Need to write a graduate school statement of purpose, but not sure where to start? Let us guide you through how to write a statement of purpose for grad school!
We’ll go over what a statement of purpose, or letter of intent, for grad school is and how it’s different from other admissions essays like personal statements. Then we’ll discuss what schools are looking for in a statement of purpose for graduate school. Finally, we’ll give advice on how to write one!
What Is a Grad School Statement of Purpose?
If you’re on this page, you probably know that a statement of purpose (AKA a letter of intent) is an essay requested by lots of graduate programs as part of their application process. But there’s more to it than that.
A statement of purpose is where you tell the admissions committee why you’re interested in a particular graduate program, the kind of work you plan on doing when you’re there, and why you in particular should be doing that work. At more research-focused programs, like PhDs, the graduate school statement of purpose will be focused on your research skills and interests. At more professionally-focused programs, like MPPs and MBAs, the statement will more closely address your professional skills and goals.
It’s important to note that a statement of purpose is not the same thing as a personal statement. What’s the difference? Well, a grad school statement of purpose is more closely focused on your academic/professional qualities, accomplishments, and goals, while a personal statement is more concerned with you as an overall person. Personal statements allow for you to be more personal. There’s definitely some overlap in that both will expect you to address your goals and interests in the field, but a statement of purpose generally has a slightly tighter focus.
Of course, the demarcation between a statement of a purpose and a personal statement won’t always be hard-and-fast. Some programs will call the essay that they want a personal statement, but most of the questions they offer to guide you are academic/professional. Others will ask for a statement of purpose but provide sample essays laden with personal anecdotes and experiences. Still others will ask for a “personal statement/statement of purpose.” Graduate school admissions processes are, alas, not totally consistent across programs even within the same field.
You canallow the information available on the admissions website to guide the direction of your graduate school statement of purpose. However, if they don’t provide further specifications, the general scheme holds: A statement of purpose = tight focus on academic work/research and a personal statement = broader picture of you as a person (including academic goals).
Some programs ask for a graduate school letter of intent instead of an essay. A letter of intent for graduate school is very similar to a statement of purpose in content and focus. You’ll just structure it a little more like an actual letter by addressing your writing to the admissions committee and signing your name.
What Are Schools Looking for in a Statement of Purpose?
Now that we’ve provided a brief overview of what a statement of purpose is, let’s consider what programs are looking for in a statement of purpose or grad school letter of intent more specifically. There may be some small variation in what different programs are looking for; you should consult any available guidelines for each program. However, here are the specific elements that most graduate programs will be looking for in a statement of purpose:
Your Research and Professional Interests
One of the main things programs will be looking for in your graduate school statement of purpose is a description of the research and/or professional interests you want to develop in their program. For a research-focused program (like pretty much all PhDs and some master’s programs), you’ll target this more specifically to the research projects you would like to do while you there.
For more professionally-focused graduate programs, there may not be much a built-in research component. In this case, focus more on your specific interests within the degree field and what related skills you’re trying to build through the program.
It’s best to be as specific as possible in discussing what interests you. Don’t be vague or say that everything in the field appeals to you. This will make you seem both unfocused and boring. Instead, use particular examples of situations or phenomena that you find exciting. You want everything about your grad school statement of purpose to be intriguing and memorable!
Don’t worry that your statement of purpose will box you into a particular research area. Admissions committees understand that interests change, especially as you become more immersed in a field. However, having a focused plan helps reassure admissions committees that you are motivated and will actually be able to complete the program.
How Your Background Qualifies You
The next essential component admissions offices will be looking for is evidence of how your background qualifies you to pursue this particular field and area of interest (and research area if applicable). What brought you to these particular interests? You can describe your undergraduate studies, relevant professional experience, any major projects you’ve worked on, papers you’ve written, talks you’ve given, mentors you’ve worked with, and so on. Don’t just tell the admissions committees what makes you particularly suited to what you’re pursuing—show it with specific, vivid examples.
A Track Record of Success
Admissions committees will also be looking for a proven record of academic and personal success. Your accomplishments will almost certainly overlap with your background and qualifications. Just keep in mind that you’ll want to emphasize major accomplishments that highlight your ability to succeed in the rigorous graduate school environment!
What Interests You in the Program
At every program you’re applying to, you should be able to speak to particular things about that program that appeal to you. Are there specific professors you want to work with? Does the department have a specific focus that gels well with yours? Is there something special or particular about the curriculum you’re excited to take advantage of?
