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Statement of Purpose Format for Graduate School (SOP)

phd statement of purpose word

When it comes to applying to graduate school, there are many things students must prepare, including a  graduate school recommendation letter  and graduate school CV.

However, the most important element in your graduate school admissions package is the Statement of Purpose, also known at many universities as the “personal statement.”

In this article, you will learn why the Statement of Purpose is so important for graduate school admissions, how the Statement of Purpose format differs from  college application essay formats , and how to format a successful Statement of Purpose for graduate school–with examples!

Table of Contents

What is a statement of purpose.

In graduate school applications, a  statement of purpose (SOP) (or personal statement) is the one part of the application that allows applicants to construct a narrative of their choosing that includes all relevant parts of their academic and personal histories. This includes academic and professional interests and accomplishments, personality, values, and worldview, as well as how both the student and graduate program can add value to each other. 

Difference between the Statement of Purpose and college admissions essays

At the graduate school level, students often have years of research and academic experience. In the case of MBA programs, applicants also often have years of work experience they can include in their essays. 

This makes graduate school admission essays or personal statements distinct from undergraduate application essays. Graduate school applicants have a significant amount of material and context with which to differentiate themselves and stand apart from other applicants. The scope (how much is covered) and depth (how detailed the experiences are) are both much more complex for a Statement of Purpose.

Do I need to write a Statement of Purpose for college?

The graduate Statement of Purpose allows applicants to summarize non-quantifiable qualities for consideration by an admissions committee. This may include an applicant’s personal or professional strengths, as well as goals or passion for certain subjects. 

The graduate school application process is often competitive. In addition to being academically qualified, students must demonstrate a commitment to the program. Remember, one concern graduate programs have is that students will drop out and not continue to pay tuition.

Effect of Covid-19 on the Statement of Purpose

COVID-19 has reduced the feasibility of standardized testing, and there are increased concerns by wider society over the equitable nature of standardized testing in general. 

For example, NYU Stern School of Business on June 15th became the fourth top-25 business school to announce that its full-time MBA program would  not consider the GMAT or GRE any longer . 

Further, Michael Hunt, director of the University of Maryland McNair Scholars Program has gone on record stating that 

“[My] goal is to “remove barriers and not maintain obstacles under the guise of academic freedom or other university policies. I pray that one day, we will not need committees or a pandemic to determine if something is equitable.”

This leaves the Statement of Purpose, academic background,  resume/CV , and  letters of recommendation  as the primary determinants of graduate admission.

How long should a Statement of Purpose be?

Generally, a Statement of Purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words long and should not exceed a single page. But this can depend on the school or program to which you are applying, as well as on the extent of your academic experience.

Graduate Statement Of Purpose Format Guidelines

We have already covered  how to write a Statement of Purpose for grad school (with examples).

Read over these resources and watch our Wordvice Webinar Series for  how to write a winning Statement of Purpose :

General Statement of Purpose Formatting Rules

Unlike a college admissions essay, a grad school Statement of Purpose is generally  not  uploaded in a text box or input field in some platforms, as the Common Application essay is.

Applying to graduate school means applying directly to the graduate program and its parent department. Graduate programs are separate entities within their universities. Applying to the College of Arts & Sciences is different than applying to a university’s College of Engineering. 

As a result, most graduate school applications are simply uploaded directly to the program. So, you will likely be uploading a Word .doc or Adobe .pdf file.

Microsoft Word (.DOC) format

Typical file types for a Statement of Purpose are .doc or .docx. There is a downside to Word files being editable, and there are sometimes conflicts among the different Word versions (2010 vs 2016. vs Office365). One benefit of Word files is that anyone can view them.

If maintaining the visual aspects of your essay is important, this is a safe choice. PDFs prevent formatting issues that might arise with older versions of Word documents.

To make the statement easier to read, applicants should follow the following rules:

Additional Statement of Purpose Format Tips

Statement of Purpose Format and Structure Outline

One of the most important characteristics of a strong Statement of Purpose is its structure. Layout the information in such a way that the reader can easily understand it. Well-organized statements keep readers interested.

