Master’s Personal Statements

Updated 1 June 2020

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You have chosen the postgraduate or master’s course that you want to apply for and you are just starting the application process.

As part of the application, you are usually expected to add a personal statement – but how can you make sure your statement stands out and makes a strong case for your admission?

Read on to find out.

What Is a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is your best opportunity to sell yourself to the admissions team. Your personal statement is sent with your application and is the first impression the admissions team will have of you.

The postgraduate personal statement should be a brief description of your experience, skills and knowledge. This summary needs to provide evidence of your achievements, relevant awards and extra-curricular activities that set you apart from other applicants.

It is not an autobiography – the admissions team are not interested in personal details not related to your chosen course. Instead, they want to know how prepared you are to study with them and why they should choose you.

If you are looking to study for a postgraduate qualification, the likelihood is you will have already completed an undergraduate course and will be familiar with the application process you went through for that. The postgraduate personal statement needs to show that you have developed academically since then, so don’t be tempted to use your undergraduate personal statement as a template.

Remember, the admissions team will read hundreds of personal statements. You will need to ensure that your personal statement stands out from the rest. Make sure it answers all their questions and clearly shows why you would be perfect for your chosen course.

What to Include in Your Personal Statement

When you are planning to write your personal statement, make sure you find out whether there are specific guidelines from the university about its content.

As a general guide, here are the main topics you should include:

  • Why do you want to apply for postgraduate study? – Think about what made you decide to further your education in this subject. Be specific. Mention your career aspirations and goals.

  • Why do you want to apply for this institution? – Does the university have a stellar reputation? Is there a member of staff that you are excited to work with? Do your research, use specific facts and information, and try not to overly flatter the institution and appear insincere.

  • What about the course are you most interested in or excited about? – Does it offer work experience placements? Do you have an interest in a particular module?

  • What previous experience do you have? – This is a great place to mention grades, extra-curricular activities, awards or experiences that make you an ideal candidate.

  • What skills do you have that mean you are prepared to undertake postgraduate study? – These might include organisation, communication, IT, time management and critical thinking.

  • What are your weaknesses and how do you overcome them? – The institution will notice any gaps in education and/or employment and will want an explanation. Your personal statement is a great place to address this, as well as any lower than expected grades. Make sure you explain honestly what happened and describe what you did to overcome it and what you have learnt from the experience. For example, you may have got a lower grade due to missed modules through illness, but you made the effort to do extra reading to catch up.

  • Why do you deserve a place on the course? – What makes you the ideal student for this particular course? Think about things you have done that have gone over and above requirements or particular interests/successes you have had.

How Your Personal Statement Should Be Structured

A personal statement needs:

  • An introduction
  • A middle section/main argument
  • A conclusion

The tone you need to use should be positive and enthusiastic. Make sure that your passion for the course, subject and institution is well demonstrated through your choice of language – but don’t make it too chatty and informal.

Usually, the standard requirement for a personal statement is around 500 words, or one side of A4. Do make sure you check the guidelines for your chosen course, as they could need significantly more – or less – and you must follow the course-specific submission rules.

Make sure you use a standard font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, and a font size of 11 or 12. This means that it will be easy to read and you won’t have to worry about compatibility between different word processing programs.

Short paragraphs are much easier to read and will make each point stand out. You might want to include subheadings if this helps your structure.

Introduction

Your introduction should be engaging but get straight to the point. It should cover who you are and why you are applying.

Avoid clichéd opening statements – the admissions team have read many statements that start “Since I was a child, I have always wanted to study…”.

Example:

I am currently in my final year studying for my undergraduate degree in finance and accounting and I am predicted to achieve a 2.1. During my course, I developed an interest in auditing and would like to develop this interest by studying for a master’s at [your university].

Middle Section

The main body of your personal statement should include the answers to the questions you thought about earlier. In short, you should cover why you want to study your chosen course, what attracted you to that particular university and why you are the best candidate.

Try to ensure that half of the information in the main body refers to you and your skills and half relates to the course and the institution. This strikes a good balance and makes sure that you are showing that you have done your research. Make sure that you back up any claims made with evidence.

Example:

During my time at university, I spent my vacation time working with my uncle at his accounting firm. This has helped me to broaden my skills and gain a good knowledge of the industry. My dedication and hard work have received great feedback from two of his major clients and I have learnt a great deal about working in finance. This work experience has given me the confidence and skills I need to carry on my studies at [your university].

What interests me about studying for the MSc in Audit Management at [your university] are your links to industry and focus on vocational study. I was very excited to see how many of your graduates go on to win placements with top firms. I am also keen to study with [tutor name] as I was inspired by their work during my undergraduate degree.

