If you’re applying for a postgraduate qualification, you’ll need to write a master’s personal statement.
This critical part of the application process is often one of the most demanding, and it’s easy to feel unsure about what to write.
Don’t worry! This is a comprehensive guide to how to write a master’s degree personal statement.
I’ll walk you through the complete process and give you the tools and techniques you need to ace your application.
I’ll even share my master’s degree personal statement template, absolutely free!
So, how do you write a master’s personal statement?
A master’s personal statement is written in three phases. Firstly, you must gather as much research and contextual information as possible to support your application. Then you should structure your material in an order that conveys your academic journey before editing and proofreading in depth.
Before you get started on your master’s personal statement, you also need to understand what it is and what it’s for.
Here’s a brief overview, in case you’re not sure…
How To Write A Master’s Personal Statement
What is a Master’s Degree Personal Statement?
A master’s personal statement is usually between 500-1000 words. It should outline your interest in a specific graduate program and illustrate your academic and professional suitability. It should clarify your past and future research interests and evidence the value you will bring to an institution.
A personal statement is often the only opportunity an applicant has to engage directly with an admissions committee and highlight their suitability.
It’s your chance to celebrate previous academic achievements, clarify your skills and interests and outline your professional ambitions.
In contrast with many undergraduate admissions platforms, a statement of purpose focuses on your academic career and your research potential. It’s less about your personality, hobbies or life experiences.
When faced with several similarly qualified and experienced applicants, a university will often use the personal statement as the deciding factor in making an offer. According to the admissions team at the University of Sussex:
Your personal statement is where you show us your commitment, dedication and motivation for studying the course. It is your chance to show us the course is for you.
So, how do you start the process of writing a master’s personal statement?
Begin by taking some simple, actionable steps to lead you to a larger goal. That way, it won’t feel like such a mountain to climb. You’ll also give yourself time to get your statement written to a high standard.
Here are the steps to take, in the order you need to take them…
1 Research Your Subject & University Options
When preparing your master’s personal statement, the first thing to do is carefully research the courses, subjects and faculty options available to you.
Institutions like Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and the London School of Economics offer a wide range of course information online. You should also ensure that you use research tools such as whatuni.com and The Uni Guide, as they give valuable insight from a student perspective.
Grab a large folder or create a document on your laptop and make some notes under the following headings:
What Subject Best Suits my Research Goals?
As a graduate student, you’ll likely have a field of expertise you want to explore. Nonetheless, taking the time to sift through the related options thoroughly can be enlightening.
Majoring in Biochemistry as an undergraduate doesn’t mean that it’s the right subject for postgraduate study. You might want to study Structural Biology, Molecular Biophysics, Chemical Engineering or Computational Genetics.
Equally, you may be working in a professional sector and want to take on a course that complements your role. It’s an increasingly popular approach, and as prospects.ac.uk, a leading higher education website points out, the most popular reasons for undertaking a postgraduate degree include progressing a current career path or improving employment prospects.
Ensure that you extend your subject search beyond the obvious and widen your options by talking with peers and advisors.
Contact practitioners in the industries you’re interested in pursuing and establish the most appropriate routes forward.
Which Course Offers me the Right Content?
Don’t just look at the subject. It would help if you thought about how a complete course is structured as well. How a subject is taught and the opportunities it presents can be as impactful as the subject itself.
Here’s a quick checklist for graduate study programs:
- Do you know what each course module covers?
- Do you know which modules are core and which are optional?
- Have you checked that all modules are accessible through a range of pathways?
- What is the tutor system like?
- What is the balance of practical work to live lectures and independent research?
- How will you be supported as a learner?
- How are units or modules assessed and awarded?
- What are the numbers of students in each cohort?
- What connections can be made with industry?
- Who are tenured and visiting teaching staff?
- What are the opportunities for internships, placements or years abroad?
- How flexible is the course structure?
- How does the course rank for results and student satisfaction?
- What relevant outcomes are achieved by grad school alumni?
Once you’ve answered these questions for every course you’re interested in, you’ll be well-placed to make the right decision. If you can’t find the answers, contact the institution directly, and ask for clarification.