In general, a Statement of Purpose should follow the  format of an academic essay .

Introduction – State your goals and introduce yourself

The first section of the application should clearly and concisely explain what the student hopes to achieve by completing the program. For a history student, the goal may be to earn a PhD that allows them to take a historian position at a major non-profit institution or museum upon graduation. For a chemistry student, the goal may be to move into a postdoctoral research position at a major university with the hope of becoming a professor later. 

Or perhaps an applicant has goals of going into the private sector. Regardless of the field of study, your professional experience, academic history, prior internships or jobs, and goals should be introduced here.

Tips for writing the Introduction for the Statement of Purpose

Main Body – Academic and career history

In the first part of the body, you must support the idea of you being a qualified candidate with details about your academic and career history as well as examples of projects, accomplishments, and learning experiences.

Start with a brief history of your undergraduate experience and academic results. Then, move on to extracurricular, professional, and career experiences and achievements. As a graduate studies applicant, professional and career experiences will naturally be more diverse and therefore help you stand out. 

You should of course emphasize your academic experience and grades. Mention how you took advantage of your university’s resources and if you developed any special relationships with professors–that is especially what PhD advisors are looking for!

In the second part of the body, support your assertions with examples.

Tips for writing about academic and career history and goals

Main Body – Why you are a fit for the program ?

Students’ goals and interests must align with the mission and values of a college or university when being considered for admissions. A common tactic is to highlight a few professors in the department, which demonstrates that the applicant has done the research, whereas other students discuss the accomplishments of prominent alumni they admire. 

Students can use this space to create an impressive application by creatively demonstrating their knowledge of the school and department while matching it with their goals. 

Tips for writing about fit with the program

Conclusion – Summary

The conclusion must accomplish two goals: package everything together and leave the reader interested in knowing more. If you can accomplish the second part, you will likely get a passing grade on your Statement of Purpose.

Reflect on what attending the program would mean to you, both professionally and personally, as you give one final thought or insight. Write about both the impact you hope to have on the world and the impact attending the program would have on yourself. 

Tips for writing the Statement of Purpose conclusion

Statement of Purpose Format: Structure and Summary

statement of purpose infographic

Be sure to check our article on how to write a Statement of Purpose for grad school.

We also have recommendation letter templates and dozens of other useful resources to help you prepare your admissions essays. 

If you need editing or proofreading, you can start by checking out our professional proofreading services , including admissions editing services , SOP editing services , and college and graduate essay editing services .

students walking across wheeler hall

Writing the Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose should convince readers– the faculty on the selection committee– that you have solid achievements behind you that show promise for your success in graduate study. Think of the statement of purpose as a composition with four different parts.

Make sure to check on the appropriate departmental website to find out if your statement should include additional or specific information.

Part 1: Introduce yourself, your interests and motivations

Tell them what you’re interested in, and perhaps, what sparked your desire for graduate study. This should be short and to the point; don’t spend a great deal of time on autobiography.

Part 2: Summarize your undergraduate and previous graduate career

a) Research you conducted. Indicate with whom, the title of the project, what your responsibilities were, and the outcome. Write technically, or in the style of your discipline. Professors are the people who read these statements.

b) Important paper or thesis project you completed, as well as anything scholarly beyond your curricular requirements.

c) Work experience, especially if you had any kind of responsibility for testing, designing, researching or interning in an area similar to what you wish to study in graduate school.

Part 3: Discuss the relevance of your recent and current activities

If you graduated and worked prior to returning to grad school, indicate what you’ve been doing: company or non-profit, your work/design team, responsibilities, what you learned. You can also indicate here how this helped you focus your graduate studies.

Part 4: Elaborate on your academic interests

Here you indicate what you would like to study in graduate school in enough detail to convince the faculty that you understand the scope of research in their discipline, and are engaged with current research themes.

a) Indicate the area of your interests. Ideally, pose a question, define a problem, or indicate a theme that you would like to address, and questions that arise from contemporary research. This should be an ample paragraph!

b) Look on the web for information about departments you’re interested in, including professors and their research. Are there professors whose research interests parallel yours? If so, indicate this. Check the specific program; many may require you to name a professor or professors with whom you might work.

c) End your statement in a positive manner, indicating your excitement and readiness for the challenges ahead of you.

