Personal statements for postgraduate applications

2. SOP

The personal statement is arguably the trickiest part of the postgraduate application process, and it's essential that you get it right

This is your first real chance to sell yourself to the university. It should be unique to you and tailored to the course that you're applying to. You should use it to show off your skills, academic ability and enthusiasm, and demonstrate that the programme will benefit from your attendance as much as you'll benefit from studying it.

How long should my personal statement be?
Usually, it should be one side of A4, equating to around 300-500 words. Some universities require more though, so check the guidelines.

What should I include?
You should discuss your:

reasons for applying and why you deserve a place above other candidates - discuss your academic interests, career goals and the university and department’s reputation, and write about which aspects of the course you find most appealing, such as modules or work experience opportunities. Show that you're ready for the demands of postgraduate life by demonstrating your passion, knowledge and experience.
your goals - consider your short-term course aims and long-term career ambitions, relating the two.
your preparation - address how undergraduate study has prepared you, mentioning your independent work (e.g. dissertation) and topic interests.
your skillset - you should highlight relevant skills and knowledge that will enable you to make an impact, summarising your abilities in core areas including IT, numeracy, organisation, communication, time management and critical thinking. You can also cover any grades, awards, placements, extra readings or conferences that you've attended
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How do I write a good personal statement?
Give yourself plenty of time to complete your personal statement. Tutors will be able to tell if you're bluffing, and showing yourself up as uninformed could be costly. Before you start, read the rules and guidelines provided, check the selection criteria and research the course and institution.

You should structure your personal statement so that it has a clear introduction, main body and conclusion. Capture the reader's attention with enthusiasm and personality at the outset, before going into more detail about your skills, knowledge and experience. Around half of the main body should focus on you and your interests, and the other half on the course. Finally, summarise why you're the ideal candidate.

Be sure to address any clear weaknesses, such as lower-than-expected module performance or gaps in your education history. The university will want to know about these things, so explain them with a positive spin. Lower-than-expected results may be caused by illness, for example. Admit this, but mention that you've done extra reading to catch up and want to improve in this area.

Continue drafting and redrafting your statement until you're happy, then ask a friend, family member or careers adviser to read it. Your spelling and grammar must be perfect, as the personal statement acts as a test of your written communication ability. Memorise what you've written before any interviews.

What do admissions tutors look for?
Admissions tutors will be looking for:

an explanation of how the course links your past and future;
an insight into your academic and non-academic abilities, and how they'll fit with the course;
evidence of your skills, commitment and enthusiasm;
knowledge of the institution's area of expertise;
reasons why you want to study at the institution;
you to express your interest in the subject, perhaps including some academic references or readings.


What do I need to avoid?
You shouldn't:

be negative;
follow an online template;
include irrelevant course modules, personal facts or extracurricular activities;
include other people's quotes;
lie or exaggerate; make pleading statements;
namedrop key authors without explanation;
needlessly flatter the organisation that you're applying to;
repeat information found in your application;
use clichés, gimmicks, humour or Americanismse.


Example personal statements
The style and content of your personal statement will depend on several variables, such as the type of qualification that you're applying for.

 

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