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How to write a Masters personal statement

By Sarah Blunt
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To write a compelling Masters personal statement, you need to approach it like a job application: consider what the admissions tutor will be looking for and then demonstrate this in a persuasively written statement. Whether you’ve been struggling with making a start on your statement or need a step-by-step guide on how to write it, this post covers everything you need to plan, structure and write your Masters personal statement.

What is a Masters personal statement?

A Masters personal statement is used to support your application to study a postgraduate course at university. As its main purpose is to convince an admissions tutor to offer you a place on their course, it needs to be fully tailored to the specific programme and institution you are applying for. The only exceptions are if you’re applying for teacher training or some law courses, where you only submit one personal statement when applying for multiple courses.

How to write a Masters personal statement

Step 1: Identify what the admissions tutors want

Some universities will provide guidance on what to cover in your statement, but generally your statement should be focused on answering the following two questions:

Q1. Why are you applying for this Masters programme?

You need to outline what it is about the course that appeals to you and why you want to study at that institution. Some essential points to cover in this section include:

  • Your key motivations for wanting to study the course (e.g., a passion for the subject, to pursue a PhD/career in academia, to complete a necessary qualification for entry into a particular career)
  • Your academic interests
  • The reputation of the department/institution
  • Aspects of the course that appeal most to you (e.g., specific modules, the quality of academic staff in the department, the work placement element of the course, industry links etc.)

Although not necessarily related to your motivations for studying the course, some applicants also use this section to summarise their initial ideas for their Masters dissertation.

Q2. What makes you a suitable applicant for this programme?

To convince the admissions tutor of your suitability for the programme, you need to demonstrate that you have the required skills, knowledge and experience to be successful on it. You should consider writing about the following:

  • How your undergraduate degree has prepared you for postgraduate study (if you are returning to study after a period of employment, you can draw on your current and most recent employment experience)
  • Your experience in undertaking independent research - most applicants will draw on their experience of writing and researching their final year undergraduate dissertation or equivalent. If you have other experience that evidences your ability in this area, mention it.
  • The skills you possess that will be important during your Masters – think independent working, project management, research skills, time management, ability to work to deadlines, etc.
  • Your grades, any academic awards and work placements if you feel they demonstrate your readiness for Masters study

Step 2: Research

To help you answer the questions above you’ll need to do a fair amount of research. Depending on the key points you want to cover in your Masters personal statement, you may want to focus on researching:

  • The course and how it will help you achieve your career goals e.g., are there specific modules which will allow you develop skills/knowledge that are required for entry into a particular profession? Does the course include a work placement module? Is the course accredited by a professional body? Are there any links with industry?
  • The entry requirements for the course and how you can evidence each one e.g., does the course require previous knowledge of the subject? What skills are required for studying the course?

Step 3: Select your evidence

You need to think carefully about how you can support any claims you make in your Masters personal statement. Consider how you can demonstrate your interest in the subject/field, your understanding of/insight into the profession (if relevant) and your skills and knowledge.

The following is not an exhaustive list, but you may want to think about drawing on examples from:

  • Your undergraduate degree (key modules studied, group projects, field work, your dissertation)
  • Your extra-curricular activities (voluntary roles, hobbies and interests, positions of responsibility)
  • Work experience, internships and employment (knowledge gained and skills developed needed to study effectively at a postgraduate level)

Step 4: Decide on a structure

Like any piece of persuasive writing, your Masters personal statement should have a logical structure, and be divided into concise paragraphs that are easy to digest. Most people open their statement by outlining their interest in the course and motivations for applying in one or two paragraphs.

Next decide how many paragraphs you will need to demonstrate your suitability for the course and what you want each paragraph to focus on. You could structure this part around the experience you are drawing on e.g. one paragraph to summarise the skills/knowledge acquired from your undergraduate degree, another for your work experience and extra-curricular activities. Alternatively, you could structure it around the skills/knowledge you wish to evidence e.g., one paragraph for your academic/research skills, and another on your transferable skills. Remember to include a concluding paragraph too.

Step 5: Write your first draft

Once you’ve decided on a structure and what you want to cover in your Masters personal statement, it’s time to start writing! The key to writing a persuasive statement is to hit the right tone – you want to write in a professional manner using clear and concise sentences.

How long should a Masters personal statement be?

A Masters personal statement should ideally be around 500 words, which is the equivalent to one side of A4. However, some universities may want you to write more than this and will set a character or word limit, so do check application guidelines before starting your statement.

Can I reuse my Masters personal statement?

If you plan to apply for more than one postgraduate course, you don’t necessarily need to write a new personal statement for each programme. The structure and evidence you want to draw on will be largely similar, but you will need to change the opening paragraphs where you outline your motivation for applying and interest in the course. It’s a good idea to reference the university and department, and also include the full course name too.

What to avoid in your Masters personal statement

  • Gaps in education and/or experience – if you have any significant gaps e.g, due to illness, extenuating circumstances or having a family, provide a brief explanation.
  • Unsubstantiated claims – as with any application, avoid making claims that aren’t supported with evidence. For example, if you’re going to write about your strong research skills, saying you have completed an undergraduate degree is not going to cut it. You need to spell out how these skills have been developed and strengthened through the course of that programme.
  • Clichés and quotes – most admissions tutors have read 1000s of personal statements, and these are known as big no-nos, so don’t include them.
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes – check your statement over multiple times before submitting. A good tip is to read it from the final paragraph to the opening paragraph. Another is to print it out and ask someone with an eye for detail to check it too.

Want more advice on postgraduate applications? I offer personalised feedback on Masters personal statements – get in touch to find out more.

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