Preparing Your Statements for Graduate School Applications

This page will help you prepare a statement that is a combination of the statement of purpose and a personal statement for applications into graduate programs. There is also something called a diversity statement[1] that is outside the scope of this document. Talk with your discipline mentor if you have questions regarding topics not included in this page.


A: The primary goal of a statement of purpose and a personal statement is to convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit and will be successful in the program to which you are applying. You want to be specific so your personality can stand out distinctly.

A: A statement of purpose is about what you want to do while a personal statement is about who you are. Whereas the statement of purpose showcases your academic strengths and background, career goals, research interests, and fit with the program, the personal statement highlights your personal motivations for applying to the program and any major accomplishments you have had or challenges you have faced along the way. In most cases, graduate schools ask for a statement that is really the blend of both and simply call it a statement of purpose.

A: [2]Make sure you follow the formatting guidelines provided by the program, do not exceed the page limit, and address any specific topics. A statement consists of three main sections: Introduction (~25% of the overall length), body (~50%), and conclusions (~25%).

The introduction section should include:

  • Who you are and what made you who you are today with specific stories.
  • Your academic objectives and professional/careers plans.
  • Why you are interested in applying to their program.
  • A preview/outline statement for the rest of the statement.

The body section should include:

  • A highlight of your qualification and skills via your involvement with different projects and experiences you have (e.g., research labs, research projects/presentations, internships, field experience)
  • A breakdown by projects (1-2 paragraphs for each project)
    • Highlight what the project is about and what you did and learned
    • What resulted from your participation in the project (e.g., presentation, paper, awards)?

The conclusions section should explicitly address why you want to apply/complete the program/degree. For example:

  • How do you 'fit' with the program
    • Tip: Look at the program goals, courses, and other information
    • Highlight your qualifications
  • Optional: Identify 1-2 faculty you may want to work with
    • Research these faculty members and identify their interests (via website info, recent publications/presentations) and discuss how your skill sets are compatible with their research areas
  • Add your career goals (short and/or long term)

A: Keep these things in mind.

  • Start planning early. An excellent statement requires many revisions and many pairs of eyes.
  • Have your CV ready before you write the statement. Avoid repeating the information that is already in your CV, reference your CV if needed. (See Recordings and Templates for an example CV template.)
  • Avoid generic statements ("I have a lot of research experience," "I did an internship"). Provide details, as space permits.
  • Proofread your statements. Ask at least two to three people to read and provide feedback. Give them plenty of lead time. Revision takes time.
  • Avoid humor (e.g., jokes, funny story) and hyperbole (e.g., I'm the most qualified, I had the greatest major).

A: Here are additional references.

  • American Psychological Association. (2016). Graduate study in psychology: 2017 edition. Washington, D.C.: Author.
  • Appleby, D.C., & Appleby, K.M. (2007). How to avoid the kisses of death in the graduate school application process. Eye on Psi Chi, 11(3), 20-21.
  • Norcross, J.C., & Sayette, M.A (2016). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology: Revised 2016/2017 edition. New York: Guilford.
  • Video series Preparing and Applying for Graduate School in Psychology.


[1] A diversity statement is a one-page document explaining your experiences and commitments to diversity.

[2] Contributions are made by Dr. Michael T. Giang (