Personal statements for postgraduate applications

student working at desk holding a pen

When you’re applying for postgraduate study, the most important part of your application – aside from your name and qualification to study the course – is your personal statement. It is the part that really allows your experience to shine, and proves to the university that you’re applying to that they should give you a place. In this post, we’ll be looking at some of the things that you need to know about writing your personal statement when you’re applying for postgraduate study.

What is a personal statement?

Your personal statement is simply a short essay about yourself and your suitability for the course you are applying for that you add to your postgraduate application. It is there for you to showcase yourself to the admissions team, and to help them to see that you would be a great addition to this year’s cohort. 

If you are a UK student and applied to university for undergraduate study through UCAS, then you’ll have already written a personal statement for that. Although you might read that to reflect on when you’re going to write your postgraduate personal statement, don’t use it as your guide, especially if you’ve taken a break from your studies and have worked, and gained industry experience since then. Several years will have passed since you wrote your undergraduate statement, meaning that you will have developed significantly, both academically and personally since then – and that is something you definitely want to demonstrate in your application.

For international students that are applying for postgraduate study, the process may be a little different. You’ll need to consult the guidelines for the institution to ensure that you clearly demonstrate that you meet the requirements for the course. In your personal statement, you’ll be able to discuss the same things that other applicants would, such as your career aspirations. You’ll also be able to discuss how your time studying in the UK will contribute to your career prospects, or if you anticipate further study when you have completed the course. 

One of the biggest concerns for universities welcoming international students is that their use of English is good enough to comprehend the course. Your personal statement is an ideal place to demonstrate that even if English isn’t your first language, you speak and write it well enough to be interviewed for a place. 

Whatever your current status – as a recent graduate, international student or someone returning to study from employment, there’s a good chance that your academic interests have evolved since you began your undergraduate study. You’ll need to include a section about what really appeals to you about the postgraduate course you are applying for. Remember to show why you’re a great fit for the university, and what value you will contribute to the course while you’re studying. 

On average, universities require personal statements for masters level study to be around 500 words, which is around one side of A4

How long should a postgraduate personal statement be?

On average, universities require personal statements for masters level study to be around 500 words, which is around one side of A4. But some institutions will require much longer personal statements, and some will set a character limit. 

As with any other type of academic writing, always read the application guidelines carefully before you start writing to ensure that you don’t go over a word count or miss any essential information. To assist with your personal statement word count, you can utilise this tool to ensure you stay within the specified limit: the UCAS personal statement length checker.

What do I need to include in a postgraduate personal statement?

There is no one-size-fits-all template for postgraduate personal statements, since the requirements of the course will influence what you write about. There are a few things that you should definitely include though:

Why you want to study the course, and why you deserve a place

When writing a personal statement for masters or any other postgraduate course, bear in mind that it’s your sales pitch to the institution. You will need to sell yourself, so include everything that demonstrates your academic interests and career aspirations. Discuss why the university and the course is the right choice for you, such as the staff members that you would like to work with, if there are opportunities to gain work experience as part of the course to show that you’ve done suitable research, and have thought out your options clearly.

Why you are ready to study the course

Whether you are completing your undergraduate degree at the moment, or you’ve been working for a while, talk about how your undergraduate study developed your skills. Mention how your dissertation influenced your research skills, and which areas of study really interested you – especially if those areas are included in your postgraduate course. If you’ve worked in the field, discuss how you will be able to apply the experience you have gained in the course.

Why your skillset suits the course

Just as when you applied for undergraduate study, you’ll need to show your abilities in key skills that are required for almost all areas. Your ability to communicate, literacy, numeracy, and IT skills are all essential to mention, as well as higher-level skills such as critical thinking, organisation skills and the ability to manage your time appropriately. If you have taken additional reading and study, or training such as attending conferences, include this in your personal statement, and if you have received any kind of awards, or grades that are relevant to your study, you should highlight this here too.

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Why the course contributes to your goals

By the time you are applying for postgraduate study, most people have a career choice in mind. Use your personal statement to discuss why the course will help you to achieve your goals.

Why anything negative could be a positive

If there are any points of concern that an admissions team member might have about your application, you should address them in your personal statement. Don’t ignore them – especially if they are really obvious! If you encountered low grades at a certain point, or you have a gap in your employment history, be clear about the reasons they happened.

Ensure that you are positive about it though. For example, if you were able to achieve a high grade despite illness, then talk about how you did this. If your gap in employment was due to family matters, state what happened and what steps you took to return to work. If you’re an international student and you have never lived away from your home country before, how do you expect to adapt to culture differences? Resilience, adaptability and the ability to move on from a setback are qualities that universities and employers look for, especially with the demands of postgraduate study.

When you are considering what to write, a few points you should look to cover include:

  • Why you have chosen the university you are applying to, and if you are applying to a particular campus location, what appeals most about that one
  • Your reasons for applying for the course
  • What your intended career path is, and why studying the course will support your endeavours
  • If you’re an international student and universities in your home country and the course you are applying for is offered in universities there, explain why you want to study in the UK and how you benefit from studying here
  • If you have been in industry for a while, cover why you want to return to your studies, as well as what you bring to the course from your experience in the field
  • Once you have completed the course, what do you intend to do next?

Variations on postgraduate personal statements

It is important to note that every course has unique requirements for their personal statements. If you’re applying for a postgraduate degree in a science subject, you’ll need different information than if you are applying for an arts or business subject. Always follow the guidance from UCAS or the university, but there are a few points to note about specific courses: 

  • For the Legal Practice Course, you’ll apply for up to three courses through the centralised applications system, and you’ll have up to 10,000 characters for your statement.
  • To apply for a Psychology conversion course, you’ll do so with the institution directly. 
  • To apply for PGCE Primary teacher training to become qualified to teach Key Stage 1 or 2, you’ll need to have gained classroom experience, so ensure this is the main focus of your PGCE personal statement.

