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Whether you’re thinking about transferring schools or applying to graduate school, the statement of purpose will likely play an important role in your application. Just like a well-written personal statement was an essay that contributed to your college acceptances, the statement of purpose is a critical component of a great admission package. It introduces your skills, experience, characteristics, values, and goals to the admission officers and shows them how you’ll be an important addition to their institution.
But don’t let the importance of this essay panic you. Following these tips and tricks, you can write a statement of purpose that'll have admissions committees falling over themselves to accept you. (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but this blog will help simplify knowing what to include when writing an effective statement of purpose and make it easier to start.)
In this blog, we’ll cover:
First things first, let's define what a statement of purpose is. Simply put, it's an essay that provides a snapshot of who you are, what you want to study, and why you're the perfect candidate for a particular program. In essence, it's your chance to sell yourself to the admissions committee and convince them that you're the missing piece to their puzzle.
While your original college admission essay was a storytelling narrative written in a casual, conversational tone, the statement of purpose will be slightly more formal and informative, with a focus on demonstrating your unique experiences and interests, qualifications, and ultimate career goals. But the objectives of both written pieces are the same: Add some color and personality to an otherwise heavily black-and-white, data-focused application.
By the time they’re finished reading your statement of purpose, admission officers should be convinced of three things:
Some may say this is one of the most important pieces of your application, because it gives the reader insight into your ultimate goals and objectives.
Now, let's dive into the nitty-gritty of writing a statement of purpose that'll make you stand out from the crowd.
There are several important components of a great statement of purpose, including:
Now, let’s go through each section and talk about how to get ideas for writing it.
Admission officers want to know your interests — especially those related to the field you’re applying to. So tell them: How did you get interested in your particular field of study? What class, experience, or epiphany sparked your passion for psychology or engineering, for example? What have you accomplished or experienced that has helped steer you toward your professional goals?
Suppose you want to become an orthodontist because having braces transformed you from an introverted, self-conscious child into an adult leader. Share that! Or maybe you’re a first-gen student who wants to become a lawyer to advocate for immigration rights. Tell the reader about it! Consider kicking your statement of purpose off with an attention-grabbing story about you and your background and how that connects with your future goals.
While giving this context is important, it should take up only a relatively small part of your essay. You simply want to show you’re committed to this field and you’ve spent time exploring it on your own. By sharing what motivates you — which may be professional development, social justice, personal growth, or something totally different — you’ll set the foundation for showing your fit with the program.
Admission officers need to know that you’re clear on what you want to do in your career, what problems you want to solve, what questions you want to answer, and what goals you want to accomplish. So share that in your statement of purpose, if you didn’t cover it in the first section. What are the personal reasons/experiences that are driving your professional goals?
Being specific about these will allow admission officers to clearly picture how their curriculum and opportunities will support your vision.
It's not enough to simply say that you're interested in pursuing a particular degree. Instead, admissions committees want to know:
Because the goal of the statement of purpose is to show why you’ll be a great addition to the program, you’ll want to be specific about discussing how your experience has helped you get to where you are.
So if you’re interested in mechanical engineering, share how you first became interested in the field (did you build a kinetic sculpture and became fascinated with how things moved?) and how you’ve continued to explore the field and your interest in it.
Remember, it’s important to include not just what you did, but also what you learned from it and how you’ve grown personally and professionally because of it. This shouldn’t be a list of accomplishments (this list will likely already appear elsewhere in your application); rather, it should show how each step in your educational journey has made you more curious and more dedicated. Use vivid, detailed examples that convey your passion.
While you might not be able to include all of your field-related experience, you should include those that have been exceptionally impactful or that have shaped you. You want to show you’re a competitive candidate with the experience and passion to excel. Experiences you might write about include:
You want to be clear, concise, and specific in what you say here so you come across as curious, dedicated, and passionate.
If the program you’re applying to has specific requirements you must meet (e.g., volunteer/work experience, coursework), make sure you address the experience in your statement of purpose.
Your statement of purpose prompt may also require you to answer specific questions in your response, so make sure you address those as well. You want to demonstrate that you can read, understand, and follow directions.
Next, you’ll want to show admission officers why you’re a good fit for their program — how you’ll benefit them, and how they can benefit you. Here are some ways you can show that you’ve researched and chosen their program intentionally and have a genuine, strong interest in the program and know what you’re going to get out of it — and how you’re going to do it.
This section is essential for sharing with the reader that you’re crystal-clear about what you hope to get out of the programs and how it will make you a stronger student in the field of study.
You can conclude your statement of purpose with a simple forward-looking statement, reinforcing your qualifications and fit for the program and emphasizing your excitement for attending.
Now that you know what to include in your statement of purpose, it’s time to start writing. Here’s how to tackle turning your ideas into words.
Your statement of purpose shouldn’t be just a list of facts and figures or a boring list of accomplishments. Admissions committees want to get to know you, so don't be afraid to let your personality shine through. Using the ideas you’ve generated from the previous section, tell a story that answers these questions:
Following instructions is important, so pay attention to the essay guidelines, like word count, spacing, margins, and font size.
If you’re not given any guidelines, keep these suggestions in mind:
Admissions committees have a lot of reading to do — and they’ll already have your transcript, application, letters of recommendation, and other parts of your application — so keep your statement of purpose concise. Most application essays have a word limit, so adhere to it. If you’re not given a word count for your essay, aim for roughly 500-700 words. Trust me: Admissions committees will thank you.
Admissions committees read hundreds, if not thousands, of statements of purpose every year. So, how do you make yours stand out? By being unique. Don't be afraid to share the personal stories that have shaped you and to show your personality in your writing. Balance a professional tone with personality. This is your chance to show the admissions committee what makes you, you.
I can't stress this enough. Review your statement of purpose multiple times before submitting it. Nothing says “I don't care about this program” more than a statement of purpose filled with errors or that doesn’t follow the instructions.
A great statement of purpose doesn’t just tell a great story — it tells a great story well. So it’s essential to put your best writing foot forward.
Here are a few ways to do just that.
On one of your reviews, check to make sure your ideas flow logically and you’re clearly and concisely communicating your ideas.
That means not relying on spell-check to catch everything. Read the essay through yourself more than once. Consider reading it aloud to yourself or using the Read Aloud feature in Microsoft Word. You can even use Grammarly to catch grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors.
Make sure you’ve followed all instructions regarding length (both word count and page count) and formatting. Don’t use filler words to get to the upper limit or make you sound like someone you’re not.
Have someone else read over your essay. It could be a friend or family member, or you could ask a trusted adult (like a teacher, mentor, or boss) for their feedback.
If all you’re doing is working on this essay and reading it repeatedly, it’s easy to see what you want to see — and you may be overlooking obvious mistakes or key areas for improvement. Take a day or two off, and don’t look at your writing. When you do come back to it, you might see new opportunities for strengthening your essay.
While writing a statement of purpose for graduate school can be a daunting task, with a little bit of effort and the right approach, you can write a statement of purpose that'll have admissions committees ready to accept you. Just remember to be specific about your goals, show what you’ll bring to the program, proofread, and follow instructions. If you can do that, you’ll end with a successful, effective statement of purpose.
But if you feel like you still need extra support while writing, reach out. My hourly or Personal Statement Review packages might be just what you need to confidently submit your graduate school or transfer application. Contact us to learn more.