Essential Tips

1. What the admissions committee will read between the lines: self-motivation, competence, potential as a graduate student.

2. Emphasize everything from a positive perspective and write in an active, not a passive voice.

3. Demonstrate everything by example; don’t say directly that you’re a persistent person, show it.

4. If there is something important that happened to you that affected your grades, such as poverty, illness, or excessive work, state it. Write it affirmatively, showing your perseverance despite obstacles. You can elaborate more in your personal statement.

5. Make sure everything is linked with continuity and focus.

6. Unless the specific program says otherwise, be concise; an ideal essay should say everything it needs to with brevity. Approximately 500 to 1000 well-selected words (1-2 single space pages in 12 point font) is better than more words with less clarity and poor organization.

Statement of Purpose Examples for Graduate School in

Including 9 sample statements of purpose that got multiple acceptances.


Review these successful graduate school statement of purpose examples, expert tips, and strategies to help you create your own effective essay. The samples come from our own past students who got into multiple top graduate schools. Note that the students worked with our admissions experts as part of our application review programs to create these statements. The sample statements are the result of multiple rounds of reviews and hard work by our students. We hope they will serve as a starting roadmap for you.

Note : If you want us to help you with your applications, interviews and/or standardized tests, book a free strategy call . If you are a university, business, or student organization representative and want to partner with us, visit our partnerships page .

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Article Contents 47 min read

A statement of purpose is an essential part of your application for a graduate program. While your academic transcripts and letters of reference reveal your academic credentials, your statement of purpose gives you the chance to present yourself as a candidate in a more well-rounded and compelling way. This is your opportunity to make yourself stand out as an applicant! Your preparation for writing and completing the statement of purpose is not unlike your preparations with graduate school interview questions - you need to leave yourself an ample amount of time to ace it.

Of course, each school is different, and you need to make sure you have checked the specific requirements of your chosen institutions before you begin writing your statement. But no matter which school you’re applying to, one thing is certain: a strong statement of purpose is crucial to your success! 

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Statement of Purpose Example for Graduate School

Sample #1 (998 words).

“Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.” I was 16 when I first read this quote by Mies van der Rohe, and, back then, I thought I really understood what it meant. Thinking of this quote one summer evening, as I walked around my beloved New York City, I was inspired to commit to a future in architecture. At that early stage, I cherished romantic ideals of designing grandiose buildings that would change a city; of adding my name to the list of architectural geniuses who had immortalized their vision of the world in concrete, steel, glass, and stone. It was in college that I became passionately interested in the theoretical design and engineering concepts that form the basis of architecture, while also exploring in greater detail the sociological and economic impact of architecture.

The true breakthrough for me took place in my sophomore year of college, when I was volunteering at The Bowery Mission, a women’s shelter situated in Queens, New York. The shelter was in a poorly ventilated building, with an essentially non-functioning air conditioning system. The little bit of relief for the people who stayed there was a small park nearby, a patch of green between suffocating buildings. One day when I was working the afternoon shift there in the peak of summer, I looked out to see bulldozers in the park. It was being torn up to make room for yet another building. I saw that completed building a year later – a grey block of steel that did not utilize any of the original park space. Witnessing this injustice, while learning every day about how climatology, materials technology, and engineering mechanics intersect with urban planning and architectural design, ignited a passion for sustainable design in me. [BeMo2] How can we, as architects, minimize our harm to communities and eco-systems? How can we design buildings with a view to sustain long-term energy and resource efficiency without sacrificing immediate economic viability? What are the eco-conscious solutions that architects can put forward to address the environmental changes of the 21st century? These were the questions that plagued me then and I have pursued the answers to these questions throughout my academic career so far.

The statement of purpose provides the admissions committee with a way of understanding more about you as an applicant on a deeper level. The admissions committee already knows about your academic performance from your transcripts, but the statement of purpose gives them the opportunity to assess your suitability for their particular program and institution. Finding the right fit between an applicant and a graduate program is crucial for both parties, and your statement of purpose is your opportunity to explain to the admissions committee why you believe this graduate program is right for you. 

