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Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

If you are chasing and advanced degree, you probably should focus on perfecting your statement of purpose. It is also known as the letter of intent or research purpose, although the last differs and applies to custom dissertation, research papers, etc. Read our guide to make your statement of purpose much more powerful!

What is the statement of purpose?

Statement of purpose is a summary of your past experience, work, and preparation for future graduate programs. It aims to state all of the key experiences you had (for example, internships, teaching, and jobs) and achievements you have gained (presentation, publications, grants or exhibitions). The main goal of such an essay is to get you into the program you have dreamed of.

Remember, there may be hundreds of other candidates with similar grades, so it is important to give the admission board a clear understanding of why you are perfect for the graduate program they offer.

When you write a statement of purpose don’t forget to include the following elements:

  • Why you are willing to enter graduate school (think of it as of “why this college” question);
  • How you are getting ready for it;
  • What field you want to study and why;
  • Why you have chosen this particular university (location, faculty, special offers and so on).

The difference between a statement of purpose and personal statement

In most of the cases, you will be asked to complete a statement of purpose. However, some admissions committees require a personal statement or both. That is why it is important to understand the difference and to know what type of an essay you will need to submit.

Statement of purpose is a story about your experience and achievements. It aims to show that you are ready for the graduate program while a personal statement is a combination of both: professional achievements and personal characteristics that lead you to a particular field and program.

The personal essay aims to give the committee information about your character and life situations or problems that you managed to solve. The graduate can also tell about the contribution to the local community and any life-changing decisions they have made.

So if you are learning how to write a statement of purpose it is important to put information about your personality aside and to concentrate on academic achievements and work experience.

Statement of purpose and its role in the application

With the help of such a statement school applicants have a chance to highlight their main achievements and experience, showing their strongest sides and explaining how they could contribute to the chosen program. They can deliver a whole package of achievements and stand out from other applicants.

However, you need to interlink your letter of recommendation, CV and statement of purpose to give your words a bigger value. For example, in your essay, you can indicate that you have worked for an international foundation and then duplicate this data in the resume and through a letter of recommendation. Such an approach will help the committee to see that you are skilled for the program and that you are interested in the field for a reason.

This means that your statement should become a sort of a summary of the key aspects of your resume. It must give insights about your achievements. Don’t know what it means? Let us explain it on a statement of purpose example.

Let’s imagine that you were an English major with the following experience: 3 years working at a local library, 2 years volunteering for the English Society and also teaching homeless children for two years after obtaining a degree.  Based on such a resume it will seem that you are a student with lots of experience and virtues. But how can you show your motivation and dedication in an essay?

First, you need to make sure that you indicate the number of years you have spent in each position and to render all the achievements inside that experience. These may be presentations, researches, organization of events and so on.

Then you need to try and get a recommendation letter from every teacher or supervisor, making sure that they emphasize your dedicated work and achievements that are stated in the CV.

Finally, you need to quantify all of the achievements if possible. For example, English Society volunteer: fundraised over $2,000 for the fight against illiteracy.

Writing a statement of purpose

Applying to a program of your dreams may be quite a challenging and stressful process. However, you don’t need to panic! We have gathered all the information and guidelines you may need on a personal statement format, its main elements, and important features. Just read them attentively and get started! We also recommend you to read our guide on how to apply for college to maximize your understanding of the topic.

Statement of purpose outline

Now, when you have already completed a GRE prep, have chosen a program and distinguished the achievements you want to include to your letter, you can proceed with working on an outline. It doesn’t really matter what program you are applying to, because the skeleton of such an essay is quite the same and consists of the following elements:

  • Briefly state your willingness to enter a specific program;
  • The experience that helps you to choose a certain field;
  • First experience: describe your main achievements and the lessons you have learned;
  • Second experience: describe your main achievements and the lessons you have learned;
  • Third experience: describe your main achievements and the lessons you have learned;
  • Tell about the area you want to focus on. Why have you chosen a particular academic institution? What professors and programs interest you the most?
  • How will you apply your degree?

When you give answers to these questions, describing your educational and work experience, statement outline will look as follows:

  • Introduction: I want to study European literature and particularly literature of Ancient Greece because it will help me to understand how centuries ago people lived and how they contributed to the modern world;
  • Tell about the class that introduced you to Ancient Greece and literature, why it interested you and how you took additional classes;
  • First experience: undergraduate research. Tell about the publications and presentations you have made; the lessons you have learned (communicating with other generations through books);
  • Second experience: Three months Internship at Local library. Description of the projects you have worked on, explanation of your interest in Ancient Greece;
  • Third experience: Research at Washington University after college (2 years). Here you need to tell about your findings, projects you have worked on, meetings you have organized and publications you have made;
  • My Ph.D. will cover the following areas..;
  • I want to work with Doctor Smith and Mr. Johnson, the lead professors of the chosen program;
  • I want to be a part of the graduate study to become a future researcher and to teach literature.

In most cases, the outline for your statement of purpose will most like have the following structure:

How to write a statement of purpose: 4 easy steps

Start with an eye-catching introduction

Basically, the main goal of your statement is to give admissions officers a comprehensive explanation of why you have chosen their school and program, backed with accomplishments and achievements you have. In addition, you need to provide a reason why you want to enter a particular program: it can be a concrete academic interest like American history or a general category like productivity or human relationships. You need to remain brief and precise.

Just indicate why you want to become a graduate student in the field.  However, you need to stick to your qualification and achievements, and not to personal traits and character.

Describe your experiences and accomplishments

When applying to grad school, this section becomes the most important one, because it contains all the data on your experience and achievements that lad you to a particular program. In this section, you need to persuade the reader that you are a perfect fit for the program, keeping in mind that there might be thousands of other applicants with the same GRE score.

If you want to remain logical and professional, be brief and simple. In the introductory section, you have already mentioned that you want to take part in a particular program. Now it is the right time to present every achievement and experience that shows that you are prepared for the course.

Through clear examples, a graduate needs to show that he possesses such important qualities as motivation, independence, individuality, determination and so on. However, instead of simply listing those qualities, you need to tell about the achievements that can show that you are independent and motivated.

For example, tell about the international presentation that you helped to organize to get funds for an NGO organization. To persuade the reader that you are passionate about the field, don’t forget to mention research interests and how you will use them for the benefit of the institution.

Many tools can help you demonstrate your motivation through the statement of purpose, so you can use any of them to show that you are passionate about your past and future. Try to avoid any negative elements in your essay: bad teacher, students who ill-treated you or a board member that didn’t like your tone.  Remember not to make any negative comments about your supervisors or collaborators, because one of the committee members may know them and this will only make a negative impression about your personal qualities.

In addition, never tell about any problems you had and couldn’t solve, because this may show that you are not dedicated enough and unable to overcome difficulties. Remain positive, tell about your journey and spice everything up with outstanding writing skills!

 Apply the narrative to your statement

When writing your statement, a narrative can become a real challenge and in most of the cases requires more time and efforts. The narrative in your statement should contain a reflection on your achievements and using various literary tools to link together all of the points that you have listed in your resume.

One of the biggest challenges in this section is telling about your academic background in situations when you are not able to disclose information by the contract. However, you shouldn’t worry and just ask your tutors for help. They surely know how to provide a general description of your experience or certain projects without giving away any important details.

The main goal is to give the board a clear understanding of the corresponding experience you have even if the information about your undergraduate studies won’t contain specific names and numbers.

Create a strong conclusion

By the time you will need to work on the conclusion of your personal statement or statement of purpose, you will already have a clear explanation of what makes you a good candidacy for a particular program. Now it is the right time to persuade the admission committee that they should stop their choice on you.

There should be two paragraphs in your conclusion. In the first one, you need to discuss your interest in a certain graduate program or professors and the reasons that helped you to choose them. In the second paragraph, you should discuss what you are willing to do when the school and the program are finished.

Start with explaining what you are willing to work on during the studies. This stage will require certain research on the professors and program so that you can choose departments and professors you would like to work with. It is a great idea to explain why the program is better than similar ones and how your achievements can complement it.

To make the application process simpler if you are applying to several schools, you can keep the field of expertise the same in all of the statements (for example, English Literature or American History) and customize the part with particular professors or topics for every school.

In the first paragraph you need to answer the following questions:

  • What are your academic fields of interest? Here you need to be more detailed. For example, you should not only write that you like literature but also indicate the time period and region;
  • How will you broaden your interests in the graduate school of your choice? For example, it may provide the best and the most innovative educational techniques in the chosen field;
  • Are there professors in the chosen field that interest you? Why do you like their works and how they can help your own study? Be brief and just give their names. For example, ‘I love works of Dr. James Cooper on the symbolism of modern rap culture.’

In the last paragraph of the research statement, you have the freedom to go beyond the program and school, and to make a claim on the reasons why you want to attend the school, how it can help your future career and so on. Try to finish with the same information, as you provided at the beginning of your introduction. It doesn’t have to be too long but the reader should feel attached to your reasons for choosing the school and field.

In any of these paragraphs, you need to mention the name of the graduate school. Be very attentive and don’t forget to change names every time you send a letter to another institution! It is a very simple but important instrument that will show that you have conducted some thinking on the institution that may become your home for the next 4+ years.

Things you should INCLUDE in your statement of purpose

Now, when you are familiar with a statement of purpose format and the paragraphs it should contain, it is the right time to choose experiences and achievements that will show you in the best light.

Such experiences include:

  • Jobs;
  • Scientific assistantships;
  • Internships;
  • Volunteering.

You need to organize such data in reverse chronological order: from the earliest one to recent years. It is possible to include early experiences from the times when you were a high school student but make sure such experience is really important. If you don’t know whether to include such information or not, it is better to save space for more fresh experiences and details about your degree.

Accomplishments include:

  • Presentations;
  • Publications;
  • Funding, including grants, scholarships or fellowships;
  • Fundraising;
  • Exhibitions.

Unfortunately, not all students can boast an impressive list of experiences. Luckily, you can always enrich your letter with the achievements you have made throughout the years. They may include organizing an international exhibition or generating an idea that was successfully implemented in your local community and helped to save lives.

Every time you provide a new experience section, you need to include the following details:

  • Description of your responsibilities;
  • Duration of working on it;
  • Why you decided to do it (optional);
  • What lessons you have learned from it;
  • Any achievements that came as a result: publications, fundraising, grants and so on.

Things you should AVOID including in your statement of purpose

Two main things that you need to omit in your essay include:

1. Irrelevant personal details

As you remember, the statement of purpose graduate school is not the same as a personal statement and shouldn’t include details about your character or personality. That is why you don’t need to mention that you have been interested in biology since your aunt took you to a national museum. In addition, there is no need to tell about the obstacles you had to overcome that lead you to a graduate school. Such details will be not appropriate for a statement of purpose and the committee may simply put your application aside without reading it.

However, there is an exception. If you decided to switch jobs to pursue your dreams and have chosen a completely new field, you need to talk about it. For example, while working as an accountant you started drawing and grew a real interest in Art. Such details should be included in your statement because they explain why you have several undergraduate degrees.

Some schools give applicants a chance to discuss personal reasons in a separate section. If you have such an opportunity, use it and once again explain why you have chosen the particular field and school.

2. Hobbies or other not-related activities

Your purpose statement shouldn’t contain any of your hobbies no matter how impressive they are. If the school is interested in such details, it will ask additional questions in the application form.

However, such activities like tutoring or volunteering should be included in case they are associated with the chosen field. For example, if you are willing to get a Ph.D. in Literature and you have volunteered in a local library, you can tell about it. Especially if it lasted not a couple of weeks and you managed to contribute to society.  If you are asked to write both a statement of purpose and a personal one, it is up to you where to put such information.

Bonus: how to transform a statement of purpose into a personal statement

By now you already know how to write a statement of purpose for grad school and know how it is different from a personal statement. Considering how similar they are, it is quite simple to turn one into another. Below are a few examples you may use.

Let us begin with an introduction. While a purpose statement should be brief and clear, through a personal statement you need to grab the attention of the reader with important features of your history and personality.

The best way to do so is to start with a story about your past, any difficulties you had to overcome and that lead you to a particular school. Such a story can become a glue that connects together all of the details you will include to your future statement.

When you come up with a theme, all you need to do is to include comments to every experience and achievement in your statement of purpose. This will serve a great transition between paragraphs and will give readers more information about yourself.

However, in most of the cases, students didn’t have to overcome any serious obstacles that could have influenced their decisions. In such a case, you can simply discuss other experiences and interesting stories from your life that can cover the best personal traits you have.

For example, during college years you have volunteered for a local community teaching English to refugees. Now you are willing to get a Ph.D. in Education. Tell about your volunteering work to introduce your aspirations and to explain how important education is.  In your personal statement, you can discuss all the opportunities you had to learn and teach, to guide others and to be useful for the community.

In case you don’t have such experience, you can still become personal by telling about experiences, which explain your reasons for choosing a particular field. However, such an approach is very common and most of the students will use it in their own letters. That is why you need to be sure that your story doesn’t contain any regular phrases or clichés. Try to be more descriptive and creative, engaging the reader with personalized details.

It doesn’t matter whether you are discussing problems you managed to solve, unique experience or volunteer work: the main goal is to reach the target audience and convince it that you are a perfect fit for a chosen graduate school.

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