This post is intended to help you get that all-important personal statement right when applying for Masters programmes and other postgraduate courses. To make sure you get the appropriate tone and content, you need to think about your application from the perspective of the admissions tutor. I see a lot of statements written in the style of academic essays, offering lengthy thoughts on key concepts in the field, but this isn’t what is required. The tone and points you make should resemble a job application more than academic arguments. Here are my tips for keeping your statement in the ‘yes’ pile.
- First, I’m assuming that you have done your homework and thoroughly researched the course. Does the teaching style suit you? What jobs do graduates of the programme go on to do? Have you talked to potential future employers to find out if you need to do the course, or are you satisfied that you want to do it for your own development? Can you fund the course and your maintenance costs throughout? If you haven’t thought these questions through, then visit our Postgraduate Study pages for advice. It is also a good idea to telephone or email the course admissions tutor if you have any questions before applying.
- Now, structure your statement around the following points to make sure you’re including what the admissions tutor wants to see:
- An introduction that gets straight to the point
Be clear and direct at the beginning of the statement, and don’t waste time discussing the ins and outs of academic debates within the subject of the course. Go straight in with why you are applying for the programme and get their attention. It’s ok to personalise this as genuine motivations will really stand out over those applications where people are applying for courses without having thought it through, or just can’t think of what else to do. Mentioning an inspirational person you met or a life experience that got you interested in this area can grab the reader’s attention straight away. For graduate medicine, for example, many students have experienced life-changing events that led them to choose to become a doctor.
- Do you have the academic capability to complete the course successfully?
You need to provide specific evidence here of the skills and knowledge you have gained during your undergraduate studies that will provide a good foundation for a postgraduate programme. Provide clear examples of when you developed specific skills, such as managing your dissertation, learning about team work in a group project, or improving your problem solving abilities, using the STAR framework to capture what you learned. Highlight units that you studied that are relevant to this new programme and how they will provide you with useful foundations. If you are applying for a programme that is quite different from your undergraduate subject, then you will need to spell out how your skills and learning are transferable to this new discipline. Don’t assume that the tutor knows what you have to offer; they need to see that you can articulate this clearly to them, rather like making a sales pitch.
- Why have you chosen this particular programme at this particular place?
Just as if you were applying for a job, you must show that you have researched both the institution and the department offering the course and be clear about why you have chosen them. Are there particular specialists you are looking forward to working with? Why does the teaching style appeal to you? Are there individual units that attract you? If you are applying for a course at your current undergraduate institution, you still have to do this! Be clear about why you want to stay, as it is by no means given that you will get a place on a Masters just because you’re already studying in the same place, especially if it’s a popular programme.
- What are your future plans? What will this course lead to?
The admissions tutor will want to see clear evidence that this course is going to help you get further towards the career you have in mind, as this means you are more likely to be motivated during your studies and complete the course. It’s ok to have more than one job option in mind when you apply and it’s also perfectly fine to change your mind later, but it helps if you can demonstrate a goal towards which you will be working by completing this programme of study.
- What else do you do that could have given you relevant skills?
It’s important to leave space for a paragraph that talks about your co-curricular interests and activities, as many of these can provide valuable skills and experience you can bring to a postgraduate programme. Any client-facing experience from shop, café or event work can provide the essential people skills needed for teaching, social work or legal training, for example, so it’s important that you explain specific occasions when you enhanced these skills, again using the STAR framework.
So, when completing a postgraduate statement, it’s important to keep in mind the perspective of the admissions tutor and their requirements. That way, you’ll hit the right target and stand a better chance of getting that place. If you need some more inspiration, you can:
Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser