A good personal statement can make the difference between being accepted onto the postgraduate course of your dreams or making a nightmare change of plan. You know this intellectually, but sometimes it's hard to apply it when you're sitting at your keyboard, staring at the screen and wondering what the heck should go in a personal statement anyway when you're applying for a postgraduate program.
Make sure you’re feeling positive and creative when you sit down to do this. A good tip is to treat it like a job application, as many of the same rules apply. With the basics of qualifications, skills and experience covered, the rest is about matching your expectations to those of the course and university – and showing how you meet the requirements in stellar style.
Here are our top tips to make sure you impress the admissions team with your personal statement.
Firstly, showing that you’ve done as much in-depth research as you can is what makes the difference to your application. You’ll be expected to demonstrate your knowledge about the university, department, staff and their research interests with confidence. Yes, for every application that you make.
Explain why you want to continue your education at postgraduate level. If your immediate response is "because I'm passionate to explore this particular topic", that's great – your passion and motivation must show through. Simply express that enthusiasm in formal, yet appealing, language. Be concise, clear and convincing.
Next, what is it about that particular university and course that makes it the one that's right for you? How exactly does your existing experience match the course "offer"? Reference the university department's own reputation and illustrate how your qualifications and academic ambitions align with its strengths.
Fourthly, promote your own academic successes. Highlight areas where your existing academic experience leads into your future postgraduate path and why this course is the best match. The aim is to develop a progressive thread.
Next, make the best use of all your life skills, work and voluntary work experiences by demonstrating how they have developed you personally and academically. Focus on activities relevant to your future studies, though. Show with confidence (and examples) how this course will help your continued development, both as a career researcher and an individual.
Admissions Tutors are looking for focus, enthusiasm and commitment. They're also looking for your depth of knowledge and precise examples of situations where you've applied it. Don’t be vague, give examples.
Number seven in your action plan: show self-awareness by identifying areas in your knowledge that need addressing. Indicate how you've already made a start by additional reading, or by taking a supplementary course. Don't try to cover up weaknesses – it will definitely be noted! Being honest and showing you're taking steps to improve will, on the other hand, be valued as showing commitment.
Finally, including one or two brief references to relevant – and recent – academic literature, to show you are conversant with it, can be effective when used with discernment.