How to Write a Personal Statement

Writing can be rigorous, especially when applying for a course that requires a personal statement. It can be difficult to know where to start and what to include. While there is no magic formula (or arguably even such a thing as magic), there are several pointers that can help one better portray their strengths to admission committees. Drawing from the success of our applications to the University of Oxford, Harvard University, University of Cambridge and other global universities, this article seeks to share some pointers to guide one as they write their personal statement.

In our first draft personal statements, we wrote about where we were born, our parents’ professions, high school, law school and our work experience. However, fascinating these stories may have been, they had no focus, were unnecessarily lengthy and were not tailored to the specific programmes of interest. Thankfully, they were only drafts. We edited them over and over again- cutting out the clutter and making them more relevant to the different applications. It is our hope that these pointers can help someone get a sense of clarity on how to proceed with their application. Of course, always cross check the relevant course website to find out what the admissions committee is looking for.

Think about the following.

What have you learnt about in your field or life that has stimulated you and given you a conviction that you are best suited for that programme? How have your experiences contributed to your personal growth? What are your career goals, specifically what do you hope to do after the programme?

Consider the programme details. Look out for the modules, if available on the course website. Understand the goals and values (if at all any) of the programme. How do they connect with yours and how will they further your interests? By tailoring one’s background to the specific goals of the course, one is able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the programme. What personal characteristics do you have that will enhance your prospects for success on the programme? What will you add to the class when selected? These could be addressed by using anecdotal references to demonstrate your strengths and potential contribution.

State what you think is outstanding about yourself. This could be academic or co-circular. Own your narrative. One must at least demonstrate their academic strength and should be concise.

Remember to answer the specific points which ought to be addressed in the motivation statement (Why that course) and, even more importantly, keep within the prescribed word limit and format specified. However, compelling your story might be, please keep within the word limit.

Avoid the cliché sob stories. The admissions committee is considering thousands of applicants (and has done so for years) who are sharing their experiences. The goal here is not to evoke their sympathy but rather, arouse their curiosity. This, by no means, should not preclude you from sharing your story. However, try to align your experiences with the above pointers to show that you are well suited for your programme of choice.

Have multiple drafts. Though it is possible to ace the personal statement in one draft (kudos to these champs!), it is highly advisable to work your way through a series of drafts until you are satisfied. Giving each draft a fresh eye every time you revisit it, keeping in mind the University’s guidelines on what a personal statement should cover, will help you streamline it till you arrive at a concise final version.

Having interacted with members of different admission committees, we learnt that they want to have a picture of your overall personality, academic background and work experience (where required), continuity, commitment and motivation, communication skills. Make sure you demonstrate clearly, why you are interested in the programme by emphasizing what makes you stand out as a candidate.

This article was  written for the Cloud Vision website.

  • Gaudius
    Posted at 17:00h, 31 January Reply

    This has erased doubts in my related writings.

    Thanks so much.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 18:21h, 31 January Reply

      You are welcome. I am glad this is of help.

      • Ngwen Fred
        Posted at 17:51h, 02 February Reply

        Dear Joel,
        I am so glad you are moving nations positively. I am a Ugandan with great ambition to enrol for a master degree.
        Notably I have received university offers in the UK end last year but looking for full scholarship to sponsor me through.

        Please link me to a viable one.
        Yours in solidarity
        Ngwen Fred

        • Joel Basoga
          Posted at 00:23h, 03 February Reply

          Thank you, Fred for these kind words. I equally received offers from different Universities in the United Kingdom and USA, but wasn’t able to take them up until I got a scholarship. So, I understand how it feels. Let us stay in touch. Reach me at

  • Adrian
    Posted at 18:03h, 31 January Reply

    Insightful blog right here. Keep the information coming through. Thank you people.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 18:21h, 31 January Reply

      You are most welcome. Thank you, Adrian.

  • Atrayee
    Posted at 18:10h, 31 January Reply

    I wish I had this when I was writing my application. Very well written and I am sure will help many 🙂

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 18:22h, 31 January Reply

      Thanks for these kind words, Atrayee.

  • Makawa Joseph Gilbert
    Posted at 18:15h, 31 January Reply

    Very insightful piece of writing Joel.

    Thank u a lot.
    Will keep in touch, because I feel the time is ripe.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 18:23h, 31 January Reply

      You are most welcome. Thanks, Joseph. Happy to help, let me know when you need assistance.

  • Malaika Tabby
    Posted at 18:49h, 31 January Reply

    This is very helpful! Thanks.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 19:04h, 31 January Reply

      You are most welcome.

  • Martha
    Posted at 19:18h, 31 January Reply

    Well done Joel. Thanks for sharing your stories. Surely they are helpful.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 21:23h, 31 January Reply

      Thanks Martha.

  • Tumwine Geofrey
    Posted at 19:51h, 31 January Reply

    Thank you Joel.

    Very helpful.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 21:24h, 31 January Reply

      Thank you.

