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Statement Of Purpose/Intent Essay

Not sure what graduate schools are looking for in a statement of purpose? Looking at successful graduate school statement of purpose samples can help! In this guide, we’ll orient you to what makes a great statement of purpose or letter of intent for graduate school. Then we’ll provide you with four successful statement of purpose examples from our graduate school experts. We’ll also provide analysis of what makes them successful. Finally, we’ll direct you to even more helpful examples that you can find online!

 

The Graduate School Statement of Purpose: An Overview

A statement of purpose (also called a letter of intent or a research statement) introduces your interests and experience to the admissions committee. For research-focused programs, like most PhDs and many master’s degrees, your statement of purpose will focus primarily on your past research experience and plans. For more professionally-focused graduate programs, your statement of purpose will primarily discuss how your pursuit of this professional program relates to your past experiences, and how you will use the skills from the program in your future career.

A statement of purpose for grad school is also where you sell the admissions committee on why you belong in their program specifically. Why do you fit there, and how does what they offer fit your interests?

 

What’s in a Great Grad School Statement of Purpose?

Here are the essential elements of a strong graduate school statement of purpose:

 

Clear Articulation of Goals and Interests

A strong statement of purpose will clearly and specifically lay out your goals in undertaking the program and what you hope to accomplish with the degree. Again, for a research-focused program, this will focus primarily on the research project(s) you want to undertake while you are there. For a more professional program, discuss what interests you within the professional field and what skills/knowledge you hope to gain through the program.

You should be as specific as possible in discussing what interests you. Use examples of particular phenomena, tools, or situations that you find exciting. If you are vague or say that everything in the field interests you, you run the risk of seeming unfocused or not actually that passionate.

Don’t worry that being too specific will box you into a particular research area or subfield during your entire tenure in graduate school. Your program understands that interests change—they won’t be pulling out your research statement to cross-reference with your dissertation proposal!

 

Evidence of Past Experience and Success

A great graduate school statement of purpose will also show programs that you have already been successful. They want applicants that will be able to follow through on their research/professional plans!

To this end, you’ll need to provide evidence of how your background qualifies you to pursue this program and your specific interests in the field. You’ll probably discuss your undergraduate studies and any professional experience you have. But be sure to draw on specific, vivid examples. You might draw on your thesis, major projects you’ve worked on, papers you have written/published, presentations you’ve given, mentors you’ve worked with, and so on. This gives admissions committees concrete evidence that you are qualified to undertake graduate study!

 

 

Interest and Fit With the Program

The third essential ingredient to a great statement of purpose is to clearly lay out why you and the program are a good fit. You should be able to identify both specific reasons why your work fits with the program and why the program suits your work/interests! Are there particular professors you’d like to work with? Does the department have a strong tradition in a certain methodology or theory you’re interested in? Is there a particular facet to the curriculum that you’d like to experience?

Showing that you and the program are a match shows that you chose the program thoughtfully and have genuine interest in it. Programs want to admit students who aren’t just passionate about the field. They want students who are genuinely enthused about their specific program and positioned to get the most out of what they have to offer.

 

Strong Writing

The final essential piece of a strong statement of purpose or letter of intent is strong writing. Writing skills are important for all graduate programs. You’ll need to demonstrate that you can clearly and effectively communicate your ideas in a way that flows logically. Additionally, you should show that you know how to write in a way that is descriptive but concise. A statement of purpose shouldn’t ever be longer than two pages, even without a hard word limit.

Admissions committees for humanities programs may be a little more focused on writing style than admissions officers for STEM programs. But even in quantitative and science-focused fields, written communication skills are an essential part of graduate school. So a strong statement of purpose will always be effectively written. You’ll see this in our statement of purpose for graduate school samples.

 

 

Real, Successful Statement of Purpose Samples

In this section, we’ll present four successful graduate school statement of purpose examples from our graduate school experts, along with a brief commentary on each statement. These statements come from a diverse selection of program types to show you how the core essentials of a statement of purpose can be implemented differently for different fields.

Note: identifying information for these statements have been changed—except for example four, which is my statement.

 

Statement of Purpose Sample One: Japanese Studies MA

This statement of purpose is notable for its great use of space and its vivid descriptions. The author is able to cram a lot into about a page. She discusses how she came to her two primary research interests (and how they are connected). She integrates this discussion of her interests with information on her past experiences and qualifications for pursuing the course of study. Finally, she includes details on her goals in pursuing the program and components of the program that interest her. Her examples are specific and fleshed-out. There’s a lot very cleverly included in a small amount of page space!

Additionally, the language is very vivid. Phrases like “evocative and visceral” and “steadily unraveling,” are eye-catching and intriguing. They demonstrate that she has the writing skills necessary to pursue both graduate study and her interest in translation.

 

Statement of Purpose Sample Two: Music MM

This sample is fairly long, although at 12 point Times New Roman it’s under two pages single-spaced. The length of this statement is partially due to the somewhat expansive nature of the prompt, which asks what role music has played in the applicant’s life “to date.” This invites applicants to speak more about experiences further in the past (in the childhood and teen years) than is typical for a statement of purpose. Given that this is for a master’s degree in music, this is logical; musical study is typically something that is undertaken at a fairly young age.

This statement does an excellent job describing the student’s past experiences with music in great detail. The descriptions of the student’s past compositions and experiences performing new music are particularly vivid and intriguing.

This statement also lays out and elaborates on specific goals the student hopes to pursue through the program, as well as features particular to the program that interest the student (like particular professors).

 

 

Statement of Purpose Sample Three: Economics PhD

One of the first things you’ll likely notice about this statement is that it’s a little on the longer side. However, at 12 point Times New Roman font and single-spaced, it still comes in under 2 pages (excluding references). It makes sense for a PhD statement of purpose sample to be longer than a master’s degree statement of purpose—there’s more to lay out in terms of research interests!

The writing style is fairly straightforward—there’s definitely a stronger focus on delivering content than flashy writing style. As Economics is a more quantitative-focused field, this is fine. But the writing is still well-organized, clear, and error-free.

The writer also gives numerous examples of their past work and experience, and shows off their knowledge of the field through references, which is a nice touch.

 

Statement of Purpose Sample Four: History of the Book MA

This is actually my statement of purpose. It was for a program that I got accepted to but did not end up attending, for a Master’s in the History of the Book. You’ll notice that the two essay prompts essentially asked us to split our statement of purpose into two parts: the first prompt asked about our research interests and goals, and the second prompt asked about our relevant experience and qualifications.

I’ll keep my comments on this graduate school statement of purpose sample brief because I’ll do a deep dive on it in the next section. But looking back at my statement of purpose, I do a good job outlining what within the field interests me and clearly laying out how my past experiences have qualified me for the program.

Obviously this statement did its job, since I was accepted to the program. However, if I were to improve this statement, I’d change the cliche beginning  (“since I was a child”) and provide more specificity in what about the program interested me.

 

Deep Dive Analysis of a Sample Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

Next, we’ll do a paragraph by paragraph analysis of my statement, statement of purpose sample four. I’ll analyze its strengths and suggest ways I could shore up any weaknesses to make it even stronger.

 

Essay 1: Academic Interests

To refresh, here’s the first prompt: Please give a short statement that describes your academic interests, purpose, objectives and motivation in undertaking this postgraduate study. (max 3500 chars – approx. 500 words)

 

Paragraph 1

Since I was a child, my favorite thing has always been a book. Not just for the stories and information they contain, although that is a large part of it. Mostly, I have been fascinated by the concept of book as object—a tangible item whose purpose is to relate intangible ideas and images. Bookbindings and jackets, different editions, the marginalia in a used book—all of these things become part of the individual book and its significance, and are worth study and consideration. Books and their equivalent forms—perfect bound, scrolled, stone tablets, papyrus—have long been an essential part of material culture and are also one of our most significant sources of information about the human historical past. Through both the literal object of the book, the words contained thereon, and its relationship to other books—forms of context, text and intertext—we are able to learn and hopefully manage layers of information with which we would otherwise have no familiarity.

First, the good: this paragraph does a good job introducing my academic interest in the book-as-object, and shows off pre-existing knowledge both of the study of material culture and literary theory. Additionally, the language is engaging: the juxtaposition of “tangible” and “intangible” in the beginning and phrases like “perfect bound, scrolled, stone tablets, papyrus” lend life to the writing and keep the reader engaged.

