How to Write a Personal Statement
The personal statement is arguably the most difficult element of completing any application. Most other elements of an application form use key questions to guide you through the required information. A blank personal statement box can be daunting but it does give you the opportunity to showcase your skills, achievements and personality. The personal statement is your opportunity to demonstrate the ways in which your establishment of choice will benefit by offering you a place on their course. Our step-by-step guide will ensure that your postgraduate application remains at the top of the interview pile.
Step One – Research
You wouldn’t apply for a job without reading a job description and researching the company. Writing a personal statement works in the same way; you need to understand the requirements in order to achieve the goal. Before you start writing your personal statement, make notes on the following topics:
What are your reasons for wanting to undertake postgraduate study?
Simply wanting to undertake postgraduate study is not enough. You need to identify specific reasons that it is the right thing for you. For example, you might have got as far as you can along a particular career path or you might want to enter a new profession that requires a postgraduate qualification. You might also have a love of learning and want to further your academic studies and research skills. Consider your long, medium and short-term goals.
For this element of your research, you should also ensure that you have identified the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study. For example, you will find that postgraduate programmes place more emphasis on independent study, have an extended individual research element and require a longer reading list.
Why is this course or project of particular interest to you?
The answer to this could be personal. You might have been influenced by the experiences of someone in your family or have been inspired by following an expert in a particular field. For example, an interest in autistic spectrum disorders that was sparked by experiences at high school.
It could also be professional. You may want to expand on previous employment experience or wish to progress to lecturing in a specific field. For example, working for five years in the field of climate science.
Your interest in this course or project might be purely academic. You may wish to continue research that you started during your undergraduate years or further your knowledge of a subject that you have been studying as part of your employment.
You need to identify at least three solid reasons for your application; each must clearly relate to the specific programme to which you are applying.
Which elements of this course particularly appeal to you?
You might be interested in a research module that gives you the opportunity to study overseas or has an employment related element. Study the programme carefully and record which aspects of it meet your specific requirements. Showing that you have done so will demonstrate your commitment to that particular programme.
How has your previous academic study prepared you for this course?
There may be specific elements of your undergraduate study that would be a good precursor to the programme for which you are applying. For example, the topic of your dissertation might be relevant or you may have previously studied related academic theories.
You should also think about the skill-set that you developed during your undergraduate study. You might have developed some key research methodologies or become particularly skilled at data analysis or extended writing. Consider how this skill-set might relate to your new programme of study. If any areas of weakness were highlighted during previous study, consider how you plan to address these.
Step Two – Writing
Give Yourself Time
Your personal statement will take longer to write than you think. Allow yourself plenty of time to research it, write it and review it (see step three).
Read the Guidelines
Before you start writing your personal statement, make sure that you have read all of the instructions and understand the requirements. You should check any stipulated word counts, look for specific questions that require answering and check acceptable upload formats for any additional documents.
Exemplary Spelling and Grammar
The importance of exemplary spelling and grammar cannot be over-stressed. Grammar and spelling errors will negatively influence your chances of being selected for a programme. Before you start, make sure that you adjust your word processor’s spelling and grammar settings to suit the version of English (UK or USA) that is required.
The aim in a personal statement is to be persuasive but honest. Demonstrate pride in your achievements but don’t over-enhance them. Don’t ever be tempted to fabricate evidence of your accomplishments; dishonesty will always come to light at interview or through your references.
Set the Correct Tone
Remember that your audience is the admissions tutor. He or she will be skilled at finding candidates who will succeed and bring credit to the programme. Your tone should be polite and professional. You should avoid being over chatty or using colloquial language.
You need to strike a balance between showcasing your personality and giving facts about your experience, skills and knowledge. If you demonstrate an enthusiastic and interesting personality in the opening paragraphs, the admissions tutor will be encouraged to continue reading.
Get the Structure Right
Setting the correct structure in your personal statement will demonstrate your ability to do so in an assignment. You should include an introduction, which briefly states your case, a main body, which gives the bulk of the information and a conclusion, which summarises why you are the ideal candidate for the programme. Approximately half of your personal statement should showcase you and your interests; the other half should focus on the course.
Provide the Correct Level of Information
Provide a level of information that demonstrates your specific interest and skills, but doesn’t repeat them. For example, the first paragraph below is weak, but the second demonstrates a clear understanding of the applicant’s field of interest.
“I am currently studying for a BA in Education Studies. I particularly enjoy Early Years’ Psychology and would like to learn more about this fascinating subject. Early Years’ Psychology is a hugely important topic in which I have been interested for a long time.”
“I am currently studying for a BA in Education Studies. I have particularly enjoyed my final year module in Early Years’ Psychology and am about to begin my research project in this area. My interest in this has been particularly enthused by a visit to primary schools in Stockholm. From my experiences of play on this visit, I realised that I would like to investigate in more depth, the importance of play to childhood development.”
Step Three – Review
As in any writing task, allowing adequate time for review is an important part of the process. As a rule of thumb, leave a week between writing and your own first check. A break from what you have written will help you to add to what you have already said and pick up errors more easily.
Once you have written and checked your personal statement, asked friends to read it through and pick out simple mistakes. It is much easier to see someone else’s mistakes than your own. Offer this service in return; it is often useful to see how someone else has approached a task and you will be able to help each other with tips.
You could also ask a current tutor to check your statement. If it is somebody that knows you well, they will be able to offer constructive advice and support.
Write a list of things that you are unsure of. You may have doubts about your use of an apostrophe, or be unsure about mentioning a particular lecture; if you write these down as you progress, you are more likely to remember to ask for help with them.
You should then consider engaging the services of a professional to give your personal statement a final check and the required level of polish. Little things like correct sentence structure and the improvement of flow can make a big difference to the success of your personal statement.
Incorrect Word Counts
If the university has asked for a statement of 4000 words, they expect to receive one that at least comes near to that count and does not exceed it. Undertaking the research suggested in step one above will help with this.
Over Emotive or Effusive Language
Use language that is descriptive and correct, but don’t spoil your efforts by trying too hard. The language you use should reflect your enthusiasm but it should also sound like you. Don’t try to show-off.
It can be tempting to reword something that you have already said in order to increase your word count. This will make your application look weak. If you are not sure what else to include, read some examples of strong personal statements.
Although there are some excellent personal statement examples available online, do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to copy these. Plagiarism is easy to discover and may result in your application being thrown out. Read good examples, don’t claim them as your own. You might want to consider using a template for your initial draft, this is acceptable, but try to use your own words as much as possible in your final version.
Forgetting What You Said
After all of this excellent advice, you may well be invited to interview. If you are, you will need to review and remember what you have written on your application form. Keep a copy of it somewhere safe.
Your personal statement may be one of the most important pieces of writing that you have ever completed. It will have a direct influence on your future. Writing it can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. Stick to the three steps above, Research, Writing and Review and avoid the pitfalls we have listed, and you will have a successful personal statement. Good luck with your future!
Download a PDF version of How to Write a Personal Statement.
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