With this in mind, it is important to use the statement of purpose as a way of showcasing what led you to the program in the first place, and what you hope to achieve if accepted. Here is what a successful statement of purpose should reveal about you to the admissions committee:

Before You Begin: Steps to Prepare

The key to great writing is great preparation. That is why you need to lay some groundwork before you even start drafting your statement of purpose. Here are the steps you need to take to prepare yourself.

Set aside the time. Preparing and writing a statement of purpose is not a quick undertaking. Proper preparation is a commitment, and you need to make sure you are setting aside enough time to complete the steps below. Since the statement itself will also require several drafts before reaching its final form, always keep in mind that this is not something to leave to the last minute! Ideally, you should give yourself 6-8 weeks to write your statement. Do yourself a favor by getting started on your preparations as early as you can, leaving yourself plenty of time to write and re-write your statement afterwards.

Research your school and program thoroughly . Visit the school’s website and pay close attention to any mission statements or explicit values that are stated. Visit the pages dedicated to your department and program of choice to glean clues regarding their academic culture. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the research specialties of the faculty members. Make note of any faculty members whose research interests align with yours, as they could potentially serve as a supervisor or mentor.

Brainstorm how and why you would fit into the school and program . It’s not enough to want to attend a particular school just because of their good reputation or nice location. While learning about the school, its faculty, and your program of choice, you should be constantly reflecting upon how and why you would fit in as a member of that community. These reflections will prove crucially important when you write your statement.

Contact any potential mentors . If you have discovered a faculty member whose work sounds intriguing to you, reach out to them to introduce yourself and your own research interests. Forming a direct connection with a faculty member could significantly boost your candidacy, especially if the faculty member is willing to consider playing a supervisory role in your work. A faculty member will also be able to answer any questions you may have about your common research interests, and how you could explore those further within the program.

Make a list of any requirements/suggestions offered by the school for your statement of purpose . As noted above, every school is different, and each program is unique. Make sure you understand the specifics of what they are looking for in a statement of purpose, e.g. length, emphasis, any required formatting guidelines. The more closely you follow their guidelines, the less prone you will be to making errors in terms of structure or formatting. Many graduate schools will provide prompts to make your writing process easier. Make sure to read the prompt carefully. While these tend to be very open-ended, they can provide clues as to what the admissions committee expects to see in your statement.

If in doubt, ask . If you are in doubt about what the school expects from your statement of purpose, ask for clarification from an appropriate authority at the school. Remember that each institution’s website and admissions office is there to help clear up any uncertainty you may have about deadlines and requirements. Seek clarification if you are not sure about something.  

Get your materials in order before you write. Before you begin writing, you need to make sure you have everything you need for your reference close at hand. Make sure you have copies of your academic transcripts and your CV for graduate school within easy reach, to help jog your memory about specific courses or achievements you wish to include in your statement of purpose. You might also wish to keep nearby any useful information you have about the program and its faculty, for quick reference when you need it.

If you also need to prepare a CV, check out our video for tips:

Make some notes. Sitting and staring at a blank page can be a little intimidating. That’s why having some useful notes can make writing the actual statement much easier! Go over your reference materials and make a short list of which experiences and achievements you would especially like to highlight in your statement. Note down specific examples for achievements whenever possible. Brainstorm your strengths and weaknesses beforehand, and how they relate to the program. The better your prep notes are, the more straightforward writing your statement will be.  

After researching the program, you have an idea of their mission and culture. Think of your accomplishments and strengths in relation to what you know about the school. Jot down any relevant experiences or events that might make a great narrative for your statement for that particular school.   

Once you have completed the research and preparation steps outlined above, you will be ready to start drafting your statement of purpose. Remember: each school is different, so make sure you know exactly what their requirements are before you begin! You should not start writing until you are sure you have done all of the necessary prep work and know exactly what is expected of you.