During my undergraduate degree, I have taken a particular interest in business accounting and have chosen to complete my dissertation on traditional vs risk-based auditing. My interest in this area has been consistent throughout my degree and I have completed all the auditing modules offered to me, gaining top marks throughout and leading study groups after class. I know that [your university] is highly regarded in the auditing field and has been highly commended for its approach to enhancing students’ learning opportunities. I am very excited to make use of all the opportunities that would be open to me.

After completing my master’s, I intend to apply for a place on a graduate programme at one of the big four accounting firms to complete my professional qualifications. I am fully aware of the high level of competition that these places attract and I know that proving my abilities with a master’s from [your university] will give me the best chance of success.

Conclusion

The conclusion needs to bring together the key points in your personal statement. It needs to be memorable and leave no doubt that you deserve a place. You need to summarise your main points, put them together (but don’t repeat them) and be short and to the point.

End by thanking the admissions team for reading.

Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement

It is important to have an idea of what you should avoid including in your personal statement. To make sure it is the best it can be, make sure you avoid the following:

  • Negativity – As mentioned above, maintaining a positive and enthusiastic tone is necessary to create a good impression. This negativity can be hard to deal with if you are addressing ‘weaknesses’ in your application, but try to think of ways that you can turn these into a positive wherever possible.

  • Complicated phrasing – You won’t have a lot of words to waste when it comes to writing a good personal statement, so using overly long sentences or awkward phrasing is not going to help you. Make sure your sentences are concise and to the point.

  • Clichés – It is hard to be able to avoid a cliché when you are trying to create something engaging. If it seems ‘cheesy’ or false, don’t add it. You also need to be sure to avoid gimmicks, humour and needless flattery.

  • Exaggeration – Although it can be tempting to make yourself sound better, lying on a personal statement is never a good idea. The admissions team will be able to tell if you are exaggerating, bluffing or lying and it will reflect poorly on you in the long run. Be prepared to back up your claims with evidence.

  • Irrelevant information – If the information you are including is not related to the course then don’t include it. If you are a champion water-skier and want to use that as evidence that you always strive to succeed – that is fine. If you are just adding it to show off, then it isn’t necessary and creates avoidable ‘waffle’.

  • Pleading statements – Never appear to beg for your place on the course. You want to show that you would be the perfect choice due to your aspirations and achievements, and they should speak for themselves.

Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

1. Research

When you begin the application process, make sure you learn everything you can about the course and the institution. You can use this information to add value to your personal statement.

When you are completing the application itself, make sure you fully understand the submission requirements. How many words are they expecting? Does it have to be formatted a certain way? Are they asking for specific examples? Follow the guidelines for each institution to the letter.

2. Tailor the Statement

The admissions team will recognise a personal statement that has been created from a template or, even worse, copied from the internet. Take the time to write a personal statement that is tailored to the specific institution and course that you are applying for.

In addition, remember that postgraduate study requires a superior level of commitment and experience, so don’t be tempted to revisit your undergraduate personal statement for this.

3. Provide Evidence

If you want to make a good impression, you need to show off your skills, grades and achievements. This is only valuable when it is backed up with evidence. This is easy enough when it comes to grades but might be more difficult with soft skills like time management – use examples from work or hobbies that demonstrate these.

4. Don’t Leave It Until the Last Minute

Writing the perfect personal statement takes time. Putting yourself under pressure to complete it close to the deadline will not give you the opportunity to produce something that really showcases your abilities.

Don’t be afraid to take the time to draft and redraft the personal statement until you are happy with it.

5. Proofread

Your personal statement is an example of your writing ability and standards will be high for postgraduate study. You must use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation throughout.

Once you have completed the statement, get someone else to look at it. Maybe a relative who has a good eye or a careers adviser at the university – someone who can spot any errors and make constructive suggestions where necessary.

Final Thoughts

A postgraduate or master’s personal statement is the first impression that an admissions tutor will have of you, so make sure it is a good one.

Creating a document that sells your skills, knowledge and desire to study at a postgraduate level is not something that can be created quickly. Take your time, check your work and get someone you trust to make sure it is perfect.

Make sure you do your research and you are prepared to discuss your statement at an interview, if you have one. Ensure that you know what points you have covered in case the interviewer wants to ask any further questions.

Always remember that the admissions team will be reading personal statements from hundreds of potential students so make sure that every piece of information you include demonstrates why you are the perfect person to get a place on the course.

Further Reading

You might also be interested in these other WikiJob articles:

What Exactly Is a Postgraduate Degree? A Guide

A Guide to Law Conversion Courses

How to Get into Business School

A Guide to PhD Personal Statements

What Is a PGCert?

What Is a PGDip?