You should also demonstrate how you (and your research/work) fit in with the program. Why is it a match? What do you bring? Again, admissions committees will want you to show, not tell.
Your Passion for the Field
Admissions officers will also be looking for you to show genuine passion for your field and research/professional area of interest. Why are you planning on devoting your life to this thing? Remain professional, but communicate your excitement!
It’s become a common refrain, but be specific. You won’t stand out—at least not in a good way—if you write things that are vague, cliche, and/or grandiose. Stay away from things like “I love engineering,” or “Ever since I was a child I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.”
And don’t just say that you’re interested in disease pathology because you want to help people or save the world. It’s fine to mention an altruistic motive, but you should be specific and particular when articulating what you’re passionate about within your field. So instead, say something like “Volunteering with HIV-positive individuals in a community program impressed upon me the critical importance of improving our understanding of HIV. I feel driven to work towards improved treatments with fewer side effects.”
Your Writing Skills
Graduate school invariably involves writing, and usually lots of it. Admissions committees will be looking to your statement of purpose (and any other writing you submit with your application) to make sure you have the writing skills necessarily to succeed in a graduate program. So you want your statement to be well-organized and clearly communicate your ideas. Admissions committees will also be looking for your statement of purpose to be descriptive but concise; a statement of purpose for graduate school shouldn’t be longer than two pages even if there’s no hard word limit. You also want your writing style to stand out. While you shouldn’t use an overly familiar tone, you also don’t want to be too staid and buttoned-up. You definitely don’t want to bore anyone reading your essay!
How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Grad School
When you sit down to write your statement of purpose, there are two major components to consider: content (what you’re going to say) and style (how you’re going to say it). Content is what makes up the underlying bones of your statement of purpose/letter of intent. Graduate schools care about both content and style, but during the writing process, it makes sense to focus first on content and then consider style more closely when you know what you want to say.
This nine-step guide will walk you through how to write a statement of purpose for grad school.
Step 1: Brainstorming
The first step is to generate ideas for what to include in your grad school statement of purpose. This should include many of the elements we addressed in the previous section. As you brainstorm, it’s fine to start with more general statements and ideas and then hone in on more specific examples to include in your statement. But thinking of specific examples in advance will make writing the actual statement of purpose much easier!
There are many brainstorming methods you could consider. Some people like making lists while others prefer to just free-write paragraphs. Some would rather draw a mind map or even make voice memos. Just so long as it helps you record the information and get your brain going, any method is fine.
Here are some things to consider in your brainstorming session, with brainstorming questions for each:
Your research/professional interests in the field
- What interests you most in your field? Consider what you’ve researched/done before, and how closely you want your future interests to hew to what you’ve done in the past.
- Are there particular themes, methods, theories, etc. that interest you?
- What problems are you hoping to solve or address through your work/future career?
Your research/professional background and qualifications
- What major projects have you worked on? Did you write a thesis? Do an amazing internship? Work on a research project? Build an app? Create a curriculum? Have clinical experience?
- Have you presented at any conferences? Do you have any papers published?
- If you have work experience, how is it relevant to your program? What competencies and skills did you build there that carry over to your planned research/work?
Your major accomplishments
- Any major accomplishments not covered in your background/qualifications? Try to tie them back to your ability to succeed in graduate school and your specific research/professional endeavors.
What’s appealing about the specific programs you’re applying to
- Are there specific professors you want to work with?
- Do they have resources especially suited to your research/professional interests? Like particular classes or special programs?
- How will your work fit there?
Why you’re passionate about the field
- What made you initially interested?
- What goals are you passionate about accomplishing?
- What do you find particularly fascinating or intriguing in your field?
Weaknesses to address
Are there any weaknesses in your application you need to address? If you have a semester with very low grades or another “hole” in your application, you can address it directly in your statement of purpose. Graduate schools won’t want excuses, but it’s fine to provide some kind of explanation: were you dealing with a family emergency or chronic illness? Did you need to work full-time and go to school full-time? Whatever you write, try to frame it in positive terms, to emphasize your ultimate success in the face of setbacks.
If you find yourself struggling to generate ideas for any of the above areas, there are a few things you could do. You could look at old papers and projects you’ve turned in. You could also speak to mentors and friends. They’ll remember amazing things you’ve done and should talk about in your application.
