Mastering your application to do a Masters

Over the winter vacation many students are writing Masters applications and it’s the personal statement which is often the most intimidating part. The format for the personal statement varies depending on the area of study and institution you’re applying for, so make sure you check the guidelines for each degree you’re applying for really carefully.

Typically personal statements are one page of A4 (although they can be longer). Topics you can address in your personal statement include:

Why do you want to study this subject? This sounds obvious, but it’s often something that is difficult to articulate. What interests you about this subject? What have you done that demonstrates this interest? (For example, attending optional lectures or events, reading particular books or choosing particular modules at undergraduate level). How does this subject allow you to use your key skills and abilities?

Why do you want to study this course at this particular university? Demonstrate that you’ve given some thought to your choice of course and university and done some research. Is there anything distinctive about the choice of modules/approach/practical experience offered? Is the course broad, therefore giving you an overview of the subject area, or is it specific, therefore giving you expert knowledge of a particular, defined topic? Do they have interesting visiting lecturers? Try to go beyond saying that a university is ‘prestigious’ or ‘well-known’ – this might be why you want to go there, but it sounds a bit vague. What is it about the university’s resources which will be particularly useful? Do they have libraries with extensive subject-specific resources? Are the lecturers active field-leading researchers?

Why do you want to do a Masters? Sometimes students just apply for Masters degrees because they’re not sure what they want to do in their careers. It’s better if you can demonstrate in your personal statement that the Masters is not a last-resort. You don’t necessarily need to have your whole career mapped out, but try to show that you have thought about how this Masters will contribute to your likely career path. Sometimes a Masters won’t directly contribute to career development – but in this case stress your real intellectual engagement with and passion for the material. You could also mention the transferable skills a Masters will develop, and which you can use in your career: writing skills, analytical skills, ability to work with others and so on.

What skills and experience do you have which will enable you to complete this Masters?

Sell yourself! Think about your academic experience: do you have particularly high grades, especially in relevant modules? Have you won any prizes? You might well have noted such achievements on a CV (if required), but it’s still worth drawing attention to them on the personal statement. Outline the knowledge base you have gained through your undergraduate degree and explain how this will support your learning on your Masters. Describe work experience you have undertaken, especially if it is relevant, and explain the skills you have gained through it. Also note any extra-curricular activities you have been involved in and the skills they have developed, particularly if they are activities which contribute to your current university.

Here are some things to AVOID in your personal statement:

DON’T cut and paste from the UCAS statement you used when applying for your undergraduate degree. A Masters application is a different document with a different structure and approach and you will have developed and changed during your undergraduate degree.

AVOID anything which sounds too cheesy. It isn’t necessary to begin with an inspirational quote or to talk about how much you loved your subject when you were three years old. Your statement is more likely to stand out if you clearly explain your motivations and persuasively outline your achievements.

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