To work with older children, you will need a PGCE Secondary certificate, and you’ll apply via UCAS Teacher Training (UTT). You can learn more about writing a UCAS teacher training personal statement here. Whichever subject you want to teach you will need to emphasise why you are a great candidate.

What shouldn’t be in my postgraduate personal statement?

Some of these go without saying, but we’ll go over them anyway!

  • Never lie or exaggerate about the extent of your achievements. You will almost certainly be found out, which could damage your career down the line. 
  • Don’t put someone as a reference that doesn’t know you. Your references are likely to be contacted – many professors know each other. 
  • Avoid using sentences that run on too long.
  • Avoid using any type of inspirational quote that you might find on Instagram!
  • Don’t claim that your career is your passion. It might be, but you don’t want your statement to be cheesy!
  • Steer clear of using any kind of begging or pleading to be admitted to the course. If you’ve written a strong personal statement, and your qualifications back up your application, you shouldn’t need to plead for a place on your chosen course. If a place on your chosen course isn’t available, you have plenty of options – either applying again next year, or finding another course at another institution. 
  • Don’t pay compliments to the institution – staff are well aware of the reputation – and why prospective students are attracted. 
  • Don’t include autobiographical information.
  • Don’t waffle – your statement needs to be succinct, with just the relevant information. 

Remember that you don’t have a huge amount of space in your personal statement, so don’t repeat anything that is already included in your application such as module information. You also don’t need to include information about your extracurricular activities – unless it is relevant to the course you are applying for, of course.

Personal statements can be structured like you would an essay – they need to follow a clear structure that flows logically

What structure should my postgraduate personal statement take?

Personal statements can be structured like you would an essay – they need to follow a clear structure that flows logically. Admissions teams see a lot of applications, so keeping your paragraphs short and easy to read while clearly demonstrating your enthusiasm for the course will be appreciated. 

While there are countless online templates available online that you could follow to create your personal statement, we strongly advise against using them. You might look at a few to get a good idea about what sort of things to include – but following them exactly will mean your statement won’t feel authentic, and when you attend an interview, it will be clear that you didn’t write your statement without support. 

In terms of formatting your personal statement, if using headings helps you to direct the flow of your statement, then use them – you can always take them out when you’ve finished if you feel they are unnecessary. If you are applying directly to the university on their form, then use a professional font – Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman are good choices, in size 11 or 12. UCAS Postgraduate applications are formatted automatically, so you won’t need to worry about font or size. 

How should my postgraduate personal statement start?​

Put yourself in the place of the admissions staff. They are reading thousands of applications every year, so you need to get to the point and sell yourself as quickly as possible. Your opening line should make an impact, but shouldn’t be gimmicky, use cliché or exaggerations. Start with an introduction that shows why you want to study the course. Once you’ve covered that, move onto proving why you are an ideal candidate for the course, detailing relevant knowledge and skills. When you’re finalising your statement, be clear and to the point, and ensure you state why you’re a perfect candidate. 

If you can’t think of a good way to start your statement, then work on the rest of it first. Once you know exactly what is going in your statement, and the flow of your writing, you will probably find it easier to decide on your opening sentence and paragraph. 

How should my postgraduate personal statement end?​

Keep the end of your statement to the point, but by the point that you are at your concluding statement, anyone who is reading your statement should be in no doubt that you should be given a place. Your final statement should round up all of your key points, without being repetitive. 

Be straight to the point, and keep it simple – you want to show why you would be an ideal student, and your personal statement demonstrates your communication skills. 

Proofread your work carefully, and even if you’re confident, ask someone to check it for you.

How can I write a good postgraduate personal statement?

Your personal statement is an important piece of writing. Doing a good job on it is the difference between getting onto the course you want or an alternative, so these are our recommendations: 

  • Take your time to read the guidance provided 
  • Plan your statement, so that you don’t forget to include anything 
  • Leave enough time to edit and write several drafts 
  • Use plain English (unless the guidance requires another language as part of the application process) 
  • Proofread your work carefully, and even if you’re confident, ask someone to check it for you. As a bare minimum use an online tool such as Grammarly to pick up any typos! 
  • Be enthusiastic – your statement should show you are excited about the prospect of studying the course
  • Use a customised statement for each application – don’t just cut and paste from a generic application! 

Remember, you are looking to impress the admissions team with your personal statement – so write it accordingly. 

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

It depends on which course you are looking to study, but there are several things that admissions staff will look for in every personal statement. 

  • A well thought out, clear and easy to read statement that demonstrates your skills 
  • Evidence of how the course you are applying for is the best step on your career path
  • That you have looked at other options and why the institution that you are applying to is the right choice 
  • Why both your academic and non-academic abilities support your desire to complete the course
  • That you have a suitable amount of interest in the subject

There are many different ways to show these points, and so if your personal statement looks very different from others, but still answers these points and the requirements of the institution, then don’t worry! That is likely to be a good thing as it means your personal statement will be more memorable. 

Final thoughts

Writing your postgraduate personal statement is something that you need to take your time to get right. Rushing, or using a template is a no-no – you need to fully personalise your statement to demonstrate why you are a good fit. If you’ve read our guidance here, you’re likely to be able to put in a great personal statement for your postgraduate application, and receive a place on the course you want. 

If you are just starting your application for postgraduate study, or are deciding where to apply, read our guide, and consider whether one of these courses might be right for you. 

Read more about the MSc Accounting and Finance (ACCA route)
or if you’re ready to enquire, complete the or the International enquiry form.



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