If they can’t give it, perhaps it’s not the right course for you.
Which Institution Best Meets my Needs?
Lastly, you need to research each institution’s broader potential. After all, you’ll spend a significant amount of time and money in one place.
It’s sensible to find out if your personal needs will be met, as well as your academic ones.
Use the following prompts to help your note-taking:
|How effective and reliable are travel links to and from this place?||What is the physical architecture on the campus?||Is accommodation available, and if so, what quality is it?||What amenities, facilities and resources are available?|
|What is the cost of living in this area, and are jobs available?||What level of student support is available through this institution?||What resources are available to enhance learning in the faculty?||What grants, scholarships and financial packages are available?|
If you can, you should pay an in-person visit to your grad school shortlist. Talk to current staff and students and spend some time on campus.
That’s the only way to really know if it’s for you!
2 Summarise Your Previous Academic Achievements
Lists of your formal qualifications and academic experiences will doubtless appear elsewhere in your application. There is no need to repeat them in the body of your personal statement.
However, you should take the opportunity to summarise key academic achievements, especially if they support your application directly.
Use these suggestions as prompts for developing a detailed list of accomplishments:
- Have you received accreditation, membership or recognition from relevant bodies or organisations?
- Have you participated in exclusive workshops, lectures or invitation-only events?
- Has your work been published or been seen outside academia?
- Have you developed networks or contacts of value to your continued study?
- Have you established businesses or shown entrepreneurial spirit within your discipline?
It would help if you also considered the following in more depth…
Previous or Ongoing Original Research
If you have authored established or ongoing original research, you should ensure that you include details of this in your statement of purpose. In the planning stages, make a note of the nature and scope of the research and summarise your findings.
As you develop your master’s personal statement, you should also indicate how your ongoing and future research goals connect to your university application.
How has your research qualified you to pursue this field of study?
Placements and Academic Exchanges
Significant achievements that applicants often neglect to include are previous placements within a relevant industry and cultural/educational exchanges.
Make a note of the placements you have undertaken, voluntary or paid. Consider the roles you undertook and the relevant skills you developed.
You should also note how the placement has enhanced your suitability for the course.
Similarly, if you’ve completed an academic exchange or spent a year abroad, then make sure you outline the skills you developed. You should also consider the value of a culturally diverse experience and the benefit of broad perspectives on your continued study and research.
Don’t worry if you seem to be writing lots of notes; you’ll edit them down later on.
I don’t mean qualifications here.
Instead, what prizes, awards or accolades have you accomplished? Don’t be modest about listing them in your notes. This is also the place to consider successful dissertation topics, essay competitions and publications.
Like all the content you’ll be including, you’ll want to ensure you do more than simply include a list or description.
You’ll need to be clear on exactly how the knowledge or experience gained has added value to your application or made you a suitable candidate.
You might also want to reflect on how higher-level qualifications, such as undergraduate degrees, have prepared you for postgraduate study. Don’t simply list results, but consider how the processes and techniques of advanced study have equipped you with specific, relevant skills.
When you begin to collate this information, you should remember that admissions teams look for success and potential.
Your master’s personal statement should evidence your successful academic career and illustrate your continued academic potential.
3 Outline Your Relevant Professional Experiences
A master’s personal statement must clearly outline your relevant professional experiences. By clarifying the value of your career in relation to your academic achievements, you will evidence your suitability for graduate study and reinforce your potential value.
Be Specific About Your Professional Successes
If you have achievements or accomplishments in the professional sphere, you should outline them in your statement of purpose.
As well as the academic success I’ve already mentioned, you should include any of the following professional achievements:
- Mentoring of peers, students or employees
- Successful implementation of systems, processes or technology
- Promotions or positions of responsibility
- Increases in pay, awards received, or grants obtained
- Presentations given or resources created
- Additional professional qualifications earned
- Courses taken or facilitated
- Valuable client networks
- Appraisals or reviews
Depending on your areas of research and employment, you may have other elements to add. Just ensure you note any professional accomplishments that will lend authority to your application.
