How to Write Your Statement of Purpose
One of the most daunting tasks of applying to graduate school is writing and submitting your statement of purpose. This is one of the few times throughout the entire admission process that the objective aspects of your application are momentarily set aside so that admission officers can really get to know you. You should view your statement of purpose as an opportunity, not an obstacle. This article is one of a series dedicated to unraveling the challenges of writing your statement of purpose.
Part I. What do I write about?
Deciding what to write may seem like the most difficult part of the entire endeavor, so you might be surprised to discover that the opposite is often the case. Prospective students are usually provided with clear instructions on what to write about and why. Most universities want you to use your personal statement to tell them the following things:
- Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?
- What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?
- What are your academic goals?
- What are your professional goals?
We will address each of these topics individually. As you read on, note that many of these topics interrelate. For example, your reasons for attending graduate school could stem from your professional experiences post-college, or, if you are considering a research-heavy program, perhaps your professional goals are academic in nature. This is okay! The point of this post is to help you figure out what you want to write about, not how you will structure all of this information into a coherent essay (we will cover that in a future post).
Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?
Your reasons for choosing a particular field are important. Your explanation should be succinct, avoid platitudes, and be unique but relatable. Also, do not turn your answer into an autobiography; only share a personal story if it is pertinent to your application. Good reasons to pursue a graduate education in a particular field include:
- Talent and interest in a particular field.
- The opportunities available from an advanced degree in a particular field.
- The skill-set obtained from an education in this field will help in another.
What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?
This part of your essay should convince admission officers that you are not only capable of doing well in their program but that you have taken steps toward improving your chance of success. This would also be a good time to discuss how you plan to utilize your experiences in a way that would benefit the campus community and classroom.
Do not be mistaken – this is not the same thing as ticking off all the points on your résumé. They already have your résumé; don’t waste their and your time retyping it in essay format! This is not to say you should disregard your achievements or be afraid to discuss them; rather, elaborate on those accomplishments that actually pertain to the field you are applying to, and avoid going into great length about those things that do not.
What are your academic goals?
Academic goals will vary from field to field, but everyone’s personal statement should share a few characteristics. Good things to talk about here include:
- The knowledge and skills you would like to acquire and develop in your time with this program.
- The aspects of the program that impress you.
- Research or papers you find interesting that have been published by current or past faculty members.
You should also use this part of your essay to demonstrate knowledge about the school and field you are interested in studying. You are more likely to impress admission officers if you can show them you are already competent in the field and have done an appropriate amount of research regarding their program.
What are your professional goals?
Consider this the “What is your five-year plan?” question. Specificity is good here, but it’s more important that your goals and plans be believable and realistic. Your answer should emphasize the importance of attending graduate school, but in the context of hoping to attain something greater.
This should be enough to start you on the journey to writing a good personal statement. As you begin the brainstorming process, remember who you are writing this essay for. The person reading your essay will have read dozens, if not hundreds of these statements. Think about it from his or her perspective, and ask yourself, “What is the point of including this in my application?” After reading your personal statement, admission officers should be firmly convinced that you:
- Know how to write.
- Know how present yourself.
- Will not drop out of their program.
- Have ambition and will be a credit to the program.