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 by Ben Taylor
, posted on 30 Jul '20

7 of the Most Common Postgraduate Personal Statement Mistakes

We like to think we give some pretty good advice (and we certainly do our best) on what you should do when you’re applying for a Masters, whether that means picking out the perfect course for your career plans or securing the best funding to support you during your studies.

But there are lots of things you shouldn’t do during your Masters application, too. This week we’re taking a look at some of the most common mistakes that students tend to make when writing a postgraduate personal statement.

#1 Using your undergraduate personal statement as a template

This is one of the easiest traps to fall into. You should absolutely resist the urge to dig out that dusty Word document containing the personal statement you wrote when you were 17 or thereabouts. (Unless you’re planning on smiling at your 17-year-old self’s ambitions and dreams – in which case, go right ahead).

A lot has happened since you applied to your Bachelors as an impressionable teenager and you should make sure that your Masters personal statement mentions the most memorable and relevant experiences you’ve had in the intervening years. It’s important to show that you’ve developed as a result of your university education, illustrating how this has prepared you for postgraduate study.

#2 Too much waffle

Not the wonderful breakfast food (I mean, there’s hardly such a thing as too many of those deliciously doughy grids).

No, we’re talking about the darker side of waffle – the side you can’t drizzle in maple syrup or sprinkle with blueberries, not the side that would always be burned by that faulty toaster you had to share in undergraduate halls because the waffle iron you bought off eBay turned out to have the wrong plug and you’d lent your adapter to that Swedish neighbour who’d taken it back to Uppsala with him for some reason. Yes, when we talk waffle we’re talking about sentences and paragraphs that don’t seem to go anywhere, that don’t seem to have any relevance to the topic at hand.*

Postgraduate admissions officers are busy people, and they don’t have time to wade through line after line of rambling prose. You can make sure that you stay in their good books by getting straight to the point, using clear and crisp prose.

*Maybe you’re thinking that this is in itself a prime example of waffle. And you’d be right, but I can get away with it because I’m writing a blog and not a personal statement.

#3 An abundance of clichés

At the end of the day, you should avoid clichés like the plague. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea and there’s no use flogging a dead horse if you can’t lead it to water. You’ll just need to bite the bullet and cross that bridge when you come to it. Take the bull by the horns and seize the day.

Okay, I’m being silly but I have a sensible point to make. It’s no use reeling off a list of clichés and buzzwords if you want your personal statement to stand out. Focus on what makes your application special and figure out an original way of getting this across.

#4 Confusing confidence with arrogance

It’s always a good idea to strike a positive, confident tone in your personal statement. After all, you need to demonstrate that you’re capable of succeeding at postgraduate level.

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t blow your horn too hard* – show that you’re humble as well as ambitious.

*There’s another example of mistake #3.

#5 Exaggerating your achievements

Now, while your personal statement shouldn’t shy away from making the most of the fantastic things you’ve done at or after university, it’s important not to stretch the truth. For example, you mustn’t give the impression that a week of work experience was the equivalent of a full-time role within a business. Similarly, don’t pretend that a passing familiarity with a particular coding language is the same as being proficient in it.

By all means mention these sorts of skills and experiences – but make sure that you aren’t being economical with the truth when you do so.

#6 Not backing up your claims with evidence

You should avoid making claims in your personal statement that don’t have examples or evidence to back them up. For example, if you have excellent research skills, ensure that you mention exactly how and when you’ve developed this ability, linking it to the course you’re applying for.

In other words, try not to make wide-ranging, woolly statements about your suitability for the Masters without giving compelling reasons and concrete evidence.

#7 Spelling and grammar

It’s completely fine if spelling and grammar aren’t among your strengths, but always make sure that someone checks your personal statement who does have a keen eye for typos and the like. Don’t be afraid to get a third (or even fourth) pair of eyes on your statement. After all, pobody’s nerfect.

If you’re looking for more advice on applying for a Masters, our guide to postgraduate personal statements has plenty of practical tips for prospective students.

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