Tips on Writing Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement Essays
for Graduate School and Fellowship Applications
Examine samples written by other students.
The Undergraduate Research Programs office on
floor of Sweet Hall has a binder with sample statements of purpose for a wide variety of
You cannot take the binder out of the office, but there are comfortable chairs and you can
read through the binder there.
One thing you will notice: every student has a different history,
different strengths and weaknesses, so there is no one way to write this type of essay.
Arrange for individual editorial consultation.
After you have absorbed the tips suggested here
and you have developed some kind of draft, send an email to Renee Courey at
with a Word attachment of your draft (with your name on it) along with
days and times that you’re available, and either she or another associate will set up an
Avoid doing this at the last minute. The schedule may be booked, and very often
essays need to be re-conceived or there are other major revisions.
So, when you make an
appointment, allow for plenty of time for follow-up meetings.
You can also set up an
appointment at the Stanford Writing Center – check with SWC on how to do this.
Personal statements and statements of purpose are perhaps the most important parts of
There is little you can do to change your GPA or your curriculum vitae (the
academic version of a resume), but these statements can be written in many different ways,
emphasizing different aspects of your interests, goals, personality, and style.
They present the
unique qualities that make you the candidate that a committee wants to select, and a good
statement of purpose can also affect those professors who will write letters of recommendation
Consequently, you need to pay particular attention to their composition.
and approval committees have been known to accept candidates with uneven academic records
or reject otherwise excellent candidates on the basis of these statements.
Essays for law school and medical school applications have their own unique characteristics.
While many of the tips outlined here are useful for these essays, the demands of graduate school
and fellowship essays are different.
Law school and medical school essays are closer to the type
of essay you wrote for undergraduate admissions. Admissions committees are not that interested
in how much you know about law or medicine, since they don’t expect you to know very much,
and research, while important to write about, is not as crucial as for graduate programs.
you are expected to demonstrate that you can reason and write, and that you have some kind of
intellectual capacity and drive and a sense of human connections, and that you are motivated to
become a lawyer.
For medicine, you are expected to recount any experience with medicine (such
as shadowing doctors), that you have compassion, in addition to demonstrating that you can