It’s also a good idea to discuss your graduate school statement of purpose with a professor in your field of interest. They are likely to have a good idea what graduate programs and looking for and can help you generate and hone ideas.
Step 2: Outline
Next, you’ll want to select your most impactful ideas and examples from your brainstorming session and arrange them into an outline. Highlight the overall points you want to make and the examples that go with each of those points. Try to arrange your points in an order that flows logically.
However, don’t get too hung up on the details for your initial outline. It’s better to keep moving with a rough plan than to be paralyzed early in the process!
Step 3: First Draft
Next, with the help of your outline, you’ll write your first draft. Don’t feel like your first draft has to be application-ready. In fact, your very first draft doesn’t have to be ready for anyone’s eyes but your own. The purpose of this draft is to get your initial thoughts on paper. It’s fine to focus more on content than style. Hammer out your main points, and don’t worry too much about word limit yet (although you will have to cut down to 1-2 pages at most for your final statement of purpose).
Step 4: Initial Edit
Once you have a first draft, you’ll want to make a first editing pass through yourself to tighten things up. Try to make sure that your writing flows logically and start to cut points that seem less relevant. You don’t need to make your statement of purpose perfect right now on your first editing pass, but try to refine it into something you’re comfortable sharing with others.
Make sure that the following critical points are coming through clearly:
- Your research/professional interests
- Your qualifications and accomplishments
- Why you’re interested in the particular program
If you’re feeling lost or stuck, it’s fine to move on to step 5 and solicit some feedback from others.
Step 5: Get Feedback
Now that you have a workable draft, it’s time to get feedback from other people—preferably people familiar with the graduate school admissions process. They can read your statement of purpose and give you advice on the clarity and organization of your ideas. They can help you figure out if you’ve framed your examples correctly and advise where you need to further develop ideas.
It’s a good idea to have several people look at your draft. You don’t necessarily need to accept every piece of writing advice from every person who looks at your essay. However, if multiple people give a similar piece of feedback, you should probably take that advice.
Step 6: Edit Again
Next, you’ll revise your graduate school statement of purpose again based on the feedback you received from others. Now you should try to really tighten things up and think about how the final product will be received by the admissions committee. Make sure all of your examples and points are well-organized, concise, and impactful. Bring your statement under the word limit.
Step 7: Make It Sparkle
As you work on finishing up your statement of purpose for graduate school, you want to really go the extra mile on making your statement stand out. So make the following stylistic tweaks:
Make sure your opening sentences are attention-grabbing (in a good way)! Starting with a cliche, a generalization or another boring statement will disengage your readers right from the start, which is the last thing you want. Here are some cliches to avoid:
- Don’t start with a quote unless it’s somehow very directly linked to your research interests. Admissions committees are interested in your thoughts and insights; borrowing the insights of others can make you seem intellectually lazy.
- Don’t start with “Ever since I was a child, I wanted to…” This is a hugely overused beginning and also says nothing about you as a person now, which is what programs are interested in.
- Avoid starting with an overly broad or vague statement, like “I love science” or “I was born to be a lawyer.” You want to engage readers from the very first sentence, and since everyone applying to the program presumably loves science or wants to be a lawyer (etc), you’ll make yourself seem generic.
Of course, you should avoid platitudes and cliches throughout your writing, not just in the introduction. Try to replace cliche phrases like “Achilles heel,” “wake-up call,” “right up my alley,” and so on with more vivid and memorable language.
Make sure you’re using active voice instead of passive voice in your writing. So instead of “I was told by my professor…” try “My professor told me…”
Avoid overly informal language, contractions, and slang.
The first time you use an acronym, spell out what it is.
Step 8: Get Feedback Again
Now that you have a fairly polished second draft, hand it around for another round of feedback. You can ask more specifically for writing-style based feedback at this point if you would like.
Step 9: Final Tweaks
After you get your last round of comments from your readers, it’s time for the final tweaks. Incorporate any comments you want to address. Fix any punctuation, grammar, or spelling mistakes. Reading your entire essay out loud is a good technique as it will allow you to catch mistakes more easily and point to places where the text may sound awkward.
Once you’ve put on the final finishing touches, you’re ready to submit your graduate school statement of purpose!
The Keys to a Great Graduate School Statement of Purpose
A graduate school statement of purpose serves to introduce your research/professional skills and interests to the programs you’re applying for. It’s more tightly focused on your academic and professional life than you as an overall person.