When you are ready to write, take a moment to review the length requirements. A statement of purpose is typically between 500 to 1,000 words long, which means that you must make a special effort to convey as much meaningful information about yourself as you can within this relatively small word limit. The statement of purpose should usually have four main sections, but you can avoid explicitly separating the four sections and opt for the more natural flow of a letter instead. If, however, your program explicitly asks for a certain format, be sure to give them what they ask for! 

Structuring your statement

A strong statement of purpose is one that has a clear structure. You need to ensure that the information is laid out in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow. A well-organized statement keeps the reader engaged!

The structure of a statement of purpose should follow the general structure of an academic essay:

Introduction. Your introduction is the first impression you make on your reader, and we all know how important first impressions are! You need to grab your reader’s attention by briefly introducing yourself and why you are excited to apply to this program. Write in a clear, enthusiastic manner and capture the reader’s attention right away with a compelling first sentence. Whether you choose to open your statement with an anecdote, a quotation, or jolt the reader with a gripping personal fact, ponder what kind of an opening statement would make a reader stay with you to the end. Your opening sentence can often make or break your essay, so keep in might that a stiff or sloppy opening can dissuade the admissions committee members from reading the rest of your statement. The second half of your introduction should provide a brief snapshot of what you will cover in greater detail in the main body of your statement.

If you find yourself struggling to write your introduction, set it aside until you have written the body and conclusion of your statement. Writing your introduction will become easier once you have a better sense of your statement as a whole, since you will then know how the introduction could tie it all together.  

Main body of the statement. The main body of your statement should highlight 2-3 formative experiences that you have had. In these sections you will address the four main elements – your focused interest in the program, academic/professional preparation, your strengths/weaknesses, and your career plans – which we will be looking at in more detail in the next section. Throughout these sections, it is important to always make sure you are crafting a compelling narrative about your experiences and interests, not just providing a dull list of your accomplishments or goals without any context. You should not just be repeating your academic CV!

As ever, you need to be specific, as giving examples and explaining why your experiences matter and what you have learned from them takes your statement to the next level. The more specific you are, the more convincing you become as a candidate. Remember, it’s more important to show why you are a great candidate, rather than simply talk about it. For example, if you are applying to a graduate program in philosophy with intent to study the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, you can discuss a seminar or monograph that led you to pursue the study of German Idealism. Talk about how the seminar shaped your worldview and what kind of skills you learned. Did it strengthen your analytical skills? Did it make you question Western ethics? Has it changed how you view the history of the first half of the 20th century? Whatever you choose to write about, use solid examples to create a compelling narrative.

Conclusion. Your conclusion needs to tie everything together and should leave the reader wanting to know more about you. Try to leave your reader with one last compelling thought or insight as you reflect upon what enrolling in the program would mean to you, both personally and professionally. You could speak about the current challenges faced by experts in your discipline, and your own eagerness to become more involved in contributing to the field. For example:

“The underrepresentation of minorities in higher levels of government continues to pose major challenges for experts attempting to make senior roles more accessible to all. Through my studies on the relationship between ethnicity and barriers to political participation, I hope to discover various new strategies that could help to address this enduring imbalance.”

Your conclusion might also be a good place to address your career plans, as it ends the statement by looking to the future. You could end by specifying how the program will help you achieve your professional goals: “Completing my proposed Master’s thesis on the desertification caused by climate change will help me hone the research, writing, and analytical skills needed to excel in my career in environmental advocacy.” Leave the reader convinced that you are committed to learning and growing, and that you are absolutely prepared for this next step in your academic career.

A strong statement of purpose should include the following elements in the main body of the text:

While you don\u2019t necessarily have to have your entire life planned out already, showing the committee that you are capable of long-term thinking will help to create a favorable impression. Telling the committee about how you envision making the transition from school to the workforce shows them that you are choosing both your program and your career path with care. It also assures them that you are truly devoted to your discipline, and are committed to building a professional life for yourself related to your field of study. ","label":"Your career plans","title":"Your career plans"}]' code='tab1' template='BlogArticle'>

We will now take a look at each of these four elements in greater depth below, with some useful examples. 

