The decision to apply for a master’s degree is very exciting. There are many reasons why you might pursue one but presenting these motivations in a personal, deep-seated, and well-considered way is a task of its own. To start, be prepared to answer three big implicit questions on your personal statement:
1) Why do you want to undertake a master’s in this subject?
2) Why do you want to undertake the master’s at this institution?
3) How do you know you are the right person for this course?
Your motivations will no doubt steer your answers. It is tempting to respond with “I have always been interested in this subject” to show a life-long passion or complimenting them with “your university drives leading research in the field”. Now, these statements might be true, but anyone can say those things…
What drives you?
Research shows that the kind of motivations that are most sustained are driven by enjoyment, values, and knowing the worth of the action. We call this intrinsic motivation. In contrast, there is extrinsic motivation that doesn’t reflect as well on an application. It might be driven by university rankings, status etc. that often reflects society-imposed values. This is not to say those aren’t valid incentives as we are usually motivated by both internal and external rewards.
My favourite motivation theory is Self-Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan, 2000). It lays out three psychological conditions that foster intrinsic motivation: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. I have described them below to help you write a set of strong motivational statements for your application.
When people feel that they have the skills needed for success, they are more likely to take actions that will help them achieve their goals. This feeling of competency can help you extend your abilities so enjoying the challenge of further education is a good example of the competency need.
- Could it be that your skills/experiences/personal qualities will enable you to be successful in your chosen field?
- Do you value doing something that you are good at?
This stems from the observation that people need to experience a sense of belonging and attachment to other people. It can be derived from the fact that if you’re in a setting where you feel connected, you might feel like you can contribute and give back. This is where doing your research on the institution will really help.
- How would you fit into their university/department?
- How would the master’s help you give back to the community?
People act autonomously when they believe in the value of the action and not because they have been coerced in some way. Having a purpose or mission that you believe in is a good example of acting on autonomy.
- How is this master’s a part of your wider plan?
- How would the master’s help you pursue your interests?
I hope that this article has stimulated some introspective thoughts. The idea is that if you write from a place of self-reflection, you will produce something that isn’t easily replicated. Pay attention to key words such as: ‘enjoyment’, ‘values’, ‘contribution’, ‘purpose, ‘mission’ etc. and see if you can use them to convince admissions that you really want this master’s degree.