Writing the Statement of Purpose for Graduate School


Graduate programs tend to be very exclusive. Some programs have high acceptance rates, but some accept only a few graduate students each year. In this context, applicants’ statements of purpose become very important. Admissions committees carefully review these essays to ascertain whether applicants could succeed in their programs.

Is a statement of purpose the same as a college entrance essay?

No. A main difference between a college entrance essay and a statement of purpose for graduate school is the latter’s emphasis upon focus. At the undergraduate level, admissions committees are mostly interested in recruiting well-rounded students. At the doctoral level, schools’ primary concern is recruiting focused students. This doesn’t mean that you need to announce your dissertation topic up-front. But it does mean that you should show direction and a willingness to persevere.

What does the school want to hear?

Schools’ statement of purpose prompts vary, but admissions committees are usually expecting applicants to provide the following information:

  • What do you want to study, and why?
  • What experiences have prepared you for graduate school?
  • How do you plan to use your degree?

In other words, admissions committees are looking for experienced scholars who are passionate about their field and have identified research interests. Applicants should convey their motivation to contribute to the field. They should demonstrate that they have a relevant background and a track record that predicts success in an advanced academic setting.

Of course, you shouldn’t literally write, “I have a track record that predicts success.” Rather, you should reflect on experiences that speak for themselves.

What about social skills?

Admissions committees are of course interested in recruiting students who get along well with others. After all, graduate students and faculty members collaborate extensively. Furthermore, graduate students need to have the “people skills” to teach undergraduate courses. It’s helpful to keep this in mind when considering relevant experiences to share in your statement.

Distinguish yourself!

It’s important that an application stands out from the crowd. Successful applicants weave unique but program-relevant information into their essays. For example, a prospective psychology student might reflect upon a unique life experience that led to his or her interest in becoming a psychologist.

A final review:

The essay should be proofread and, if possible, edited by a professional or trusted friend. A personal statement is your opportunity to provide a picture of how you fit into a doctoral program. Make the most of this opportunity!

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