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Application Advice

What is a Statement of Purpose for Grad School?

November 2021

Graduate program admissions committees want to know more about you than just your GPA and how well you can score on a test. They want to know about who you are, what you’ve accomplished, why you want to enroll in their particular program and what you want to do afterwards. For that, most program applications will require some kind of essay, such as a personal statement or statement of purpose.

Personal statement vs. statement of purpose

While these terms sound similar, and some schools will use them interchangeably, many will make a distinction between them. A personal statement illustrates who you are, whereas a statement of purpose explains what you want to do. It’s important to determine which one the program you’re applying to wants, or whether they want both.

As with a personal statement, a statement of purpose should be written and customized for each specific program to which you’re applying. It’s imperative to check with each program’s requirements for this statement and adhere to them. If they ask for a two-page statement of purpose, then deliver a two-page statement of purpose. Ignoring the parameters set by a program or institution on this or any piece of your application is a sure-fire way to get rejected.

Crafting your statement of purpose

Along with the rest of your application package, your statement of purpose should be a well thought out piece of writing with a concise message about your accomplishments and goals. And while you don’t want to sound formulaic, there are certain elements you should include.

  • Introduce yourself. Give a brief summary of your personal background, especially focusing on what brought you to the field of study you’re pursuing.
  • Discuss your past academic achievements, including undergrad and any completed graduate work to this point. Research, thesis and work experience are all relevant to note, emphasizing experience that directly relates to the program you’re applying to. It’s ok to toot your own horn, with some humility of course. You want the admissions committee to know what a quality and qualified candidate you are for their program.
  • When writing about your academic and professional achievements, convey personal qualities like discipline, motivation, commitment and integrity so that those reading it will know not only what kind of student you’ll be, but what kind of person you are to work with.

Follow the guidelines

Again, it can’t be emphasized enough that you need to follow the guidelines set forth by each individual program you’re applying to. If they’re only asking for a statement of purpose but something personal in your life directly affected your academic or professional performance, you can briefly elaborate on it. However, you should only do so as it pertains to your academic and professional goals. If they also ask for a personal statement, mention it in your statement of purpose and then elaborate in the personal statement.

Clear, concise, grammatically correct and relevant content is what you’re hoping to achieve with this essay. A well-crafted, well-received statement of purpose can most definitely lead to a letter of acceptance.

Related Resources

What is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Who are you really? That’s what the admissions committee for any program you are applying to wants to know.

Why Letters of Recommendation Are So Important for Grad School

This is where graduate school admissions committees can see what others think of you as a candidate.