Outline the Value of Previous Accomplishments
It’s not enough to make lists of accomplishments, however. A list without context doesn’t offer much meaning to the reader.
Once you’ve got a list of your professional achievements written, you should make some further notes about the value of each one.
Use your master’s personal statement to show an admissions committee that you are aware of the value of your achievements.
It suggests that you also understand the value of your prospective course of study.
Examples of value include:
|Mentored new employees in the department||Embraced new perspectives and developed a greater understanding of the industry||Gained a promotion within the faculty||Was able to contribute more fully to the creation of teaching materials, gaining expertise|
|Developed new research tools to track customer engagement||Software and coding skills, and a greater understanding of client behaviour and requirements||Received a positive and constructive appraisal||Developed self-reflection by gaining insight into strengths and areas for development|
Show how Your Research Matches Your Application
Once you’ve established your achievements and the value gained from them, you should link the outcomes to the course requirements.
The most effective way to do this is to go through the course descriptor, highlighting the essential skills, attributes or requirements needed for entry. Then, cross-reference this list with the outcomes you’ve already identified.
When you find matches, you’ll know which elements to highlight in your master’s personal statement.
Here’s the whole process:
4 Prove Your Connection to the Discipline
When writing a master’s personal statement, you must demonstrate a proven connection to your discipline. Admissions committees want to see evidence of the logically structured development of your engagement over a reasonable period. This should link to the relevancy of the application.
What’s the best way to write this?
Use the following checklist to help you make a list of the different ways in which your previous experiences demonstrate a commitment to your field:
- Have you taken additional courses or classes to develop your knowledge?
- Have you researched relevant theories and methodologies?
- How have you contributed to the body of knowledge in your field?
- Do you use social media to promote your online content?
- Have your studies or observations led to any advancements?
- Can you write a chronological account of your interest in the field?
- Which major projects and studies have you contributed to?
- How has work shadowing/placement or employment built your skills?
- Which figures do you admire in your field and why?
- Have you taken active steps to engage with relevant networks?
- Can an admissions committee see your logical career progression?
- How have you inspired others in your field?
- Can you identify an inciting moment of engagement with your subject?
Write Your Experiences in Chronological Order
Once you’ve made some notes under as many of these headings as you can (and have identified some headings pertinent to you), then you should write them up in chronological order, ensuring that you keep your ABCs clear…
In doing so, you’ll convey a compelling and relevant history that clearly outlines your commitment to your field.
One of the very best ways to learn how to write a master’s personal statement is to look at a variety of examples and analyse their strengths and weaknesses.
You can check out my collection of personal statement examples here or hit the image below.
5 Link Academic Ambitions with Course Content
This is an excellent opportunity to use your master’s personal statement to look to your future success. Identify your academic and professional ambitions and link them with what the course offers.
In doing so, you’ll reassure admissions teams that you’re a good fit.
A personal statement should outline your goals clearly and indicate the steps you have already taken towards achieving them. Most importantly, it should clarify how the successful completion of the course will enable these goals to be met.
Start Practicing Self-Reflection and Goal Setting
The College for Adult Learning features a great post on setting academic goals, but in the first instance, you should reflect on what it is you want from your graduate degree and how it might advance your research opportunities.
To get started, note down some answers to questions like these:
- How will this degree advance my understanding of my subject area?
- How will this degree help me develop a broader or deeper range of specific skills?
- Which modules or opportunities do I find most engaging or essential?
- Which grad school facilities are vital to my ongoing research?
- How will this degree enable my career within a specific sector?
- What are my academic aims for this degree?
- What are my personal aims for this degree?
- How can I contribute to the learning community and my wider field of study?
- Which faculty staff members are inspirational, and why is learning from them essential?
- Does the degree offer links to industries that are relevant to my goals?
- Why is the degree course a logical next step for me?
- What has been achieved by course alumni, and how does that relate to my ambitions?
Perhaps the most critical question you can ask is:
How does what is on offer enable me to fully engage in specific areas of research with the depth and scope I require?
