Statement of Purpose
Many professors, department websites, applications, and current graduate students will tell you
that the statement of purpose is the most important part of the application. While the statement
of purpose is the best way for the admissions committee to gauge your writing skills, it is quite
different from the college admissions essay, or the law school personal statement. Admissions
be looking for the most well-written essay with the catchiest introduction.
What they really mean when they talk about the statement of purpose is that the research
interest match between you and the program is the most important factor for admission, and
your interests are revealed in the statement of purpose. In addition to making sure your interests
and experiences are aligned with the program's offerings, the statement of purpose is a way for
the admissions officers to see how you think, either by your evaluation of your prior research
experiences and coursework, and/or by your presentations of new ideas that you wish to pursue
in graduate school and beyond.
In bullet point form, here are some tips for the personal statement.
Leave roughly 1/3 of the essay to talk about the future
In this section you can describe your interests, goals, career plans after graduate school,
and why the school you are applying to is a good choice to pursue these interests. If
there is a stringent word limit, make sure you include this part, even at the expense of
leaving out some of your past. Your history should be reflected elsewhere in the
applications, through your recommendations, cv, etc.
Don't list experiences and awards
If awards are listed elsewhere in the application (which they are according to nearly all
forms), don't put them here again! Not only is it a waste of space but it also makes you
sound arrogant. If there is something listed on your c.v. that deserves explanation, you
can put it in here, but even then it could be better to have a letter writer mention it, if the
award is something s/he is familiar with.
Write for each school
Your statement should read as though you wrote it specifically for the school to which
you are applying. This may mean that you can leave 5 paragraphs the same for each
school and change just the 6th for each application. However, sometimes it means
tweaking other parts of the essay as well. I did this for 19 schools, and it was definitely
worth it! You should definitely mention specific professors you would like to work with. If
you do not do this, your application may be missed altogether (one school said they
worked this way, even though they didn't warn applicants ahead of time!) You may even
mention how your interests are specifically aligned to work that some of the professors
have done. This step should not be hard if you have already done your research on the
schools you're applying to.