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
Also in this section…
You may also like…
‘We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate it, it oppresses.’ When I first read this passage by Carl G. Jung, I couldn’t absorb it until the time when I tried to deter one boy from bullying the others in my class at middle school.
It was at that time then I realized the inner meaning, which can be applied to many situations including assisting others. Although every student avoided him, I attempted to make allowances for him, accept him, and communicate with him starting with his childhood.
After several in-depth sessions I saw his sharp eyes become softer. In addition, we have established friendship and kept in touch till now. It was my first time to experience the magic power of words which was affirmed by Sigmund Freud that sparked my interest in psychology. Since then, I started to search lost souls through forums and contacted them via email.
Regardless whether the consequence is positive or negative, the gratitude came from the recipients who confirmed my aspiration to dedicate my life to help more people find inner calmness and balance.
I had always believed my campus life would commence in the way of a major in psychology. However my college entrance examination scores were high enough to gain early admission to Shanghai Jiao Tong University, in which Psychology is not available.
Surprisingly though, and to my delight, it offered a General Psychology course in the first semester in nursing. Ever since my first psychology course, I have been fascinated by social psychology.
As shown in Milgram’s shocking experiment held in 1963 at Yale University, that under larger institutional structures people tend to merge their unique personality and personal and moral code, surrendering individual properties to the service of malevolent systems of authority. It stimulated my orientation of doing research in relation to behavioural psychology.
Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with chronic gastroenteritis and was urged to rest by doctors, which severely disturbed my study. ‘There’s no disaster that can’t become a blessing…’ said by Richard Bach.
During the time of convalescing, I got chance to read the seventh edition of Psychology Core Concepts edited by Philip G. Zimbardo which was not only like a breath of fresh air, but forced me to think in a radically new way: I was finally confronted with the notion of psychology not just as basis of psychotherapy, but also as a way of explaining social phenomenon.
How does ‘Social Psychology’ function away from the written page, in the lives of individuals and societies? I had ignited my passion for experimental psychology.
During autumn semester 2009, I began a research project on adolescent girl. Seeking out ways in which factor tangibly entice girls to diet, I searched a great deal of correlative literatures from the 1950s to the time of the dissertation.
By using previous studies for reference and going through the investigation sections of dialogue from several disparate high schools, I was able to ascertain numerous potential factors. After that, I analyzed weight and self-image data of girls from three individual senior high schools to investigate how the collected variations affected dieting of girls.
The appealing research revealed the extent to which actual weight and attention to appearance causes girls to take-action to restrict their diet.
Trying my hands at writing this thesis gave me more confidence to pursue an academic career with regards to psychology. After recovering from the illness, my academic performance also improved as expected and I eventually got over 82 average points in both junior and senior semester years.
If the prior experiences whispered in my ear, the social practice truly opened my eyes. Volunteering for Sunshine Home and BEAN Shanghai–charitable organizations which the former aids people suffering from dementia and latter supports orphanages, migrant schools, the elderly and the disabled-reaffirmed my eagerness to be qualified as a psychologist.
Meager as it was, I had found a way I could give to help more vulnerable people.
In order to succeed in my endeavors toward psychology area, I now realize that a master’s degree in psychology is essential. But when I graduated from college in 2010, I didn’t know how to directly change my education major in psychology or engage in professional work related to psychology.
Thus, I decided to secure a position which would grant me experiences for observation and communication with people, yet which would also permit me to continue developing the research and English writing skills I needed to tackle the challenges of graduate school.
I have fulfilled this goal by working as a geriatric nurse in a general hospital before and a documentation consultant and translator for one foreign firm later. The experience has been both enjoyable and invaluable.
Although I have carved out comfortable niches in both of the jobs, with opportunities to study abroad and good salaries, I have become increasingly aspired to psychology. So I decided to leave these jobs to continue along the academic psychology path.
Through a Masters program, I plan to further explore the study of social psychology. I believe that, by adopting more specialized theoretical knowledge of psychology, methods of inquiry can be formulated that allow for the research works to be both technically sound and sociologically insightful.
Thus far, my studies have concentrated largely on superficial results, and I am particularly interested in studying these areas in more specific historical and far-reaching influence. I am also in pursuit of the enhancement of knowledge in statistics and measurement, which will allow me to unearth facts containing more practical value concealed from the experiment.
Eventually, I would like to continue my education in psychology postgraduate research.
I believe the Master of Arts in Psychology program is uniquely equipped to guide me toward listed objectives especially in social psychology. While searching for a graduate school that would accommodate my situation without a psychology major, I was thrilled to find a program not only provides this chance, but offers a specialized optional course for social psychology.
Furthermore, I have long admired your esteemed university for its significant achievements in the teaching and research of psychology. Your program of psychology, with its well-structured curriculum as well as a clear strategy for promoting a distinctive Chinese voice matches my academic background and interest perfectly.
To me, studying psychology at your university is like being brought to a land of milk and honey. With my future aspirations in mind, I look forward to the rewarding challenges in the following years.