If I were to go back and improve this paragraph, first, I would absolutely change the first sentence to something less cliche than talking about my childhood. I might try something like “My love of books is a multifaceted thing. I don’t only love them for the stories and….” Second, I would chill out on the em dashes a little bit. Three sets in one paragraph is a little excessive. Finally, I might actually cut this paragraph down slightly to make more room word-wise later in the statement to discuss what specific things about the program interest me.

 

 

Paragraph 2

Furthermore, blogs, webcomics, digital archives, e-readers, and even social media sites like tumblr and Facebook have revolutionized the concept of the book by changing how we share and transmit ideas and information, just as the Gutenberg printing press revolutionized the book all those years ago in the fifteenth century. Once again there has been an explosion both in who can send out information and who can receive it.

This paragraph briefly and effectively introduces my other main academic interest: how new technology has changed the concept of the book-as-object. The tie-back to the printing press is a nice touch; it’s a vivid example that shows that I’m aware of important historical moments in book history.

 

Paragraph 3

I am deeply interested in the preservation of the physical book, as I think it is an important part of human history (not to mention a satisfying sensory experience for the reader). However I am also very concerned with the digitization and organization of information for the modern world such that the book, in all of its forms, stays relevant and easy to access and use. Collections of books, archives, and information as stored in the world’s servers, libraries and museums are essential resources that need to be properly organized and administered to be fully taken advantage of by their audiences. My purpose in applying to the University of Edinburgh’s Material Culture and History of the Book is to gain the skills necessary to keep all forms of the book relevant and functional in an age when information can move more radically than ever before.

This paragraph actually has a focus problem. Since it covers two topics, I should split it into two paragraphs: one on the integration of my two interests, and one on my goals and interests in the program. I could also stand to expand on what features the program has that interest me: professors I’d like to work with, particular aspects of the curriculum, etc.

In spite of these things, however, this paragraph does a good job clearly integrating the two academic interests related to the book I introduced in the first two paragraphs. And the language is still strong—“satisfying sensory experience” is a great phrase. However, I’ve been using the word “information,” a lot; I might try to replace with appropriate synonyms (like “knowledge”) in a couple of places.

 

Paragraph 4

Additionally, I intend on pursuing a PhD in Library and Information Sciences upon completion of my master’s and I feel that this program while make me uniquely suited to approach library science from a highly academic and interdisciplinary perspective.

This final paragraph offers just quick touch on my future goals beyond the program. It’s typically fine for this to be relatively brief, as it is here, just so long as you can clearly identify some future goals.

 

Essay 2: Relevant Experience

The second prompt just asked me to describe my relevant knowledge, training, and skills.

 

Paragraph 1

As a folklore and mythology student, I have gained a robust understanding of material culture and how it relates to culture as a whole. I have also learned about the transmission of ideas, information, stories and pieces of lore among and between populations, which is an important component of book history. Folklore is also deeply concerned with questions of the literary vs. oral lore and the tendency for text to “canonize” folklore, and yet text can also question or invert canonized versions; along with this my studies in my focus field of religion and storytelling have been deeply concerned with intertextuality. One of my courses was specifically concerned with the Heian-period Japanese novel The Tale of Genji and questions of translation and representation in post-Heian picture scrolls and also modern translations and manga. In addition to broader cultural questions concerned with gender and spirituality both in historical Japan and now, we considered the relationships between different Genji texts and images.

This is a strong, focused paragraph. I relate my academic background in Folklore and Mythology to my interests in studying the book, as well as showing off some of my knowledge in the area. I also chose and elaborated on a strong example (my class on the Tale of Genji) of my relevant coursework.

 

Paragraph 2

I also have work experience that lends itself to the study of the book. After my freshman year of college I interned at the Chicago History Museum. Though I was in the visitor services department I was exposed to the preservation and archival departments of the museum and worked closely with the education department, which sparked my interest in archival collections and how museums present collection information to the public. After my sophomore year of college and into my junior year, I worked at Harvard’s rare books library, Houghton. At Houghton I prepared curated collections for archival storage. These collections were mostly comprised of the personal papers of noteworthy individuals, categorized into alphabetical folders. This experience made me very process-oriented and helped me to understand how collections come together on a holistic basis.

This paragraph also has a clear focus: my past, relevant work experience. Discussing archival collections and presenting information to the public links the interests discussed in my first statement with my qualifications in my second statement. However, if I were to revise this paragraph, I would add some specific examples of the amazing things I worked on and handled at Houghton Library. In that job, I got to touch Oliver Cromwell’s death mask! An interesting example would make this paragraph really pop even more.

 

Paragraph 3

Finally, in my current capacity as an education mentor in Allston, a suburb of Boston, I have learned the value of book history and material culture from an educational perspective. As a mentor who designs curriculum for individual students and small groups, I have learned to highly value clearly organized and useful educational resources such as websites, iPad apps, and books as tools for learning. By managing and organizing collections in a way that makes sense we are making information accessible to those who need it.

This final paragraph discusses my current (at the time) work experience in education and how that ties into my interest in the history of the book. It’s an intriguing connection and also harkens back to my discussion of information availability in the paragraph three of the first statement. Again, if I were to amp up this statement even more, I might include a specific example of a book-based (or book technology-based) project I did with one of my students. I worked on things like bookbinding and making “illuminated manuscripts” with some of my students; those would be interesting examples here.

 

This statement is split into two parts by virtue of the two-prompt format. However, if I were to integrate all of this information into one unified statement of purpose, I would probably briefly introduce my research interests, go in-depth on my background, then circle back around to speak more about my personal interests and goals and what intrigues me about the program. There’s not really one correct way to structure a statement of purpose just so long as it flows well and paragraphs are structured in a logical way: one topic per paragraph, with a clear topic and concluding sentence.

 

 

More Statement of Purpose Examples

We’ve provided you with four great graduate school statement of purpose examples from our graduate school experts. However, if you’re looking for more, there are other sample letters of intent and statements of purpose for graduate school online. We’ve rounded up the best ones here, along with some strengths and weaknesses about each example.

 

Majortests Statement of Purpose Sample

This is a fairly straightforward, clearly written statement of purpose sample for a biology program. It includes useful commentary after each paragraph about what this statement of purpose is accomplishing.

 

Strengths

  • This statement of purpose sample is well-organized, with clear topic sentences and points made in each paragraph.
  • The student clearly identifies what interests her about the program.
  • The student proactively addresses questions about why she hasn’t gone directly to graduate school, and frames her professional research experience as a positive thing.
  • She gives a tiny bit of color about her personality in a relevant way by discussing her involvement with the Natural History Society.

 

Weaknesses

  • In general, discussing high school interests is too far back in time unless the anecdote is very interesting or unusual. The detail about The Theory of Evolution is intriguing; the information about the high school teacher seems irrelevant. The student should have condensed this paragraph into a sentence or two.
  • While this statement is cogently written and makes the candidate sound competent and well-qualified, it’s not exactly the most scintillating piece of writing out there. Some of the constructions are a little awkward or cliche. For example, the “many people have asked me” sentence followed by “the answer is” is a little bit clunky. This is probably fine for a STEM program. But just be aware that this statement is not a paragon of writing style.

 

UC Berkeley History Statement of Purpose Sample

This is a graduate school statement of purpose example from the UC Berkeley History department’s PhD program, with annotations from a professor as to why it’s a successful statement.

 

Strengths

  • The author is able to very clearly and articulately lay out her research interests and link them to past work she has successfully completed, namely, her thesis.
  • She is able to identify several things about the program and Berkeley that indicate why it is a good fit for her research interests.
  • She addresses the time she spent away from school and frames it as a positive, emphasizing that her use of time was well-considered and productive.
  • Her writing is very vivid, with excellent word choice and great imagery.

 

Weaknesses

While very well-written and engaging, this sample statement of purpose for graduate school is a little bit on the long side! It’s a little over two single-spaced pages, which is definitely pushing the limits of acceptable length. Try to keep yours at 2 pages or less. Some of the information on the thesis (which comprises over half of the statement of purpose) could be condensed to bring it down to two pages.

 

 

Pharmacy Residency Letter of Intent Sample

This is not technically a sample letter of intent for graduate school because it’s actually for a pharmacy residency program. However, this example still provides illumination as to what makes a decent graduate school letter of intent sample.

 

Strengths

  • This is a serviceable letter of intent: the writer clearly lays out their own goals within the field of pharmacy, what qualifications they have and how they’ve arrived at their interests, and how the program fits their needs.
  • The writing is clearly structured and well-organized.

 

Weaknesses

  • The main weakness is that some of the writer’s statements come across as fairly generic. For example, “The PGY-1 Residency Program at UO Hospitals will provide me with the opportunity to further develop my clinical knowledge, critical thinking, teaching, research, and leadership skills” is a generic statement that could apply to any residency program. A punchier, more program-specific conclusion would have amped up this letter.
  • While the writer does a decent job providing examples of their activities, like working as a tutor and attending the APhA conference, more specificity and detail in these examples would make the statement more memorable.
  • There’s a typo in the last paragraph—a “to” that doesn’t belong! This is an unprofessional blip in an otherwise solid letter. Read you own letter of intent aloud to avoid this!

 

NIU Bad Statement of Purpose Example

This is an ineffective graduate school statement of purpose example, with annotations on why it doesn’t work.

 

Strengths

As you might imagine, the main strength in this document is as an example of what not to do. Otherwise, there is little to recommend it.

 

Weaknesses

  • The annotations quite clearly detail the weaknesses of this statement. So I won’t address them exhaustively except to point out that this statement of purpose fails at both content and style. The author includes irrelevant anecdotes and lists without offering a decisive picture of interests or any particular insight into the field. Additionally, the statement is riddled with grammatical mistakes, awkward sentence structures, and strange acronyms.
  • You’ll note that the commentary advises you to “never start with a quote.” I agree that you should never start with a freestanding quote as in this example. However, I do think starting with a quote is acceptable in cases like the Berkeley history example above, where the quote is brief and then directly linked to the research interest.

 

 

Graduate School Statement of Purpose Examples: 4 Key Points

Graduate programs ask for statement of purpose to hear about your interests and goals and why you think you and the program would be a good fit.

There are four key elements to a successful statement of purpose:

  • A clear articulation of your goals and interests
  • Evidence of past experiences and success
  • Interest and fit with the program
  • Strong writing

We’ve provided you with four successful statement of purpose samples from our graduate school experts!

We also provided additional statement of purpose samples (and a sample letter of intent) for graduate school from other sources on the internet. Now you have all kinds of guidance!

 

What’s Next?

If you’re looking for more information on graduate school, see our guide to what makes a good GPA for grad school.

Not sure if you need to take the GRE? See if you can get into graduate school without GRE scores.

Want more information about the GRE? We can help you figure out when to take the GRE, how to make a GRE study plan, and how to improve your GRE score.

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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon

Need to write a graduate school statement of purpose, but not sure where to start? Let us guide you through how to write a statement of purpose for grad school!

We’ll go over what a statement of purpose, or letter of intent, for grad school is and how it’s different from other admissions essays like personal statements. Then we’ll discuss what schools are looking for in a statement of purpose for graduate school. Finally, we’ll give advice on how to write one!

 

What Is a Grad School Statement of Purpose?

If you’re on this page, you probably know that a statement of purpose (AKA a letter of intent) is an essay requested by lots of graduate programs as part of their application process. But there’s more to it than that.

A statement of purpose is where you tell the admissions committee why you’re interested in a particular graduate program, the kind of work you plan on doing when you’re there, and why you in particular should be doing that work. At more research-focused programs, like PhDs, the graduate school statement of purpose will be focused on your research skills and interests. At more professionally-focused programs, like MPPs and MBAs, the statement will more closely address your professional skills and goals.

It’s important to note that a statement of purpose is not the same thing as a personal statement. What’s the difference? Well, a grad school statement of purpose is more closely focused on your academic/professional qualities, accomplishments, and goals, while a personal statement is more concerned with you as an overall person. Personal statements allow for you to be more personal. There’s definitely some overlap in that both will expect you to address your goals and interests in the field, but a statement of purpose generally has a slightly tighter focus.

Of course, the demarcation between a statement of a purpose and a personal statement won’t always be hard-and-fast. Some programs will call the essay that they want a personal statement, but most of the questions they offer to guide you are academic/professional. Others will ask for a statement of purpose but provide sample essays laden with personal anecdotes and experiences. Still others will ask for a “personal statement/statement of purpose.” Graduate school admissions processes are, alas, not totally consistent across programs even within the same field.

You canallow the information available on the admissions website to guide the direction of your graduate school statement of purpose. However, if they don’t provide further specifications, the general scheme holds: A statement of purpose = tight focus on academic work/research and a personal statement = broader picture of you as a person (including academic goals).

Some programs ask for a graduate school letter of intent instead of an essay. A letter of intent for graduate school is very similar to a statement of purpose in content and focus. You’ll just structure it a little more like an actual letter by addressing your writing to the admissions committee and signing your name.

 

 

What Are Schools Looking for in a Statement of Purpose?

Now that we’ve provided a brief overview of what a statement of purpose is, let’s consider what programs are looking for in a statement of purpose or grad school letter of intent more specifically. There may be some small variation in what different programs are looking for; you should consult any available guidelines for each program. However, here are the specific elements that most graduate programs will be looking for in a statement of purpose:

 

Your Research and Professional Interests

One of the main things programs will be looking for in your graduate school statement of purpose is a description of the research and/or professional interests you want to develop in their program. For a research-focused program (like pretty much all PhDs and some master’s programs), you’ll target this more specifically to the research projects you would like to do while you there.

For more professionally-focused graduate programs, there may not be much a built-in research component. In this case, focus more on your specific interests within the degree field and what related skills you’re trying to build through the program.

It’s best to be as specific as possible in discussing what interests you. Don’t be vague or say that everything in the field appeals to you. This will make you seem both unfocused and boring. Instead, use particular examples of situations or phenomena that you find exciting. You want everything about your grad school statement of purpose to be intriguing and memorable!

Don’t worry that your statement of purpose will box you into a particular research area. Admissions committees understand that interests change, especially as you become more immersed in a field. However, having a focused plan helps reassure admissions committees that you are motivated and will actually be able to complete the program.

 

How Your Background Qualifies You

The next essential component admissions offices will be looking for is evidence of how your background qualifies you to pursue this particular field and area of interest (and research area if applicable). What brought you to these particular interests? You can describe your undergraduate studies, relevant professional experience, any major projects you’ve worked on, papers you’ve written, talks you’ve given, mentors you’ve worked with, and so on. Don’t just tell the admissions committees what makes you particularly suited to what you’re pursuing—show it with specific, vivid examples.

 

 

A Track Record of Success

Admissions committees will also be looking for a proven record of academic and personal success. Your accomplishments will almost certainly overlap with your background and qualifications. Just keep in mind that you’ll want to emphasize major accomplishments that highlight your ability to succeed in the rigorous graduate school environment!

 

What Interests You in the Program

At every program you’re applying to, you should be able to speak to particular things about that program that appeal to you. Are there specific professors you want to work with? Does the department have a specific focus that gels well with yours? Is there something special or particular about the curriculum you’re excited to take advantage of?

You should also demonstrate how you (and your research/work) fit in with the program. Why is it a match? What do you bring? Again, admissions committees will want you to show, not tell.

 

 

Your Passion for the Field

Admissions officers will also be looking for you to show genuine passion for your field and research/professional area of interest. Why are you planning on devoting your life to this thing? Remain professional, but communicate your excitement!

It’s become a common refrain, but be specific. You won’t stand out—at least not in a good way—if you write things that are vague, cliche, and/or grandiose. Stay away from things like “I love engineering,” or “Ever since I was a child I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.”

And don’t just say that you’re interested in disease pathology because you want to help people or save the world. It’s fine to mention an altruistic motive, but you should be specific and particular when articulating what you’re passionate about within your field. So instead, say something like “Volunteering with HIV-positive individuals in a community program impressed upon me the critical importance of improving our understanding of HIV. I feel driven to work towards improved treatments with fewer side effects.”

 

Your Writing Skills

Graduate school invariably involves writing, and usually lots of it. Admissions committees will be looking to your statement of purpose (and any other writing you submit with your application) to make sure you have the writing skills necessarily to succeed in a graduate program. So you want your statement to be well-organized and clearly communicate your ideas. Admissions committees will also be looking for your statement of purpose to be descriptive but concise; a statement of purpose for graduate school shouldn’t be longer than two pages even if there’s no hard word limit. You also want your writing style to stand out. While you shouldn’t use an overly familiar tone, you also don’t want to be too staid and buttoned-up. You definitely don’t want to bore anyone reading your essay!

 

 

How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Grad School

When you sit down to write your statement of purpose, there are two major components to consider: content (what you’re going to say) and style (how you’re going to say it). Content is what makes up the underlying bones of your statement of purpose/letter of intent. Graduate schools care about both content and style, but during the writing process, it makes sense to focus first on content and then consider style more closely when you know what you want to say.