Here are the key ingredients committees will be looking for in your graduate school statement of purpose:
- A clear articulation of your research and/or professional interests (whichever is more applicable to the program)
- What qualifies you for the program (and for any proposed research)
- Examples of your professional/academic success
- Your interest in the features of a particular department/program
- A deep level of passion for the field
- Skillful writing!
And here’s a nine-step process to writing one:
- Brainstorm: Brainstorm ideas and examples for all of the essential ingredients mentioned above
- Outline: Arrange the best ideas from your brainstorm into a loose outline
- First draft: Write a rough first draft. Focus on getting ideas onto paper.
- First edit: Make a pass through to clean up your thoughts and ideas.
- Ask for feedback: Ask mentors and people you trust to look over your draft and give feedback.
- Second edit: Incorporate feedback and tighten everything up into a more cohesive piece of writing.
- Make it sparkle: Hone in on writing style concerns. Make sure your language is lively, concise, and effective.
- Get feedback again: Get a final round of feedback. This can focus more on style issues if you’d like.
- Make final tweaks: Address any comments from your readers and make sure your statement is error-free!
Need more information about graduate school? If you’re wondering what GPA you need for grad school, if you have to take the GRE, or how long a master’s program is, we can help!
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Author: Ellen McCammon
Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon
The Statement of Purpose is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of graduate applications. Most students pass it off like it is just another essay about themselves, and naturally, write monotonous stuff that doesn’t stand out. That is why, the university admissions committee puts a hefty weight on statement of purposes and their structure – they want to see whether you take the interest in letting them know how much you want to study at their university.
Most Statements Of Purpose Start Off Like This:
“I am applying to the Master of Science program in Something Engineering at the University of Example because I believe my technical skills will blossom at your program as it is a place where I will be challenged and where I can develop my scientific and technical knowledge.”
Or Like This:
“I am honored to apply for the Master of Science program at the University of Example because for as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with science. Since I was a kid in school, I have known I wanted to be a scientist/engineer.”
Now, almost 99% of the statements are structured similarly, and often times, students copy-paste, and edit statement of purposes from their seniors or friends, making it sound even more generic or irrelevant to their applications. If you want to stand out from the crowd; if you want the admissions committee to remember your essay at the end of the day, even after going through hundreds of applications; if you want to gain that extra advantage by being somewhat special and unique, you will have to draft a great statement of purpose. Great, but original.
Exclusive Bonus:Download the sample Statement of Purpose and use it as a framework to write yours.
How Can Your Statement Of Purpose Stand Out From The Crowd?
How do you write a great statement of purpose that sounds original, but at the same time gives the admissions committee what they are looking for? Simple. Basically, every university expects a student to answer to some basic questions that the admissions committee has. They may not ask you openly, but these are generally what they expect you to answer:
- What you want to study at graduate school?
- Why you want to study only this degree?
- Why do you want to study at this particular college? What do you like in us?
- Why did you choose to study in this particular country? What do you like about it?
- How much and what kind of experience you have in your field?
- Is your experience related to you choice of degree?
- If you are already experienced, what additional skills are you planning to gain from the degree?
- What you plan to do with your degree after graduation?
- Would you choose to end up with a job or take up research?
- What are your expectations from both the graduate program, and the university?
- Would you like to study or do research under any particular professor? If yes, why only them?
- How can you contribute to our university and our program? What specific skills do you bring to the table?
- Apart from work and education, what are your hobbies, interests, and habits? What are you like, as a person?
- What do you understand about our student community and culture? Why do you think you will fit in?
- What is that one unique aspect/characteristic about you that we should know? Why does it matter to us or to the fellow students of your class?
Now, these are the questions you will have to consider before starting off with your statement of purpose. Write down answers separately to each of the questions asked above, and try to build a story that the admissions committee would love to read. Remember, unlike an MBA program, you won’t be having any personal interviews for a graduate program, so the only way to impress the admissions officers is by telling your story through the statement of purpose. You will have to convey your story in the best possible way, such that the committee finds you interesting enough. And if you are interesting enough to them, you will end up with not only an admission, but also a decent scholarship as well.
Strategies to Write a Powerful Statement of Purpose
It is important that you follow a specific strategy when it comes to drafting your statement of purpose. Though most students write whatever comes to their mind, or whatever they see on the internet, you are not most people. You would want your statement of purpose to sound brilliant, and original. And for that, you’ll need some strategies.
