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How to write a postgraduate personal statement

Applying for postgraduate study? This guide supports you in writing a great postgraduate personal statement that’s tailored to your course.

 
CONTENTS
  • What do admissions tutors look for
  • How to write a personal statement
  • Structure
  • What to write
  • Style
  • Check and check again
  • Final tips
 

What do admissions tutors look for in a postgraduate personal statement?

A personal statement is part of your university application. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your suitability for a course. Admissions tutors want to know why you want to study the course and how your experiences make you the ideal candidate.

The difference between a postgraduate application from an undergraduate one is that it is fully tailored to a particular university’s course. As an undergraduate, your statement is more generic as it can be sent to five universities. Whereas your postgraduate personal statement is for one course only – it should be a lot more specific to what and where you’re applying for.

Postgraduate study is also a significant level up from undergraduate, so avoid using the statement you wrote for your bachelor’s course as a template. The admissions team is interested in how you’ve grown since your previous studies.

 
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How to write a personal statement

Writing a personal statement for university is different to writing one for a job application. It should show your academic interests and explain why the university will help develop your learning and research. You’re not trying to charm the reader. Instead, you're providing insight into who you are, your achievements and your enthusiasm for the course.

Before putting pen to paper, read through all information about the course and what you need to do to apply.

If you can, arrange to speak with one of the course tutors or a current student to discuss what admissions tutors are looking for. Are you able to see examples of successful personal statements from previous applicants?

When you know exactly what’s required of you, mind map or list:
  • Your relevant academic and practical experiences
  • The bits about the course that particularly interest you
  • Anything else the university has asked you to include

You can then use this to structure your plan.

 

Structure

Carefully plan what you’re going to write in each paragraph to ensure you include all the important information and present it coherently. Your course will demand effective communication from you, and admissions tutors will look for evidence of this in your writing.

Generally, you want:
  • An interesting introduction that outlines your academic background and relevant experiences
  • Engaging middle paragraphs that detail, with examples, how your interests, achievements and experiences make you right for the course
  • A strong conclusion that pulls together the main points and summarises why you want to study it

Each paragraph and sentence should flow logically into the next. If you want, you can split up sections with headings (like ‘Academic achievements’ or ‘Career goals’) to make the statement easy to navigate.

For the word count, check with the university you’re applying to, as each may ask for different things.

 

What to write in a personal statement 

You want to show how your interests and experiences make you the right person.

Expand on your mind map or list from before and think about:
  • How will the course help with your future goals?
  • What experiences do you have that provide evidence of your interest in the course?
  • What modules or projects in your undergraduate degree really challenged your thinking?
  • How has any employment shaped your ambitions?
  • Have any personal or public events inspired you?
  • Which books have you read, or activities have you been involved in, that have influenced you?

Rather than just listing experiences, explain how they shaped you and how they will help you succeed. There’s no need to write down your qualifications as the admissions tutor will have these details with the rest of your application.

You can also include relevant information about extracurricular activities:
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Are you part of any sports teams or societies?
  • Do you volunteer?

This builds a picture of who you are and what you’ll be like as a student. If you want to and if relevant, refer to challenges you encountered during the pandemic – but in a positive way.

You don’t need to include everything in your statement. It should highlight the key information and leave the reader wanting to interview you to find out more.

 

Style

The admissions team will be looking through many personal statements – they want to see a variety of experiences and stories. You can reflect this in your writing style; avoid repetition and use a variety of words to paint a unique picture.

Try not to use obvious phrases such as ‘I have always been interested in...’ or a gimmicky opening line like a famous quote. Instead, get to the point quickly and say in your voice why you’re excited about the course.

Be concise and make every word count. What you write should be relevant and honest, demonstrating your potential. Everything should be balanced; you can be confident in your abilities but try not to come across as arrogant. Show why you should be given the place, but don’t beg.

When editing your work, make sure you have:
  • First-person narrative
  • Correct use of spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Varied and interesting vocabulary
  • A positive and friendly, yet professional tone
  • Paragraphs that flow logically into the next
  • Clear and concise points backed up with evidence
Try to avoid:
  • Clichéd language
  • Waffle or too much irrelevant information
  • Vague or confusing sentences
  • Excuses for gaps in your experience

 

Check and check again

Proofread your statement to check that your points are clear and there are no spelling or grammatical errors. You can use spellchecking tools and free writing assistants like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor to perfect your work. Reading your statement aloud can be helpful to see if it makes sense and flows well.

Ask at least one other person to read through and check it. This could be a friend, family member, careers adviser or a tutor if you’re still at university. A second pair of eyes may spot anything that doesn’t make sense or errors that you’ve missed.

 

Personal statement tips

  • Give yourself plenty of time to write, edit and check
  • Take lots of breaks and return to your work with fresh eyes
  • Make sure your statement is unique and written by you
  • If you’re an international student, say why you want to study in the UK
  • Be prepared to talk about what you’ve written in an interview
  • And if you’re applying for more than one course, make sure to write a different, tailored statement for each application!
 
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