As you’re looking over the requirements for graduate programs, you might notice that some programs require a Personal Statement or a Statement of Purpose, or perhaps even both. Today we’ll go into the details of both so you can know the exact difference between the two and what schools are looking for in these essays.
As the name might suggest, a personal statement is intended to be a bit more personal than a statement of purpose. If a school asks only for a personal statement, try gearing the essay more towards why you are leaning towards this specific field and how this specific graduate program will help you achieve your goals. Discuss your passions and how they motivated you to love your subject while as an undergrad, and show the school how you have the self-drive and endurance to be successful in an independent academic environment. If you have room, you may also want to discuss any activities or extracurriculars that both display your individuality and demonstrate your longitudinal passions. To summarize, a personal statement must answer “Why are you interested in our program, and are your passions grounded enough to make it through the hard times that await ahead?”
Statement of Purpose
This essay is a bit less personal and slightly more focused than a personal statement. If a school only asks for a statement of purpose, make sure to spend the essay discussing specifically why you are applying to this graduate program, and what you have done to prepare yourself for it. The difference between this and the personal statement is that for a statement of purpose, you generally want to be more direct on what you hope to accomplish. While you still want to discuss your passion and what your long-reaching goals with graduate school are, you will want to directly reference what you’ve accomplished as an undergraduate and how this relates to the specific program you’re applying to. You will not want to discuss anything not related to your intended program, so don’t bring up other extraccuriculars or activities in this essay. In short, a statement of purpose must answer the question – “Why are you applying for this degree at this program, and what have you done to prepare yourself for us?”
What if the School Asks for Both?
If a school asks for both a statement of purpose and a personal statement, you’ll be able to write more freely than if they ask for one or the other. In this case, focus your statement of purpose towards your research activities and experiences related to your intended course of study and how they prepare you academically for future study. In the personal statement, make sure to focus on why you chose this field and elaborate on any extracurriculars or activities that demonstrate your passion and interests. For schools that require both, take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate both the soft and the hard in terms of your personality — show them that you are interesting enough to make the graduate program more engaging but also that you have the academic fortitude to succeed in a research-heavy pursuit.