1. Write Stories. Not Statements
If given a choice, would you prefer reading a novel or a newspaper? A novel, without a doubt. Do you know why? Because while a newspaper gives you mere news and some eye-catching headlines, a novel tells you a story; a beautifully written piece of literature that you will be emotionally connected to. It brings those humanly feelings out of you, and involves you in its storyline. You imagine yourself in place of the narrator/character, and understand why he/she has done that, or taken such decisions. We remember stories much easier than statements. Because stories connect to us, statements don’t.
For example, most people say this:
“I used to work in a multinational software company in the development team, and I had to do the same job every day: code stuff. There was nothing new for me to learn at work, and there was nothing very exciting about going to the office. One day I decided that I had to get out of there, so I applied to college to study higher courses and get a better job.”
Doesn’t that sound like most stories? Albeit, a very normal story? Instead, how about saying this:
“Late in the night one Monday, I had found myself in the middle of a deserted office, and fifteen thousand lines of code. Full of caffeine in my bloodstream, and an empty life beyond office, I realized that the computers started coding my brain, and controlling my life. No longer wanting to let the machines feed on me, I decided that college would be my salvation.”
Both the stories come to about four lines. But which narrative do you think will keep the admissions committee reading? Which story do you think will be remembered by them even after reading 5000 applications?
Think again. Do you want your statement of purpose to read like a novel or a newspaper? If the former is your answer, then you need to put in a lot of effort to tell your story. Think about ‘why’ you want to study what you want to study. Is there a strong reason behind it? Is the reason emotional, economical, or any other? Think hard, and you will find a connection. The reason might not seem obvious in plain sight, but when you think hard enough, you will understand that there is strong reason why you want to study a particular course/degree.
Now, when you have found this strong reason, tell it as a story. Write a short, but great narrative about what made you make this choice. About why you have chosen to study this course at this university. Impress the committee with your creative storyline, and you will reap the benefits big time.
2. Quantify Your Stories
Even though we asked you to write a story, you will have to remember that your story should not read like a thesis. It should rather serve as the best source of information about you. And when it comes to information, numbers play a key role. Your story should be not only qualitative, but also quantitative. Which means, your story must contain measurable quantities instead of just stories, so the reader can understand the depth of it.
For example, if you have worked for a local NGO teaching math to primary kids, you could say:
“During my engineering days, I helped a local NGO by joining as a math tutor, where I taught basic math concepts to school children.”
Now even though this sounds really good, it doesn’t give the reader the entire picture and they certainly do not know how much of an impact you made on those children. So, you could change that bit to something like this:
“During my second year of engineering, I joined ‘Teach Math’, a local NGO, where I was a part of the Math tutoring team. For a period of 10 months, I taught basic math like algebra, geometry and arithmetic to more than thirty 5th and 6th grade students. And every single student I taught to, secured an A in math that year. I’ve never been prouder in my life.”
Do you see the difference? These numbers suddenly give a whole new perspective to the readers, and their respect for you is suddenly multiplied. That’s the power of numbers; they add authenticity, and authority to your stories. If you can quantify your stories properly, and show the results instead of just actions, the committee will not forget your name. You can use the same strategy for the rest of your story, no matter what it is about. Whether it is a research project you did, or a college fest you organized, or a college sports team you led, whatever it is, add numbers to your stories, and make them sound more realistic, and more beautiful.
3. Be Specific
You have to make sure that whatever you say on your statement of purpose, you need to be very specific with it. Don’t just say something because you think it will impress the admissions committee. Whatever you say, you have to really dig into details. Be introspective. Don’t just say “I chose this degree because I love this field.” Explain clearly why you love this field, what made you decide that you want to work in this field for the rest of your life, what skills you are trying to amass, why it completes you as a person, etc.
Don’t beat around the bush like you normally would, when you talk to your friends. Don’t use ideal sentences like ‘I want to change the world’ or ‘I want to find my inner self’ or any of chose cheesy lines. Just be straightforward and always to the point, but not so much as to come off as arrogant. Find your reasons and then find a nice, memorable way to say it.
Grad school admissions officers require the statement of purpose not just because they want to find about you and your dreams. More importantly, they want you to think for yourself, as to why you are taking such a life-changing step; why you think this is the best thing that can happen to you; and why you think you truly need it to succeed in life. The ‘why’ is always profoundly important, and also an extremely difficult question to answer, which is why, if you can find answers to all the whys, then you are almost in.
