How to Write Your Statement of Purpose

Applicants are usually very aware of one of the implied questions in the graduate admission process: “Am I good enough?” This is obviously an important question. Any admission committee will be looking for applicants who have demonstrated:
  • adequate preparation in their field
  • academic excellence
  • maturity and purposefulness
  • intellectual curiosity and a sustaining enthusiasm for the work

Ask yourself: “Is this program a good fit for me, and am I a good fit for this program?”      Admission committees want to make a good match between their programs and the applicants, recruiting students who are not simply smart or talented, but students with scholarly or professional interests that can be pursued successfully within their programs. Applicants should research prospective schools thoroughly so that they know how those programs “match up” with their own intellectual priorities.

The job in the statement is not to talk about your intellectual prowess, but rather about your interests and goals! If you do a good job of this, you will demonstrate your intellectual prowess.
  • Statement of Purpose Content:   
  1. The statement of purpose is – first and foremost - a place to express your intellectual interests and professional objectives.·  
  2. The statement should look both backward and forward. If it doesn’t say something significant about where you have been intellectually and/or professionally and where you see yourself going, then it hasn’t done its job.
  3. Ideally, the statement should be institution-specific. This greatly enhances its value as a matchmaking tool and shows that you know how to do research.
  4. The statement may address gaps or weaknesses in your history when necessary but should not dwell on them.
  5. It should not be a loose collection of information or informal laundry list of accomplishments, but rather a coherent essay which focuses on one or two important ideas and develops those ideas with a fair degree of specificity
  6. It should include plenty of concrete information! Vague generalizations and other types of content-free writing should be avoided!
  • Style
  1. The biggest danger is the completely bland or “voiceless” statement.
  2. Successful statements can be either more conversational, or more formal and “academic” in tone.
  3. Do not experiment! Be conservative, even if it seems less scintillating.
  4. Meticulous proofreading is required. The statement should be completely error-free.
  • Avoid
  1. Gratuitous self-revelation. This is not a confessional occasion. Every piece of information needs to pass the “so what?” text for relevance.
  2. Showboating (going on and on about awards, honors, prizes, etc.).
  3. Using jargon of one’s discipline in a heavy-handed manner intended to impress.
  4. Name-dropping, flattery, or other attempts to ingratiate or bamboozle.
  5. Clichés, vague generalizations, second-hand information.
  6. Misrepresentations of yourself or your interests.
  • Format
  1. Varies wildly from one school to another. Follow instructions!
  2. Single-spacing is the accepted convention, except when an application specifies otherwise.
  3. When no specific instructions regarding length or format are given, produce an essay that is one and a half to two single-spaced pages. Any less gives you scant room to be detailed; any more gives you plenty of room for judicious editing.
  • Timeline
  1. Begin drafting early, at least two months prior to your deadline.
  2. Two months will give you time to put together a decent draft in time to provide it to recommenders.
  3. Two months will also allow sufficient time to revise, revise, revise! Get responses from real readers, then revise, revise, revise!