It requires a fair amount of direction to successfully complete the application process, and most grad school applicants don’t enter into the process half-heartedly. However, when it comes time to express that sense of direction verbally, the pressure can be intense, even stifling. These 10 tips on how to write a statement of purpose for grad school will help you translate your sense of purpose into an acceptance letter.
1. Follow Directions
It should go without saying that you should demonstrate to the admissions committee the same ability to follow directions that you would expect of your students. Demonstrate flair and originality, but do it while coloring inside the lines. Anything else is a high-risk strategy.
2. Consider Your Audience
Admissions officers will read dozens, if not hundreds of statements of purpose during each application season. They can smell formulaic writing and insincerity from miles away, but they will also get genuinely excited when they read something truly unique.
3. Demonstrate Interest in the School
If you’re applying to multiple schools, odds are that you’ll draft a general statement of purpose and then modify it for each individual application. The key word in that sentence is modify. Do your homework on every institution you apply to. Make the admissions officers think fate has brought you to their doorstep, even if you’re applying to ten other schools.
4. Write a Draft
The best writing almost always comes from a lengthy process, rather than a moment of inspiration. Begin brainstorming ideas for your statement of purpose weeks before the application deadline (if possible), and write at least one rough draft. Don’t worry if the writing feels raw while you’re working out what you want to say. Let the first draft be exploratory. The second or third draft is the time to polish, perfect, and proofread.
5. Choose Your Angle Carefully
Your goal in writing a statement of purpose is to present your path through life as a story, one that the admissions committee hasn’t heard before. If you find yourself writing “As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” it’s time to revisit the drawing board. What will you bring to the classroom that no one else does?
6. Peel Back the Layers (find deeper meaning as you write)
Maybe you don’t know what your angle is. Maybe you’ve been staring at a blank page for a while now, trying to figure out how to write a statement of purpose. Many people need to start writing (and keep writing) before knowing exactly what they want to write. Start putting your thoughts down on paper, and you may see patterns and deeper meaning begin to emerge.
7. Be Clear and Concise
A statement of purpose is not the place to show off your academic writing chops. You’re not writing long-winded literary fiction or a new philosophy of being. You’re writing a letter to a stranger. You’re trying to communicate a message, efficiently and effectively.
The next step after drafting is revising. And revision means more than running spell check. Etymologically, the word revision means “to see again,” and ideally it is a process of more deeply understanding your own writing—maybe even more deeply understanding your past, or your goals for the future. It helps to allow a week or two between drafts, so that you really have time to get some distance from your statement.
Once you’ve written an exploratory draft and made the changes that meaningful revision calls for, it’s time to turn your attention to the details. Admissions officers are unlikely to throw out your statement of purpose if you misspell a word or misplace a comma, but they certainly won’t be impressed.
10. Have Someone Review It
Once you feel like you’ve written the best statement of purpose you can, it’s time to get a second opinion. It’s best to ask someone who has been through grad school or worked in the education field, as they’ll have a sense of what you’re going through, as well as what you’re aiming for. An objective set of eyes can often alert you to details you might miss on your own. Even if your reviewer doesn’t recommend any changes, his or her vote of confidence will help you feel better about the application process while you wait to hear back from schools.
The statement of purpose should convince readers– the faculty on the selection committee– that you have solid achievements behind you that show promise for your success in graduate study. Think of the statement of purpose as a composition with four different parts.
Part 1: Introduce yourself, your interests and motivations
Tell them what you’re interested in, and perhaps, what sparked your desire for graduate study. This should be short and to the point; don’t spend a great deal of time on autobiography.
Part 2: Summarize your undergraduate and previous graduate career
a) Research you conducted. Indicate with whom, the title of the project, what your responsibilities were, and the outcome. Write technically, or in the style of your discipline. Professors are the people who read these statements.
b) Important paper or thesis project you completed, as well as anything scholarly beyond your curricular requirements.
c) Work experience, especially if you had any kind of responsibility for testing, designing, researching or interning in an area similar to what you wish to study in graduate school.
Part 3: Discuss the relevance of your recent and current activities
If you graduated and worked prior to returning to grad school, indicate what you’ve been doing: company or non-profit, your work/design team, responsibilities, what you learned. You can also indicate here how this helped you focus your graduate studies.
Part 4: Elaborate on your academic interests
Here you indicate what you would like to study in graduate school in enough detail to convince the faculty that you understand the scope of research in their discipline, and are engaged with current research themes.
a) Indicate the area of your interests. Ideally, pose a question, define a problem, or indicate a theme that you would like to address, and questions that arise from contemporary research. This should be an ample paragraph!
b) Look on the web for information about departments you’re interested in, including professors and their research. Are there professors whose research interests parallel yours? If so, indicate this. Check the specific program; many may require you to name a professor or professors with whom you might work.
c) End your statement in a positive manner, indicating your excitement and readiness for the challenges ahead of you.
1. What the admissions committee will read between the lines: self-motivation, competence, potential as a graduate student.
2. Emphasize everything from a positive perspective and write in an active, not a passive voice.
3. Demonstrate everything by example; don’t say directly that you’re a persistent person, show it.
4. If there is something important that happened to you that affected your grades, such as poverty, illness, or excessive work, state it. Write it affirmatively, showing your perseverance despite obstacles. You can elaborate more in your personal statement.
5. Make sure everything is linked with continuity and focus.
6. Unless the specific program says otherwise, be concise; an ideal essay should say everything it needs to with brevity. Approximately 500 to 1000 well-selected words (1-2 single space pages in 12 point font) is better than more words with less clarity and poor organization.