Top tips: personal statements for postgraduate study

So you’ve made the decision to apply for a postgraduate course and have researched the course and the University, what’s next? 

A lady smiles at the camera, she is wearng a headset
Jenny Livesey, Careers Advisor

A personal statement is your opportunity to showcase what you have to offer and convince the admissions tutor(s) that you have the motivation, relevant knowledge, and academic capability to successfully complete the course and reflect well on the institution.

Remember, when you have finished the first draft you can have it reviewed with one of our advisers via our Information and Advice appointments. These can be booked via mycareer.

Best of luck!

Jenny Livesey, Careers Adviser

Before you begin

  • Check whether the University admissions team has written instructions on what to include, word count, etc
  • Unless there are contrary instructions, we recommend you write about 500 words, which equates to approximately 1 A4 page.

A personal statement should address these questions:



Why do you want to study this subject?

Begin your personal statement with some concise motivations. Be careful not to waste space here on general comments that anyone could make, such as that you are “hard-working” or “enthusiastic”. Both these characteristics should not need to be stated so instead spend some time reflecting on phrases that are more personal to why you are applying.

Think about specific experiences that have motivated you. Perhaps an inspirational talk you attended, a debate in the field that excites you, or the chance to make a real difference to the world. Remember, don’t just make claims either – ensure your motivations are always demonstrated by brief evidence. Here is an example of this and clearly reflects this applicant’s passion for the subject.

Example: My passion for transport planning was sparked when I attended a talk by John Nash at the Bristol Festival of Ideas in 2016. Inspired by the concept of modal shift as a means of reducing traffic congestion and therefore environmental pollution, I joined the Transport Planning Society and developed my understanding through their policy reports and attending regional events every month. I am now seeking to develop my knowledge through a Master’s in Transport.


Why have you chosen this specific course, at this specific institution?

Reflect on why you’re applying for this course and this institution. Consider what attracted you to it in the first place, and what continues to inspire you about it?

For the course, think about what makes it unique compared to other universities to show you understand what it’s about. What excites you about the units? The course structure. Perhaps you will get to study abroad? Or maybe it’s the reputation of the course within the field?

When it comes to the institution, avoid general statements like ‘you’re an internationally renowned university’, unfortunately, this will show a lack of research and imagination. Instead, choose something specific about the institution you’ve discovered when researching it. Is there an academic you’d love to work with? Do they have strong links with industry? State-of-the-art facilities?

Example: I am applying to the University of Bristol as I was inspired by the ground-breaking research led by Professor Joan Bateman into the impact of music on children’s development. I drew on the project’s unique interdisciplinary methodology combining musicology and psychology in my undergraduate dissertation and would relish the opportunity to contribute to the development of this research.


What are your plans?

Show the admissions tutor that you’re not just doing further study because you can’t think of anything else to do. Even if you have not fully planned your next career steps, a broad statement will suffice. The example here is very focused, however, it is also acceptable to cite a love of learning, passion for the subject, and developing further knowledge as your reason for applying for the course.

Example: As I aim to become an accountant, I am particularly attracted to your programme for two reasons: first, it offers the accreditation needed; and second the extensive practical experience opportunities will allow me to develop good practice in advance of joining the work force and enhance my employability.


Are you academically capable of taking this course?

Admissions tutors will be looking for evidence of academic capability as well as motivation. Show that you understand what’s required to take your subject further, and that you have been developing this knowledge within and outside of your degree.

A good place to start is a dissertation or extended project, as this will show your passion for a certain area and requires the development of advanced knowledge or skills. You should also think about relevant units you’ve taken, projects you’ve been part of any technical skills you’ve developed, and any prizes or scholarships you’ve won.

Example: Attending the weekly seminar series run by the Department of Classics developed my knowledge of Latin and its reception. In my third year I took two optional units on Latin language and founded a Latin reading group for non-classicists. As a result, my Latin is now B1 standard. These language skills will allow me to engage with primary material and contribute to class discussion.


Do you have any relevant work experience?

Key skills for postgraduate study can be demonstrated by a wide range of work experience. In some cases, relevant work experience might be obvious, but even work experience that seems irrelevant provides you with transferable skills. Consider what you’ve been doing outside of your degree and reflect on the skills you have been developing.

For more tips, do’s, and don’ts, visit the Further Study page of our website and have a look at Prospects postgraduate personal statement guide.

Adapted from an original blog post by Dr Tracy Johnson