4. Customize Your Essay
One of the biggest mistakes students make is to prepare a basic template for their statement of purpose, and if they are applying to more than one university, they simply change the relevant names and details. But the rest of the statement is an exact copy. This is never a good idea, because though they might seem quite similar to each other, every university is vastly different from the others. Each of them has a diverse set of characteristics that define them, and their cultures, methodologies, visions, values, mottos, strengths, weaknesses, etc., vary greatly. These things are much more important than the departments, or university rankings, or number of Ph.D.’s or other materialistic qualities.
So, if you are applying to multiple universities, you need to factor in all these qualities of every university, and customize your statement accordingly. Mere changes in names and details won’t suffice. You need to tailor your essay such that the admissions officers think you will fit in well into their community. Remember, every student community is like a family, and if you give hints that you cannot fit into a family or their culture, you may not be welcomed easily.
Speaking of cultures, different countries obviously have different cultures, but even a big country like the US has different cultures in different parts of the country. So, before you begin writing, try and research the general culture within the region in which your target university is, and learn something about it. It may also help in aiding your decision process; if a culture doesn’t attract you much, then there’s no point in wasting an application.
5. Use a Formal But Conversational Tone
Nearly all statements or essays come under two categories: The super formal, and the super friendly. The first category is when you write a statement of purpose that is so formal, it looks like you are writing to your lieutenant in the military. The second one, of course, looks like a casual email to a friend. Now, when asked which one seems like a better choice, most students say the formal way is the way to go, and super friendliness is a big no. And still, a minor set of applicants think they can outsmart the admissions committee by sounding friendly, welcoming, and funny.
But, on further reflection, you would understand that neither of the approaches is ideal. And you are right, neither of them is right. Like we talked about it already, your statement of purpose should read like a novel: slightly formal language, but still a tinge of fun and uniqueness. That is what you need. A conversational tone is the best and the safest way to go. Write like you are talking to someone, but avoid using casual language. Imagine you are talking to your dean, or the director of your college. What would your language be like? That’s how your statement of purpose should sound.
Now, occasional humor is okay, but you shouldn’t try to sound too funny or too smart. No intentional jokes or funny lines should find their way into your statement. After all, it’s a statement of purpose, and the purpose is to pursue a graduate degree, not to impress people with your sense of humor. So, if what you write brings a smile on the readers face, then it’s perfectly alright. But it shouldn’t make them throw away your application because you didn’t seem serious enough to them.
6. Decide How You Want To Portray Yourself. And Learn How to Portray Indirectly.
You must see that the statement of purpose serves as a medium to convey your attitude, your personality and your character. Alright, those are some heavy words, and it can actually be difficult to them on paper. So, what you can do is, learn what your statement of purpose should portray you as, in terms of a few criteria, which tell the admissions committee that you are:
- Very passionate about the field of study you have chosen.
- An Intelligent student who can withstand the academic workload of a graduate program.
- Well-prepared academically and personally, and eager to study new courses.
- Able to take on the challenges of studying at an international graduate school.
- Able to build and maintain a good rapport with professors and fellow grad students.
- Able to finish the graduate degree within time, and graduate with a good percentage.
- A potential remarkable representative of that grad school in your future career.
- A successful alumni of the grad school who in the future can help in recruiting graduates.
- A responsible alumni who in the future will help raise funds for the grad school, to spend on research, infrastructure, facilities, student scholarships, etc.
These are basically the parameters that grad school admissions officers look at, when they decide who is joining their class. Now, I know that the statement of purpose can only be as long as 1000 words, and that there’s quite a lot to cover in that little space.
This is where your writing skills should come in. You simply can’t just go ahead and write “I am very passionate about the field of study I have chosen.” That is the last think you would want to write. What you should instead write is, a sentence that indirectly means the same. You will have to choose your words wisely so as to indirectly communicate your “passion”. You can use brief examples to show why you are so passionate about it. For example, you can say something like:
“My grandfather was a car mechanic. I remember when I was nine, he took me to his garage for the first time and showed me how he could repair my damaged bicycle so I could ride it again. When he passed away a few years later, he left me the entire garage. It was a turning point in my life. Some of my best days were spent inside the garage, where after coming back from school, I tried fixing various appliances in the house. That was what led me to choose to be a Mechanical Engineer.”
