In this brief guide, we look at the criteria for personal statements and what universities typically expect to see.
The personal statement is usually used as part of the criteria for admission into a graduate program. There are often dozens of applications for one spot in a graduate program, and the personal statement helps the graduate school admissions counsellors determine which students are most suitable for the program.
“A good personal statement can mean the difference between getting an offer and being rejected. Your personal statement should show us that you are the right person for the course.”
Universities rarely offer concrete prompts or topics for a personal statement. Instead, the student is expected to research the conventions of the personal statement and adhere to them. Universities do not do this to make it difficult for students; they are assessing how well the student can conduct independent research as well as how motivated the student is to succeed.
“Use information on university websites and the UCAS website. This often includes the skills and qualities universities are looking for in applicants.”
Topics to Cover
Despite the fact that there are no prompts to address, there are some topics that students are generally expected to cover. These topics may vary according to the discipline, however, so it is important to look at many examples of personal statements written for the field before commencing planning and writing.
Some general topics that students are expected to cover include:
- Why the student is interested in the field.
- How they first became interested in the field.
- Any unique accomplishments that set the student apart, such as research projects or awards.
- Any hardships that were overcome to achieve academic success, such as family problems, disabilities, etc.
- Career goals and how this program will help the student achieve those goals.
- Research interests, if applicable.
- Job or volunteer experiences that contributed to the student’s knowledge of the field.
- Any negative aspects on the record explained, such as a failed course or an extraordinary amount of time taken to graduate from the undergraduate program.
- Qualities that make the student a good candidate for the program.
- What the student can contribute to the program.
“Avoid exaggeration or negativity, unsupported statements, common clichés and quotes. Don’t simply write your life story – keep your information relevant and current. Don’t simply list off things that are included elsewhere in your UCAS application, such as the qualifications you have studied.”
The personal statement is always written in first-person perspective. However, maintain a professional tone throughout. Avoid slang and unprofessional language. This statement is a measure of writing ability as well as maturity and professionalism, so it is important to make it as polished as possible.
The personal statement should be free from error and clearly written. To that end, it is necessary to have two or more professionals in the field, such as teachers or professors, evaluate the personal statement before it is sent to the admissions committee. These professionals can assess the personal statement for its suitability and subject matter as well as look for errors.
With the above overview in mind, why not view some of our free personal statement examples to inspire you in writing your own?