A well-crafted Masters personal statement is the key to convincing admissions tutors that you deserve a place on a postgraduate course. Discover the dos and don'ts of writing a personal statement and take a look at some examples for inspiration
What is a personal statement?
'We certainly find the personal statement an essential part of the application process,' says Helen Hayes, assistant registrar (postgraduate and non-standard admissions) at Aberystwyth University.
A Masters personal statement is a piece of writing that you submit as part of your postgraduate application. It's your first real chance to sell yourself to the university and to demonstrate to admissions tutors that you're right for the course.
It's likely that you've already written a personal statement for your Bachelors degree, so this should give you some idea of what to expect. However, don't be tempted to use your undergraduate personal statement as a template. You will have progressed academically since then and admissions tutors will want to see evidence of this.
Your postgraduate personal statement should be unique and tailored to the course that you're applying to. Use the opportunity to show off your academic interests and abilities, and to demonstrate that the programme will benefit from your attendance as much as you'll benefit from studying it.
'From an admissions officer perspective, given that we have to read a large number of personal statements, we are always keen to see enthusiasm, interest and passion for the subject emanating off the page,' adds Helen.
How long should a postgraduate personal statement be?
A Masters personal statement should be around 500 words. This equates to one side of A4. However, some universities require more, often two sides. Some institutions also set a character limit instead of a specific word count, so it's important that you check the application guidelines before starting to write your statement.
As they're relatively short in nature, don't waste words on autobiographical information. This isn't necessary in postgraduate personal statements. Instead, focus on why you want to study a particular programme and your potential to successfully complete the course.
What should I include in a Masters personal statement?
You should tailor your personal statement to fit the course you're applying for, so what to include will largely depend on the course requirements. However, in general you should write about:
- Your reasons for applying for a particular programme 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 preparation - address how undergraduate study has prepared you for a postgraduate course, mentioning your independent work (e.g. dissertation) and topics that most interested you.
- Evidence of your skillset - highlight relevant skills and knowledge that will enable you to make an impact on the department, summarising your abilities in core areas including IT, numeracy, organisation, communication, time management and critical thinking. You can also cover any grades, awards, work placements, extra readings or conferences that you've attended and how these have contributed to your readiness for Masters study.
- Your goals - explain your career aspirations and how the course will help you achieve them. 'Describe how studying your chosen course fits in with your long-term ambitions and career path,' advises Helen.
Address any clear weaknesses, such as lower-than-expected module performance in your undergraduate degree or gaps in your education history. The university will want to know about these, so explain them with a positive spin. 'We look for positive reflection in situations like this,' explains Helen. 'Cover how things have been addressed and what will be different in your proposed postgraduate studies.'
How should I structure my personal statement?
Your personal statement should follow a logical, methodical structure, where each paragraph follows on from the one before. Make sure paragraphs are short, succinct, clear and to the point. Remember, you only have 500 words to use.
Capture the reader's attention with an enthusiastic introduction covering why you want to study a particular Masters. Then, engage the reader in your middle paragraphs by summing up your academic and employment background, evidencing your knowledge and skills and demonstrating why the course is right for you.
Your conclusion should be concise, summarising why you're the ideal candidate. Overall, aim for five or six paragraphs. You can use headings to break up the text if you prefer.
The majority of postgraduate applications are submitted online directly to the university. If this is the case, present your personal statement in a standard font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman, text size 11 or 12. If your course application is submitted through UKPASS (UCAS's postgraduate application service) font style won't matter, as personal statements are automatically formatted.
How can I write a good postgraduate personal statement?
- Give yourself plenty of time and don't rush. Your personal statement can make or break your application so it needs to be perfect. Tutors can 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.
- The best personal statements adopt a positive, enthusiastic and professional tone and are presented in clear, short sentences. Avoid elaborate or overly complicated phrases. Unless otherwise stated, all postgraduate personal statements should be written in English and your spelling, grammar and punctuation must be spot on, as the personal statement acts as a test of your written communication ability.