The above paragraph speaks volumes about you as a person and your passion for Mechanical Engineering without you actually saying it. Any admissions officer in the world wouldn’t reject an applicant with such a deep reason, and such a wonderful story behind him/her. Now, remember, you don’t have to lie. Try and remember stories from your life that have shaped your decisions. And connect them beautifully to your goals and dreams.
Now similarly, your “intelligence” can be conveyed by how you write. The quality of the statement of purpose, the organization, expression, etc. of your statement tells how intelligent you are. Demonstrating knowledge of the field, and using related jargon shows that you are “well-prepared”. Showing what you have done already describes your ability “to take on the challenges of grad school”. Your grades and your previous performance prove your ability “to finish the graduate program in time”. Being a “future remarkable alumni” can be implied by your being a commendable representative of your previous institutions, like your high school, or undergraduate school. Similarly, you will have to try and represent all the qualities mentioned above in an indirect, but powerful way.
7. Don’t Create Stories. Be Yourself
Because we asked you to write stories, there would naturally be an inclination to “create” stories out of thin air. Do not do this at all. Write great stories only if you have great stories. Some people might come from normal backgrounds, who had normal lives, and probably didn’t achieve anything spectacular. It’s completely okay. If you don’t have anything great to write, don’t write it. Be normal, and write normal stories. It is better to be normal than to pretend to be someone you are not. The admissions officers are expert psychologists, and they can spot a true applicant from a false applicant with just one reading.
So, you will badly hurt your chances of getting into your dream school if you try to be someone else. Just be yourself, and write only about the things that have happened to you, and the things that you are passionate about. Saying “I love research” just because you think they will like it, isn’t going to help you a lot. Whatever you say just for the sake of it, won’t appeal much to the committee, as they would look for relevant evidences in your stories and in your past. So, don’t even think about fooling the committee with a false storyline. Try and be yourself throughout the essay.
8. Address Your Problems
The Statement of Purpose is a great opportunity for you to address some of your problems. If you have had any problematic academic background, or a gap year in your career, or if you had any work-related problems, you can address them on the statement of purpose in order to reassure the admissions committee. You must try and be as honest as possible, and talk about your problems in a matured manner. Instead of trying to defend yourself, you can point out the actual reasons that led to the problems, but more importantly, you should highlight ‘how’ you overcame the situation, and ‘what’ you have learnt from the experience.
For example, let’s say that you got all C’s or all D’s in one semester. This normally isn’t the kind of academic profile a good grad school would want from you, unless there is a strong reason behind it. So, take some time and dedicate a few lines to explain whatever happened. If you had a health problem during your semester exams, or if you faced any emotional setback during that time, if you experience any personal loss, or if you had to take up additional family responsibilities other than studying, you can mention that in your statement.
But, more importantly, you should not forget to demonstrate how your grades have been steadily improving since then, and that you now have a decent grade-point average in the discipline. If you can spin this story well enough for the committee to empathize with you, then your story will enhance the admissions committee’s image of you as a matured student, with the abilities to “take on additional challenges” and “to finish on time”, even when things are against you.
9. Do Your Homework
This is one very important point you should exercise while you are writing a statement of purpose. You should be thorough with the details of all the universities you are applying to, and list down all the things you like about each university, before you write the essays. Most students simply write generic sentences like “I am impressed by the importance your university gives to research” or “I would like to study here because you have 100 Ph.D.’s and 20 Nobel prize winners.” etc. No, that is not how you do it. The admissions committee knows how great their college is; you don’t have to remind them again and again. But, you should let them know what exactly you like about them, that you so badly want to be there. The specifics are really important. For example, you could say something like this. (Excuse the random jargon, it is only to give you an idea.)
“I would fully utilize the resources that the Wallenberg Hall provides, as I am particularly interested in the field of molecular chemistry. The special 24/7 laboratories provided for student research on molecular processing is exactly the kind of opportunity I am looking for, as I could totally see myself working in the labs day and night.”
And something like:
“I especially want to study under Dr. Mark Adams, Ph.D., as I have been an avid follower and admirer of his work in the field of quantum chemistry, which is not only the field I would choose for my research study, but also is a topic that I am zealous about, personally. I would be more than honoured if I can earn a spot in his research group.”
Do you see how professional it sounds? Such things show how well prepared you are, and how eager you are to study at that university. Now, to write something like this, you obviously need to do lots of research both online and offline, and be very thorough about the college, its facilities, courses, and professors. Yes, it is very difficult, but believe me, it is completely worth all the hard work.
