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.
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Written by Editor
Prospects · June 2016
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Personal statements for postgraduate study applications
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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: