Two essential tips to follow when writing your postgraduate personal statement

Two essential tips to follow when writing your postgraduate personal statement  

If you’ve reached a stage where you’re serious about starting a master’s or a PhD, you’ll undoubtedly know that postgraduate study is a completely different ball game to being an undergraduate. Whereas the undergraduate experience is in many respects just as much about what goes on outside the lecture theatre--extracurricular activities, socialising, trying new things, more socialising--as it is about study, when you become a postgraduate your priorities have to change.


Out are the days of lie-ins, skipped lectures and compressing a week’s worth of coursework preparation into one frantic overnight essay-writing session. In comes serious, immaculately organized study and a serious engagement with your subject.


As we say, you probably know all this. But what many people unfortunately don’t know is that these changes don’t just apply to what happens once you are studying. They’re also very important to bear in mind when it comes to writing your postgraduate application’s personal statement.


In about 99.9% of cases, anyone who is applying for a postgraduate degree will have at some point in their past written a UCAS personal statement as part of their undergraduate application to university. And the chances are they probably didn’t enjoy doing it, and have a feeling that writing a postgraduate one will be just as much of a chore. So they find it tempting to minimise their pain by just adapting and tarting up their old UCAS statement.


If you’re thinking about doing this, we have one piece of advice for you: don’t! Not only will your writing ability have improved a great deal since you were at secondary school, and not only will you have far more in the way of achievements to discuss now, but the content of a postgraduate personal statement is itself expected to be very different from an undergraduate one. To be blunt, you ain’t going to get very far in the postgrad world with a re-hashed UCAS statement.


So, take a deep breath, come to terms with the fact that you’re going to have to put yourself through the pain of writing a new statement from scratch, and follow these two essential pieces of advice from our personal-statement experts.



#1:Read the instructions very carefully


Unlike when you apply to university as an undergraduate, with postgraduate study you usually apply directly to the university rather than through a central organisation. The upshot of this is that each university can control its own criteria in terms of what they want you to write about in your personal statement, as well as how much they want you to write. And in most cases they are very specific about what they want.


Ignore their instructions at your peril. In the vast majority of cases, postgraduate admissions tutors couldn’t care less about what your hobbies are or which sports teams you played in at school. Instead, they’ll probably want to know about your motivation and aptitude for their course. This is why your old UCAS statement is no longer fit for purpose.


So read each institution that you apply to’s instructions very carefully, then structure your statement around directly addressing the points that they want you to talk about. And if you are applying to more than one university, this sadly means that you’ll have to make sure each statement fits that specific university’s requirements--the days of the UCAS one-size-fits-all personal statement are over for you now, unfortunately.


#2:Be as specific as possible in discussing aspects of the course that interest you


Another consequence of the fact that you are applying to each university individually is that you will be expected to discuss specific elements of their course, rather than talking about your interest in the subject in quite general terms, as you probably did on your UCAS statement.


Indeed, with a postgraduate personal statement it is essential to show what it is about that university’s specific course that interests you rather than another university’s version of it. This means that in writing your personal statement it will probably be a good idea to discuss your interest in specific modules or units offered on the course. Tell the admissions tutor what you are hoping to gain from this part of the course, and go into depth about what elements of it you have studied already and why you find them so interesting. A vague statement won’t convey your motivation or expertise, whereas one that goes into specifics will.