Note down your answers to these questions. Once you’ve developed two or three key ambitions that link your application with your long-term goals, you can use these examples in your statement of purpose.
6 Define the Value of Your Transferable Skills
Transferable skills are a valuable component in a master’s personal statement. Examples include qualities such as resilience, organisation and empathy. By including them, you establish your flexibility, depth of character and suitability for study at a high level within a learning community.
Academic history, qualifications and professional experience are central to a strong postgraduate personal statement.
However, transferable skills can also play a role in evidencing your suitability and compelling the reader to make you an offer.
Transferable skills are the personal qualities you possess that enable you to function successfully in life and in more general academic situations. You may have a growth mindset and view challenges as positive opportunities. Perhaps you are a successful independent learner? Maybe you practice active listening or have developed stamina through regular participation in sports.
Don’t Ignore Your Transferable Skills
Don’t ignore the value that these kinds of qualities can add to your resume. Institutions are looking for academically gifted individuals. They’re also looking for students who will survive and thrive in their community.
If an admissions committee can see that you have a wide range of well-rounded capabilities that enhance your academic ambitions, your application will be far more successful.
I’ve got a great post here, all about transferable skills. Check it out and use the suggestions to help you identify your own.
7 Recognise What Makes you a Unique Candidate
In business terms, we’re talking about your unique selling point. What is it about you, your achievements and ambitions that make you stand out positively? Everyone is unique, but the important thing is to highlight that uniqueness relevantly.
For a master’s personal statement, that uniqueness should be defined by your depth of knowledge and potential.
It is irrelevant that you got a prize in a judo contest or play in a rock band in your spare time. What is important is proving that your unique blend of achievements, experiences, skills and ambition make you an ideal candidate.
What Makes you Uniquely Qualified?
- Have you a proven track record of success in your field?
- Have you built up a network or following that facilitates your research?
- Have you been awarded previous grants, bursaries or scholarships?
- Will your proposed research enhance the grad school’s reputation?
- Do your qualifications exactly match the course criteria?
- Have you already developed working relationships with members of the community?
- Do you bring existing sponsorship or financial security with you?
- Are your ambitions likely to affect real change in your field?
- Do you bring additional expertise or strengths not present in the faculty?
Once you’ve identified your strongest USP, you must hone it into a compelling short paragraph.
Use the three-part model below to make sure you include each necessary element.
- Clarify what uniquely qualifies you for grad school
- Explain the value to both parties if an offer is made
- Predict the positive outcomes of successful study
Done your research, made all your notes and crafted short responses? You’re ready to write the first draft of your master’s personal statement.
8 Develop a First Draft Outline
If you’ve followed the steps in this post, then writing the first draft of your postgraduate personal statement shouldn’t be too daunting.
Using the guidance I’ve already given you for identifying which elements to include, go through each heading in your notes and extract the relevant content. You should structure your writing in a specific order.
It’s the order in which you’ve worked through this post:
- The central inspiration or motivation behind your application
- The reasons why a particular institution is a suitable choice for you
- A summary of your previous academic achievements, reinforcing your suitability for the course
- Your relevant professional experience and its relevancy to your application
- Your expertise in the field, subject, discipline or specialism
- Your ambitions, how you’ve pursued them and why grad school is the next step
- Your transferable skills and how they will help you
- Your unique qualities and value to the institution or community to which you are applying
Tell Your Story in Chronological Order
You’ll notice that broadly speaking, this takes you through a past-present-future structure. That’s a good way to think of it, too. A master’s personal statement gives you the opportunity to put your educative journey into context. Presenting it in a chronological way is ideal.
To help you with this, you can download my free master’s degree personal statement template by clicking here.
It will give you all the information you need to create a perfectly structured postgraduate personal statement!
9 Evidence the Quality of Your Writing
In addition to outlining your academic capabilities, your master’s personal statement must evidence the quality of your academic writing. This will demonstrate that you have the literary skills necessary to flourish in a graduate program.
From using the correct sentence starters to making sure that quotes are included correctly, there are several ways to impress with your writing. You should aim to use a formal, concise tone that avoids slang, conversational language or specific dialects. Keeping your writing on-point and compelling is the key.
The Right Vocabulary for Your Statement of Purpose
Aim to include a balance of subject-specific vocabulary in your persona statement. You should use the opportunity to reinforce your academic credentials by using the appropriate language in the right context.
Remember that members of the admissions committee are likely to be aware of your field but may not be experts. Try to strike a balance between evidencing your depth of knowledge but not alienating the reader.
Keep in mind that a master’s personal statement should be about you, your achievements and your goals, and not an academic essay.
There are some great tips about writing style in my post on what not to include in a personal statement.
Check Your Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar
It’s critical to ensure that your master’s personal statement is free from errors. Postgraduate programs inevitably require a high level of academic writing. If your application is full of errors, readers will assume that your graduate work will be of a similarly poor standard.
I recommend Grammarly to lots of the applicants I work with. It’s the ideal tool for ensuring your personal statement is accurate and concise. What’s more, you can use it to sharpen all your academic writing once you achieve your place on the course.
Pick up the free version here, or hit the banner below for more information.
You can use the free resources in my post on what to check in a personal statement to make sure you’ve got all the bases covered.
10 Share your Drafts with the Right People
With your first draft completed, you should share your personal statement with a limited number of readers prior to submission.
The aim of sharing your in-progress application is to gather constructive feedback from people who are suitably informed about both your achievements and your potential.
You should make sure that they have access to your complete application, as well as the course outline and requirements.
It’s essential that you pick a limited number of well-qualified readers, as too many will result in an overwhelming number of contrary notes. You might consider the following individuals:
- Colleagues, peers or professional counterparts
- Mentors, counsellors or coaches
- Contacts in academia
- Supervisors or employers
- Professional service providers
- Informed friends and family
Regardless of where you get your feedback, you should ask your readers to comment under the following headings:
|Proofreading for errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar||Feedback on the quality of your content and relevancy to your application||Suggestions for additional content relating more closely to the demands of the course||Techniques for further academic research and additional research opportunities|
|Collaborative rewriting of content to better express your ambitions and experience||Restructuring of your content to develop its compelling quality||Feedback on professional qualifications and achievements compared to the course requirements||Checking of your application for inaccuracies and final edits for word count and formatting|
Once you’ve received their feedback, take the time to identify common responses and themes before developing your final draft.
When you’re happy with the outcome and have developed an outstanding application, it’s time to submit your statement of purpose and wait for the offers!
Tips Before Submitting a Personal Statement
I’m often asked the same questions about master’s personal statements, so if you’re wondering the same things, here are some quick tips. Before you hit ‘send’, check out the following…
How do you Start a Personal Statement?
Starting a master’s personal statement can often be the hardest challenge that candidates face. The prospect of starting with a blank page can be daunting, and it can often lead to delays in submitting an application.
Do not write the first draft of a personal statement from scratch or try to write the opening paragraph first. Instead, gather key information and make comprehensive notes before creating the content.
Don’t forget to download my structure template for more free advice, or check out my post on how to start a personal statement here.
How Long Should A Personal Statement Be?
Most institutions will suggest the length of the master’s personal statement they would like you to write, but if you aren’t given a limit, then work to a maximum of 100 words. That should give you plenty of scope to go through the necessary content without being repetitive.
If your personal statement comes up shorter than this, don’t worry. As long as you’ve covered all the elements above, that’s fine. Quality is always better than quantity!
For more information about how long a personal statement should be, check out my post here.
How Do I Write About Myself?
I get asked this a lot! Candidates often find it very challenging to write about their own achievements without feeling that they are being boastful or repetitive.
Just remember, no one knows you as well as you do! You’ve got to convince an admissions team of your suitability and motivation, and that means writing about your achievements and ambitions with confidence and purpose.
Check out my article on how to write about yourself here, and give your writing the edge when it comes to master’s degree personal statements.
Good luck with your statement of purpose, and don’t forget to contact me if you’d like some 1-1 support.
You’ve got this!
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