    • Patrick Mugalula
      Posted at 22:22h, 31 January Reply

      This is very insightful Joel. Thank you.

      • Joel Basoga
        Posted at 22:36h, 31 January Reply

        Thanks, Patrick.

        • Martha Agaro
          Posted at 09:22h, 01 February Reply

          Thank you Joel for sharing

          • Joel Basoga
            Posted at 09:37h, 01 February

            You are most welcome, Martha.

  • Gloria Mainuka
    Posted at 20:46h, 31 January Reply

    Very eye opening and well put together
    Thank you so much for the writing…

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 21:24h, 31 January Reply

      I am happy to hear that it is eye opening. You are most welcome, Gloria.

  • Alice Kathleen
    Posted at 03:04h, 01 February Reply

    This has been of immense help.I certainly needed a grasp of this.Many thanks Mr. Joel

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 11:29h, 01 February Reply

      Thank you, Alice. I am glad that this is of help.

  • Anthony Kayiira
    Posted at 07:39h, 01 February Reply

    Very helpful brother. I look forward to more of these.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 08:11h, 01 February Reply

      Thanks Dr Kayiira.

  • Arinaitwe
    Posted at 16:26h, 01 February Reply

    Thanks a lot to both of you for being so kind as to share this priceless knowledge from your experiences in such a coherent and concise way. It has helped me come up with a range of formats/structures for my personal statement for my future applications, can’t wait to apply it and I’m quite hopeful of the outcome. Thanks once again.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 22:41h, 01 February Reply

      Thanks, Arinaitwe. You are most welcome. I am happy to hear that this has helped your come up with some structures for your application.

  • Babirye
    Posted at 05:49h, 02 February Reply

    As one on the receiving end of these personal statements, I wish every applicant would read this article. Thank you, Joel and Cynthia.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 07:58h, 02 February Reply

      You are most welcome, Rebecca. Thank you for this kind endorsement.

  • Khanani
    Posted at 06:02h, 02 February Reply

    Thank you Nona and Joel for the insights. I can attest to the rigorous process involved but I’m grateful to people like you who have sought to share from your experiences to ease the paths of many that come after you.

    May the universe forever be kind to you.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 07:59h, 02 February Reply

      You are welcome, Daniella. Thanks for these kind words and wishes.

  • Michael U
    Posted at 10:45h, 02 February Reply

    Very helpful and informative piece on how to correctly write a personal statement.

    “The goal here is not to arouse their sympathy but rather, to arouse their curiosity.”


    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 12:23h, 02 February Reply

      Thanks Michael for these kind words.

  • Kaliba Innocent
    Posted at 00:00h, 03 February Reply

    Thanks for sharing Joel and Nona many times we miss out opportunities not because we don’t qualify but because we don’t know how to package the message.

    This is helpful ??

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 00:17h, 03 February Reply

      You are most welcome, Innocent. I am glad that this is helpful. We need to help each other thrive.

  • Kato Mpanga
    Posted at 20:37h, 05 February Reply

    Thank you Joel and Cynthia for giving this precise guidance on how to write a Personal Statement (PS). Undoubtedly, this is a good resource for anyone in the process of writing their PS.

    My highlight is the importance of writing a PS to arouse curiosity, rather than the empathy of the admissions committee. Thank you for your generosity folks! Keep on keeping on.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 11:28h, 12 February Reply

      You are most welcome, Kato. Thanks for these kind words. I appreciate the time and effort you always take to comment, share and read.

      I agree arousing curiosity is important.

  • Damalie
    Posted at 13:09h, 06 February Reply

    Thank you Joel this has been enlightening. Could you please share something on personal statements for scholarships? I am currently trying to get a full scholarship and would therefore appreciate any advice in that regard.
    Thanks again.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 11:21h, 12 February Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Damalie. Overtime, I will write up something on scholarships, hopefully with Nona. But briefly, it is always helpful to read inception and history of scholarship or its benefactor. This can help one link their aspirations to the purpose of the scholarship. From my experience, reading the biographies of scholars and speaking to them can be of practical benefit. How will your studies and what you do after contribute to their cause. Do they require you to give back to home country? For instance Chevening, Fulbright, commonwealth do require this. Some scholarships, just as graduate admission committees also require one to possess curiosity and academic achievement, as such a similar approach to personal statements may be helpful. Feel free to reach out to me at for any specific questions.

  • Moureen
    Posted at 20:08h, 18 February Reply

    This is insightful and encouraging am glad I reached out. Thanks Joel for sharing.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 21:29h, 19 February Reply

      Thanks, Moureen.

  • Hope Odeke
    Posted at 12:22h, 01 November Reply

    This has been very helpful. Thank you Joel for sharing these tips.
    Much appreciated.

    • Joel Basoga
      Posted at 09:21h, 30 December Reply

      Thank you, Hope, for these kind comments and for taking the time to read.

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