- Don't use the same supporting statement for every course. Admissions tutors can spot copy-and-paste jobs. Generic applications demonstrate that you have little understanding of the course. In order to stand out from the crowd, Masters personal statements must be unique and specific to the course and institution.
- Draft and redraft your statement until you're happy. Then ask a friend, family member or careers adviser to read it. Proofreading is incredibly important to avoid mistakes. Memorise what you've written before any interviews.
What do I need to avoid?
- follow online examples too closely
- use your undergraduate UCAS application as a template
- be negative
- lie or exaggerate
- use clichés, gimmicks, humour, over-used words such as 'passion' or Americanisms
- include inspirational quotes
- make pleading/begging statements
- needlessly flatter the organisation
- include irrelevant course modules, personal facts or extra-curricular activities
- namedrop key authors without explanation
- use overly long sentences
- repeat information found elsewhere in your application
- leave writing your personal statement to the last minute.
How should I start my Masters personal statement?
Try not to waste too much time coming up with a catchy opening. The more you try, the more contrived you'll sound and the more likely you are to fall into the trap of using clichés.
Avoid using overused phrases, such as:
- For as long as I can remember…
- From a young age…
- I am applying for this course because…
- Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…
- I have always been interested in…
- I have always been passionate about…
- I have always wanted to pursue a career in…
- Reflecting on my educational experiences…
Admissions tutors read hundreds of applications per course so the opening paragraph of your personal statement needs to get straight to the point and make a real impact. Avoid overkill statements, gimmicks and popular quotes.
If you're really struggling, come back and tackle the opening once you have written the rest.
How should I end my personal statement?
Conclusions should be short, sharp and memorable, and leave no doubt in an admissions tutor's mind that you deserve a place on a course.
The perfect ending should pull all of your key points together without waffling or repeating yourself.
Like the rest of your Masters personal statement, keep the ending simple. Be succinct and make it clear why you'll be an asset to the university and end on a positive note, with a statement about why the institution would be lucky to have you as a student.
What are admissions tutors are 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
- demonstrable interest in the subject, perhaps including some academic references or readings.
Personal statement examples
The style and content of your postgraduate personal statement depends on several variables, such as the type of qualification that you're applying for - such as a Masters degree, a conversion course or teacher training. Here are some postgraduate personal statement templates to help you get started:
Law personal statement
You'll apply for an LLM the same way you would for any other Masters, directly to the university. Whether you're undertaking a general LLM or a more specific programme, such as an LLM in human rights or international business law, you'll need to convey why you want to study the law in more depth and how this could potentially aid your career. Discover more about LLM degrees.
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 with your conversion subject, and what you hope to do in the future. Learn more about psychology conversion courses.
Social work personal statement
If your Bachelors degree was in an unrelated subject but you now have ambitions to work as a social worker you'll need a Masters in social work (MSW) to qualify. Social work Masters have a substantial work placement element so you'll need to cover what you hope to achieve during this time as well as demonstrate other relevant experience. Find out more about social work courses.
PGCE primary personal statement
As well as detailing why you want to work with this particular age group, a PGCE primary personal statement should highlight the ways in which your educational background has inspired you to teach. You'll need to cover relevant skills you have gained and any related work experience, as well as demonstrate your knowledge of the primary national curriculum. Read up on PGCEs.
PGCE secondary personal statement
You'll need to cover why you want to teach at secondary level while also acknowledging the pressures and challenges of working with older pupils. As you'll be teaching a specific subject, you'll need to evidence your knowledge in this area and demonstrate how your first degree was relevant. It's also essential to highlight any related work or voluntary experience. Learn more about teaching personal statements.
Find out more
- Search postgraduate courses.
- Find out what else you must consider when applying for a Masters degree.
- Completed your application? Discover what postgraduate interview questions you may be asked.