Academic achievements are undeniably important for applying to postgraduate courses. However, with an imperfect transcript, your CV and personal statement may just be your saving grace. Here, we  provide a guide on what makes a successful CV and personal statement.

Before talking about successful applicants’ advice, let’s first look at what should be included in an academic CV. Academic CVs are actually very different from job CVs. The former is primarily used for academic applications such as applying to Master’s/ PhD courses. It is distinct in the way that it focuses on the academic achievements and thus will usually be longer as more information has to be included. The table below compares academic and job CVs, so that you can get the gist of how to tailor your CV for different applications.

Academic CVs Job CVs
Similarities ·       Personal information

·       Education

·       Work experience

Including: teaching experience (if applicable) and other work experiences (should emphasise transferrable skills)

·       Skills e.g. relevant trainings

·       Achievements: e.g. publication & patents (if applicable)

·       Other qualifications: e.g. membership of professional bodies

·       Admin experiences (e.g. committee membership)

·       Personal information

·       Education

·       Work experience

·       Skills

·       Achievements/ other qualifications

Differences Additional:

·       Research interests

·       Research experience

·       Awards & funding

·       Referees


·       Interest and hobbies (optional but desirable)



  1. Tailor your academic CV
  • Just like job CVs, your academic CV should be tailored to every application. Including different experiences and achievements which are related to the application can make your CV stand out.
  1. Highlight relevant academic achievements, research experience and research interests
  • ‘Always include research experience, immediately after you’ve listed your educational qualifications. If you’ve taken part in student conferences, even better.’ (Kunalan, MSc in Social Cognition 2015-2016)
  • ‘Conducting research of your own will be advantageous. Include details of your honour project, and if you have on-going collaborations from your undergraduate experience, that should put you in good stead.’ (Kunalan, MSc in Social Cognition 2015-2016)
  • Give more detailed descriptions for the more relevant experiences/ achievements.
  1.  Converting your grades
  • You should always find out how best to convert your grades when you’re listing them down, if you’re applying to uni in another country.  For instance, if you’re applying to places outside UK, it is better to state the equivalent grading there  (e.g GPA score) so that the institute can instantly understand how great your results are.

While some programmes may not ask for academic CVs, most of them would require a personal statement. A personal statement is a piece of writing about yourself. It is important as it allows the admission centre/panel to understand your motivations, strengths and passion. It helps you to stand out from the hundreds of applicants who have similar academic achievements.

According to Yulia (MSc Cognitive and Decision Sciences 2015-2016), a personal statement should include why you chose this course and this university and what makes you a good candidate. Kunalan (MSc Social Cognition 2015-2016) also suggests applicants to explain their desire for the programme as well as topics and ideas in the discipline that interest you. Applicants should also bear in mind to show off their strengths and once again state their relevant experiences


  1. Do some research
  • ‘ Include specifics about the programme, this shows faculty members that you have done your homework’ (Kulanan, MSc Social Cognition 2015-2016)
  • ‘I would generally look very carefully at the differences within departments and within courses I was applying for and tailor my personal statement to that particular application. Know who is going to teach you, what the research interests of that department are and how they might reflect your own passions. Try and shape your personal statement in such a way that you come through as a good candidate for that specific course and for that specific department.’ Alessandro (MSc Research Methods in Psychology; PhD in Clinical, Health and Educational Psych)
  1. Be precise
  • ‘If these points are written succinctly, the personal statement (for an MSc, at least) doesn’t need to be very long. Mine was less than a page long.’ (Yulia, MSc Cognitive and Decision Sciences 2015-2016)
  • ‘Faculty members don’t have time to read word for word. An organized and straightforward writing style helps to convey your main messages quickly and effectively.’ (Kulanan, MSc Social Cognition 2015-2016)
  1. Proofread
  • Again, to check for spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  • According to Alessandro (MSc Research Methods in Psychology; PhD in Clinical, Health and Educational Psych), it would be even better to ask someone to proofread it for you!

‘Something that can be generally useful is sending your personal statement to people for them to read it. Do not be afraid of receiving criticisms on your draft as the admission tutors will be a lot less merciful than your housemate. Send it to whoever knows you well on a personal and intellectual level. Personal tutors, teaching assistants that know you from tutorials or PhD friends will be able to give you very precious advice.’

Alessandro has also kindly provided us his personal statement as guidance for future applicants. To view his personal statement, please click here.

We hope the above information helps you stand a better chance at securing an offer. Good luck with your application!



This article was written by Bridget Yu and edited by Aleya Marzuki. Both of them are members of the Bugle Team.