This nine-step guide will walk you through how to write a statement of purpose for grad school.

 

Step 1: Brainstorming

The first step is to generate ideas for what to include in your grad school statement of purpose. This should include many of the elements we addressed in the previous section. As you brainstorm, it’s fine to start with more general statements and ideas and then hone in on more specific examples to include in your statement. But thinking of specific examples in advance will make writing the actual statement of purpose much easier!

There are many brainstorming methods you could consider. Some people like making lists while others prefer to just free-write paragraphs. Some would rather draw a mind map or even make voice memos. Just so long as it helps you record the information and get your brain going, any method is fine.

Here are some things to consider in your brainstorming session, with brainstorming questions for each:

 

Your research/professional interests in the field

  • What interests you most in your field? Consider what you’ve researched/done before, and how closely you want your future interests to hew to what you’ve done in the past.
  • Are there particular themes, methods, theories, etc. that interest you?
  • What problems are you hoping to solve or address through your work/future career?

 

Your research/professional background and qualifications

  • What major projects have you worked on? Did you write a thesis? Do an amazing internship? Work on a research project? Build an app? Create a curriculum? Have clinical experience?
  • Have you presented at any conferences? Do you have any papers published?
  • If you have work experience, how is it relevant to your program? What competencies and skills did you build there that carry over to your planned research/work?

 

Your major accomplishments

  • Any major accomplishments not covered in your background/qualifications? Try to tie them back to your ability to succeed in graduate school and your specific research/professional endeavors.

 

What’s appealing about the specific programs you’re applying to

  • Are there specific professors you want to work with?
  • Do they have resources especially suited to your research/professional interests? Like particular classes or special programs?
  • How will your work fit there?

 

Why you’re passionate about the field

  • What made you initially interested?
  • What goals are you passionate about accomplishing?
  • What do you find particularly fascinating or intriguing in your field?

 

Weaknesses to address

Are there any weaknesses in your application you need to address? If you have a semester with very low grades or another “hole” in your application, you can address it directly in your statement of purpose. Graduate schools won’t want excuses, but it’s fine to provide some kind of explanation: were you dealing with a family emergency or chronic illness? Did you need to work full-time and go to school full-time? Whatever you write, try to frame it in positive terms, to emphasize your ultimate success in the face of setbacks.

 

If you find yourself struggling to generate ideas for any of the above areas, there are a few things you could do. You could look at old papers and projects you’ve turned in. You could also speak to mentors and friends. They’ll remember amazing things you’ve done and should talk about in your application.

It’s also a good idea to discuss your graduate school statement of purpose with a professor in your field of interest. They are likely to have a good idea what graduate programs and looking for and can help you generate and hone ideas.

 

 

Step 2: Outline

Next, you’ll want to select your most impactful ideas and examples from your brainstorming session and arrange them into an outline. Highlight the overall points you want to make and the examples that go with each of those points. Try to arrange your points in an order that flows logically.

However, don’t get too hung up on the details for your initial outline. It’s better to keep moving with a rough plan than to be paralyzed early in the process!

 

Step 3: First Draft

Next, with the help of your outline, you’ll write your first draft. Don’t feel like your first draft has to be application-ready. In fact, your very first draft doesn’t have to be ready for anyone’s eyes but your own. The purpose of this draft is to get your initial thoughts on paper. It’s fine to focus more on content than style. Hammer out your main points, and don’t worry too much about word limit yet (although you will have to cut down to 1-2 pages at most for your final statement of purpose).

 

Step 4: Initial Edit

Once you have a first draft, you’ll want to make a first editing pass through yourself to tighten things up. Try to make sure that your writing flows logically and start to cut points that seem less relevant. You don’t need to make your statement of purpose perfect right now on your first editing pass, but try to refine it into something you’re comfortable sharing with others.

Make sure that the following critical points are coming through clearly:

  • Your research/professional interests
  • Your qualifications and accomplishments
  • Why you’re interested in the particular program

If you’re feeling lost or stuck, it’s fine to move on to step 5 and solicit some feedback from others.

 

 

Step 5: Get Feedback

Now that you have a workable draft, it’s time to get feedback from other people—preferably people familiar with the graduate school admissions process. They can read your statement of purpose and give you advice on the clarity and organization of your ideas. They can help you figure out if you’ve framed your examples correctly and advise where you need to further develop ideas.

It’s a good idea to have several people look at your draft. You don’t necessarily need to accept every piece of writing advice from every person who looks at your essay. However, if multiple people give a similar piece of feedback, you should probably take that advice.

 

Step 6: Edit Again

Next, you’ll revise your graduate school statement of purpose again based on the feedback you received from others. Now you should try to really tighten things up and think about how the final product will be received by the admissions committee. Make sure all of your examples and points are well-organized, concise, and impactful. Bring your statement under the word limit.

 

 

Step 7: Make It Sparkle

As you work on finishing up your statement of purpose for graduate school, you want to really go the extra mile on making your statement stand out. So make the following stylistic tweaks:

Make sure your opening sentences are attention-grabbing (in a good way)! Starting with a cliche, a generalization or another boring statement will disengage your readers right from the start, which is the last thing you want. Here are some cliches to avoid:

  • Don’t start with a quote unless it’s somehow very directly linked to your research interests. Admissions committees are interested in your thoughts and insights; borrowing the insights of others can make you seem intellectually lazy.
  • Don’t start with “Ever since I was a child, I wanted to…” This is a hugely overused beginning and also says nothing about you as a person now, which is what programs are interested in.
  • Avoid starting with an overly broad or vague statement, like “I love science” or “I was born to be a lawyer.” You want to engage readers from the very first sentence, and since everyone applying to the program presumably loves science or wants to be a lawyer (etc), you’ll make yourself seem generic.

Of course, you should avoid platitudes and cliches throughout your writing, not just in the introduction. Try to replace cliche phrases like “Achilles heel,” “wake-up call,” “right up my alley,” and so on with more vivid and memorable language.

Make sure you’re using active voice instead of passive voice in your writing. So instead of “I was told by my professor…” try “My professor told me…”

Avoid overly informal language, contractions, and slang.

The first time you use an acronym, spell out what it is.

 

Step 8: Get Feedback Again

Now that you have a fairly polished second draft, hand it around for another round of feedback. You can ask more specifically for writing-style based feedback at this point if you would like.

 

Step 9: Final Tweaks

After you get your last round of comments from your readers, it’s time for the final tweaks. Incorporate any comments you want to address. Fix any punctuation, grammar, or spelling mistakes. Reading your entire essay out loud is a good technique as it will allow you to catch mistakes more easily and point to places where the text may sound awkward.

Once you’ve put on the final finishing touches, you’re ready to submit your graduate school statement of purpose!

 

 

The Keys to a Great Graduate School Statement of Purpose

A graduate school statement of purpose serves to introduce your research/professional skills and interests to the programs you’re applying for. It’s more tightly focused on your academic and professional life than you as an overall person.

Here are the key ingredients committees will be looking for in your graduate school statement of purpose:

  • A clear articulation of your research and/or professional interests (whichever is more applicable to the program)
  • What qualifies you for the program (and for any proposed research)
  • Examples of your professional/academic success
  • Your interest in the features of a particular department/program
  • A deep level of passion for the field
  • Skillful writing!

And here’s a nine-step process to writing one:

  • Brainstorm: Brainstorm ideas and examples for all of the essential ingredients mentioned above
  • Outline: Arrange the best ideas from your brainstorm into a loose outline
  • First draft: Write a rough first draft. Focus on getting ideas onto paper.
  • First edit: Make a pass through to clean up your thoughts and ideas.
  • Ask for feedback: Ask mentors and people you trust to look over your draft and give feedback.
  • Second edit: Incorporate feedback and tighten everything up into a more cohesive piece of writing.
  • Make it sparkle: Hone in on writing style concerns. Make sure your language is lively, concise, and effective.
  • Get feedback again: Get a final round of feedback. This can focus more on style issues if you’d like.
  • Make final tweaks: Address any comments from your readers and make sure your statement is error-free!

 

 

What’s Next?

Need more information about graduate school? If you’re wondering what GPA you need for grad school, if you have to take the GRE, or how long a master’s program is, we can help!

Prepping for the GRE? We can help you figure out when to take the GRE, answer all your GRE questions, and give you 34 critical tips and strategies for GRE success!

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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon

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