Writing a statement of purpose is a critical step in the application process. While not all schools/programs require applicants to write a statement of purpose, applicants who are applying to a program that requires a statement of purpose for admission are strongly urged to begin the writing process early.
The criteria for what makes an effective statement of purpose may vary significantly by discipline, program, or even by committee. Knowing what is generally expected within your discipline or program of interest can help in determining how to develop key areas such as content, structure, and style of writing.
Personal Statement Versus Statement of Purpose
Knowing the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose is one of the first steps in crafting your writing for application.
Personal statements are commonly written for undergraduate admission. While many graduate and post-baccalaureate programs typically require a statement of purpose, some programs may require a personal statement, or in some cases both.
Whereas the personal statement often calls for applicants to discuss their personal background (not necessarily academic or professional), the statement of purpose places greater emphasis on the applicant’s purpose for applying to graduate school as it relates to the applicant’s interests, academic/professional experience, and future goals.
What to Discuss in the Statement of Purpose
One of the primary objectives of the statement of purpose is to demonstrate that you have relevant experience (whether academic or professional) and promise in the field of graduate study you are applying. Common topics of discussion may include some or all of the following:
- A discussion of your relevant experience (e.g., academic, research, professional) and background
- A statement of your area/field of interest
- A statement regarding your research interest
- Your interest in pursuing graduate study
- A discussion of how you “fit” with the program
- A discussion of your future professional goals
Asking for Feedback
A great statement of purpose is one that is organized, concise, relevant, and speaks to your audience (i.e., the admissions committee). The statement of purpose is your introduction to the committee as a scholar and a potential colleague, and can be a determining factor in admission.
Receiving timely and relevant feedback is critical in writing a statement of purpose. Be sure to have multiple people revise and edit your statement of purpose. Share your writing to faculty members, (particularly those writing letters of recommendation), teaching assistants, fellow students, and others.
Allow yourself ample time to write multiple drafts, keeping in mind that you may need to rewrite portions or entire drafts before it is finalized. Making multiple revisions is an inevitable part of the process. The GSRC is available to provide feedback on your statement of purpose, personal statement, or other essay related to graduate admission by requesting an appointment. This service is free and available to everyone.