Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Your Master's or Ph.D Application

Alongside the usual application materials - testing requirements, transcripts, CV, and recommendations - graduate and post-graduate programmes will always require you to include a ‘personal statement.’

Think of it as if you’re on trial, and the admissions committee is the jury. Except in this case, you’re not trying to prove your innocence to a crime. You’re simply trying to prove to that you should be admitted to their Master's or Ph.D programme. You write a short statement with concrete examples and evidence, all pointing to what kind of student you are and why you're a good fit for the chosen degree.

Here are some universities to apply to, all over the world:

There are also a lot of universities that you can apply to right now, having rolling applications. 

You can now apply with Studyportals to one of our partner universities abroad. You can apply whenever you want, and it won't cost you anything.

Check the available Masters and see which of the degrees match your background and interests. Start the application process by filling in your student profile. You will soon get contacted by one of our application counsellors who will assist you further. We’ll then apply on your behalf. Find out more about applying to a Master's degree with Studyportals

Below we will outline general tips that will help you write and prepare your personal statement for your Master’s or Ph.D application.

View Masters worldwide

Allow yourself extra time

Although personal statements are generally short in length (approx. 700 words; 1-2 pages), you should take extra special care to make sure that it is written well and edited thoroughly for grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. Every sentence should be carefully thought out, and every single word should contribute to your overall statement of purpose.

The previous 271 words leading up to this sentence only took me 15 minutes to compose; but your personal statement must be taken more seriously.

  • Give yourself a few weeks to think about what you want to say (and how you want to say it).
  • You should also allow time to double- and triple-check your statement for any glaring mistakes. Send it to a colleague, your thesis mentor, a teaching assistant, or your friendly neighbourhood copyeditor to have them look over it for clarity.

The personal statement is your opportunity to get, well...personal! This is an opportunity for you to reflect on what led you to apply for this programme. An encounter you had with a particular scholar, an inspiring course you took, a pivotal moment during your studies – there isn’t space for these kinds of things on your CV, but at least your personal statement gives the space to share these personal experiences.

Research the programme you are applying to

Part of doing post-graduate research (especially in a Ph.D) is proving that you understand the field you are entering; and there are ways for you to prove how familiar you are with the scholars who work in that subject.

  • In your personal statement, show that you’ve given thought to the actual programme you’re applying to. Don't tell them that you applied to their school because it is the highest-ranking school, or that it’s in a city you’d love to live in.
  • Almost every university department website has details about each faculty member - what they specialise in and what they’ve published. Use this information to your advantage. Show that your interests align with those who already work in that department and that your research will find a comfortable home there. Then, include a sentence or two about it in the personal statement: ‘I have contacted Professor Xavier, who has agreed to oversee my research during my post-graduate studies’.

Avoid useless clichés, junk, and details

While your personal statement is an opportunity to express yourself, you shouldn’t waste the admission committee’s time.

Amateur writers fall into the trap of excessive, unnecessary preambles. It looks something like this:

‘Since the beginning of time, mankind has utilised principles of mathematics to measure objects in the world…’.

As a general rule for good writing, this kind of statement is, frankly, useless and annoying. Someone reading this sentence thinks you're either trying to fill space or just trying to show off. Committee members are just trying to find information about you that will let them decide your suitability for the programme. The last thing you want to do is bore them with unnecessary junk.

Only present your life-story if it enhances the statement

Students writing personal statements always feel tempted to present stories from their personal history. But, unless it is absolutely necessary to include in your statement, or if it really enhances the purpose that you’re presenting, you can leave this kind of information out.

For example, if you’re applying to a Master’s programme in English Literature, you can leave out the ‘I’ve been a bookworm from the time that I learned how to read’ section. This kind of statement doesn’t set you apart from other applicants.

Similarly, if you’re applying to a medical school, you needn’t include statements about how you’ve ‘always wanted to help people’ or that you ‘had a calling to be a doctor since age 7’.

However, there are key aspects of your personal history that will be useful here.

  • Talk about that time you did an internship, and what you got from that work experience.
  • Talk about your own major research project and what you discovered about yourself.
  • Talk about any publications, conference presentations, or assistantships you’ve done, and what they taught you.

These kinds of details are much more concrete, especially if there is a direct link between these experiences and what you will be doing in your graduate studies programme. These are the things that will set you apart from other applicants.

Grab your reader’s attention from the very beginning

Quick! In two sentences explain what you’re interested in and how you became interested in it! In the next two sentences give an overview of your background in this field! Now conclude with what you intend to do with your graduate degree!

  • This is your opening paragraph: grab the reader's attention and tell her exactly what she needs to know from the start.
  • Think of it like your 'elevator pitch': you catch one of the committee members before getting into an elevator. You step into the elevator with them and, between the bottom floor and the floor where they are getting off, you must convince them to hire you for the position.

Your personal statement is basically the same thing

It would be good to introduce these details in the beginning (without too much detail) to direct the reader’s attention: 'In 2013, after joining a seminar on holistic nutrition, I realized that this is a more viable approach to health management, and I decided to devote my research to it'.

Study an international Master's degree

Don't use the same statement for 10 different applications

One mistake that applicants often make is thinking that, when they’re applying to more than one programme, they need only send the same details, written the same way, to 5 or 10 different universities. I’ve heard advisors and tutors recommend ‘writing one personal statement’ and ‘changing the name of the university’ for each one.

This is an enormous mistake!

For one thing, every programme has its own unique set of questions that they want answered in your personal statement.

  • Some want extra-curricular activities you’ve participated in
  • Some want a clear proposal for your project
  • Some want you to just explain why you are applying to their school
  • Some want to see what is unique about you and the research you’re doing

Admissions officers can tell when you’ve used the same, worn-out, reused personal statement and sent it to them without a second thought. Instead, you should have a good personal statement that is uniquely tailored to every programme. Some information will overlap, but much of it will not.

Search and apply to Masters abroad

Another reason to avoid this technique is that it often ends in embarrassing mistakes and errors in the personal statement. Probably every admissions officer can recall a time in the last application cycle when a student applying to Northwestern University said ‘it would be an honour to be admitted to UCLA this year.’ 

Errors like this come about when an applicant decides to use the same template for every school he or she is applying to. The easiest and most certain way to avoid such an egregious error would be to simply write a new strong statement for each school (hence our first piece of advice: allow yourself plenty of extra time).

Apply with Studyportals

Did you find this information useful? Ready to take the next step to your international studies? Now you can apply directly to a Master’s offered by one of our Application Partner.

Explore more than 70000 Master's programmes from all around the world with Studyportals.

All disciplines
Worldwide

Wishlist