how to write a personal statement

Chris Williams is an Australian master’s student at Oxford University. He gives the following advice on writing a personal statement, also known as a statement of purpose or personal essay.

Advice I was given:

  • For everything you write, ask yourself the question “so what?” For most applications you will have very little space to prove yourself, so make sure that everything you present is important, and that its importance is clearly articulated.

  • Be specific. You need to be able to answer: Why YOU? and why HERE?

  • Limitations are important. DON’T go over page or word limits

  • REVISE. REVISE. REVISE. Make sure you ask other people to read and critique the statement. This will improve it, and may clarify it in your own mind.

Sample Structure (with guide questions!)

Paragraph 1State your own personal desire to study in your particular field. BE SPECIFIC. What is it that you are doing and why do you want to do it?

Paragraph 2Which specific degree or programme do you want to do, and why do you want to do that particular programme? What characteristics of it appeal to you? Why is this an ideal programme for you and your current position?

Paragraph 3Why do you want to do it at this particular institution? Are there specific teachers/resources that make that institution the best place to study?

Paragraph 4What will you do if (when) accepted and why? Outline your intentions and what you hope to (will) achieve.

Paragraphs 5 and 6Provide some background and personal history as evidence of why you would be a good candidate. What have you done in the past to suggest that you will be a good investment in the future? Prove that you are ready for this opportunity now.

ConclusionBe convinced and convincing. This is a final chance to say why you want to do what you want to do, but in a bigger picture. Where will it lead? Why is it important to you, and others? Leave them in no doubt that they have to interview you.