10. Proofread, Edit, and Re-edit. Ask Friends and Family To Grade Your Essay
Another mistake students make is, they try and keep their essays to themselves. Maybe they are shy, or maybe they think their friends and family aren’t necessarily experts on the subject. So they think there’s no point in asking friends and family to critique on their essays. Wrong. Your statement of purpose speaks about you as a student, as an individual. Yes, there is technical slang involved, and yes your family members may not be experts on that. But, they sure are experts on ‘you’.
Which is exactly why you should approach them. They can not only give you additional points to add, but they can give you valuable stories about your childhood or schooling days, which you probably won’t remember. Plus, it’s very easy to say something about others, but at the same time, it’s painfully difficult to describe yourself to someone. Which is why someone very close to you, like friends and family, can describe you accurately. You will get new perspectives on your stories, which sometimes are better than your own versions, and including them in your statement of purpose will do you a lot of good.
Also, remember to proofread your statement time and again, and keep on re-editing content until you, your family and friends think you have the best statement in the world. Remember that your statement of purpose is a literary picture of ‘you’ as a person, and it is representing on your behalf. So, make it a top priority to avoid typos, misplaced commas and semicolons, overused quotes, being too wordy, using too many complex words and sentences, and being too straightforward. Be careful. Be a perfectionist when it comes to writing. It shows how much you care about going to a particular college. And, once you are done with everything, do not forget to ask your friends and family to grade your statement of purpose, and ask them to criticize it accurately, so you can avoid submitting a less than perfect copy of your statement.
11. Take Advice From Professors.
If you know a professor at your undergrad institution, don’t hesitate to approach him/her for advice regarding your statement of purpose. They are of course very experienced prospects, and they might have seen thousands of statement of purposes and students in their careers. So, it wouldn’t hurt to ask for their opinion. Plus, since unlike your family, they are technically sound, they can also provide you valuable insights on how to project your technical expertise and project works in the statement.
After all, a professor knows what another professor looks for in a prospective student, so it would only help if you approach your college professors. And, if they are really close to you, you can also ask them for a really good letter of recommendation. So whichever way you look at it, there are only benefits for you.
Checklist for a Powerful Statement of Purpose
Here’s a basic checklist designed to help you draft a flawless Statement of Purpose. Make sure you write in an organized manner, and cover your points in a proper order. We have given this checklist so that you can write your statement of purpose without confusing yourself and the readers. Following a meticulous order like this will make your statement of purpose a lot better to read and understand about you and your story. Feel free to add anything else to the list if you think it will boost your chances, but remember to not write too much because you would then be exceeding the word limit.
- Introducing yourself in a unique manner.
- Demonstrating your passion for the field.
- Story about your background or experience in the field you’ve chosen.
- Description of your academic background in the field you’ve chosen.
- Specific classes or special courses you have taken, that are related to your field of interest.
- Some of the professors you have studied under, especially if they are well-known in that field.
- Co-curricular and Extracurricular activities in the field of you interest.
- Publications or other professional accomplishments in the field (perhaps conference presentations or public readings)
- Any community service or leadership experience while in college.
- Explanations about problems in background (if needed)
- Explanation of why you have chosen the specific grad school and other related questions as discussed in the beginning of this article.
- Mention what you like about the university you are applying for, and why: facilities, infrastructure, etc.
- Mention names of one or two professors in that school and what you know of and appreciate about their work, and why you want to study or work under their guidance.
- Specific features of the grad program and the university, which attract you personally. And why.
- Get advice from several of your professors, family, and close friends. Ask for stories about yourself.
- Proofread and edit; ask friends and family to proofread for you as well.
Now Its Your Turn
So, those are some strategies and tips for you to write a powerful statement of purpose, impress the committee, and thereby ace the admissions process. Make sure you do every one of these things, and you won’t be far away from the college of your dreams.
Do you have any strategies that worked well for you? Do let us know in the comments section.
We almost forgot! We are giving away a sample Statement of Purpose for download, so you can get an actual glimpse of how the aforementioned tips and strategies have been incorporated in a real Statement Of Purpose. But remember, this should serve only as an inspiration to your own Statement of Purpose, but not a source to copy from. Close to 10000 students check this space regularly, and if every single one of them uses the same phrases in their own statement of purposes, very soon, everyone will be held for plagiarism. So, try and copy only the framework and the organization, but not the actual content. Happy Writing!
Download your free sample SOP now: