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
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Your UCAS personal statement is your chance to show universities why you deserve a place on their course. It’s also your opportunity to stand out against other candidates with similar grades. We’ve put together this list of things to avoid when writing your personal statement, to help you get a place on the course you really want.
Don’t use quotes
The clue is in the title; the personal statement should be all about you. A quote doesn’t give you the chance to show why you should be given a place on the course and can use up a significant proportion of your 4,000 characters.
"Don’t mention particular university names in your personal statement. Make us believe we are your top choice"
Don’t use clichés
Hundreds of personal statements include lines like ‘since I was a child’ and ‘I’ve always been fascinated by’. If there was a particular event or moment in time which sparked your interest for your subject, talk about that instead. Make sure you mention concrete examples, not your wishes and dreams. Not only does it make your personal statement more individual to you, it will also give you something to talk about if you get called to interview.
"Use concrete examples to back up statements and facts"
UCAS will run your personal statement through plagiarism software so don’t be tempted to copy and paste anything off the internet! Never lie about anything on your personal statement - don’t say you’ve read a book when you’ve only read a chapter. If you are invited for an interview, your personal statement will shape the discussion, so don’t get caught out.
"Don’t write anything you’re not prepared to expand on at interview"
Don’t forget your personal interests
The most important part of your personal statement is where you talk about the subject you are applying for and why you want to study it, but your non-academic hobbies and interests come a close second. Admissions tutors want to see what you’re like as a person, so use your hobbies and interests to show examples of your skills. If you’re a member of a sports team you could use this to highlight your team-working and communication skills.
Don’t write a generic statement
For the best chance of being offered a place, you need to tailor your personal statement to the skills and qualities universities are looking for. Look at university prospectuses and websites to see how they describe the course and the way it is taught. Make sure you address these skills and qualities in your personal statement.
When you write your personal statement, you should always use the ‘so what?’ rule. Make sure every point you make clearly explains why you should be given a place on the course, and if it doesn’t, delete it.
"Don’t be modest, say how good you are"
Don’t be afraid to stand out
Admissions tutors are looking for evidence that you have a passion for your subject beyond your A-Level studies. In order to stand out from the hundreds of other applications, you need to think about what you have done, and how this is relevant to the subject you’re applying for. What makes you unique? For example, nearly everyone applying for Economics will probably say they read The Economist and The Financial Times – what do you do that is different?
Don’t over think it
For most people, the hardest parts of writing a personal statement are the opening and closing sentences. You need to make it clear from the beginning why you want to study your chosen course. A good way to do this is by opening with something interesting, unusual or surprising. It can be stressful trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence, but don’t worry about it too much; it will suddenly just hit you.
"Get someone else to check your personal statement, but make sure any changes still reflect you."
Make sure your get someone to check what you’ve written! If our Admissions team could give you one piece of advice, it’s to get someone else to sense check your personal statement. Ask a teacher, your friend or a parent to read it through. Or better still, someone else’s parent who doesn’t know you as well – they might not know what you want to study or your aspirations for the future, but should after reading it.
Other useful resources for successful personal statements
The Student Room personal statement builder
UCAS - writing a personal statement
More university help and advice