Examples of Focused Interest in the Field

Your statement of purpose also allows you to share your focused interest in the field of your choosing. In thinking about your particular intellectual and research interests, consider including some of the following elements:

For example:

My interest in the Health Economics specialization option is a testament to my conviction that health is one of the most interesting and complex determinants of social welfare. In my experiences as a traveler, researcher, and student, I understand health policy to be one of the most defining characteristics of a national identity as well as the locus of key clashes between equity and efficiency. Health economic policy is the most interesting because it juxtaposes health care, in which universality and equality are perceived as dominant principles, against the rationality and efficiency considerations of an increasingly liberal global economic reality. Graduate studies in health economic policy is the ideal corollary to my academic, personal and social background. I am most keen to explore the relationship between economic and psychological models of human behavior to hopefully advance a more holistic social sciences perspective on why people act against their own self-interest when it comes to their health.

Examples of Academic & Professional Preparation

Your academic and professional preparation can take many forms, and that is why it is important to think carefully about the ways in which your path has given you the tools needed to succeed in the program of your choice. But note that the statement of purpose is not meant to be a recitation of your CV. Instead, the statement of purpose should be a narrative about why you took the steps you did and how it brought you to graduate school. Some examples that might apply include:

After spending four years as an Arts & Science undergraduate and earning a Minor specialization in Economics, I have developed strong analytical research skills, a capacity for truly critical thought and an appreciation for the universal relevance of economic investigation. My interest in the social determinants of health, and how these interplay with policy and economics, was the impetus for my senior undergraduate research project entitled, “Health and behavior: Advancing a microeconomic framework for changing decision-making in people with obesity.” I was fortunate to work with economists Drs. Levi and Traut, with whom I interrogated the classical and contemporary theories around human behavior and health. In my role as a research assistant, I conducted three literature reviews, one of which was used to support the work of a senior graduate student and will be published in an upcoming issue of Health Economics and the abstract was accepted for a poster presentation at the Annual Health Economics Conference in Denver CO.

Every applicant has strengths and weaknesses, and a statement of purpose is your chance to show the committee that you are self-aware enough to know what your own achievements and setbacks are. In discussing these, keep in mind the following:

Examples of Career Plans

A statement of purpose can showcase not only your past achievements and current plans, but also your goals for the future. You don’t necessarily have to know exactly what you want to do after graduating, but including these goals can show the committee that you are capable of long-term planning, and that you are eager to put what you learn in the program to good use afterwards. You can use the part about career plans to address some of the following:

It is the responsibility of economics researchers to offer sustainable and feasible alternatives and recommendations to experts in all other fields regarding their most pressing challenges such as climate change and regulation of illegal trade. Further, the intermediary between economics research and the implementation of its corresponding results is the policy process. Because analytical research and writing are my most well-developed academic strengths, as evidenced by my GPA, undergraduate thesis, reference letters, and writing samples, the MA Economic Policy (Health Specialization) program is an ideal launch point for a research career in academia with branch points into policy work in the social determinants of health. Eventually, I want to complete a PhD. I want to build a focused academic practice at McMaster where I can help civil society, government and social enterprises understand and address ‘wicked problems’ at the intersection of economics and public health. The skills I aim to acquire through this graduate training are crucial to the evolution of my practice.

Prefer to watch a video instead? Check it out below:

In order to avoid some of the most common pitfalls when writing your statement of purpose, review the following list of Do’s and Don’ts to make sure your statement is the best it can be: 

Even a statement with the most wonderful content in the world will be a lot less wonderful if it\u2019s littered with typos, grammatical errors, or disorganized sentences. Read and reread your work many times to make sure it is cleanly and professionally written.  "}]' code='timeline1'>

Your writing needs to be clear and concise. Do not try to show off to the committee by using words that are unnecessarily obscure or too specialty-specific. Not everyone on your committee might be familiar with your research field. Always aim for clarity above all else. If you must use a specialty-specific term, be sure to define it to ensure that both you and your reader understand what you mean when you use that term. "}]' code='timeline2'>

Before You Submit: A Checklist

When you think your statement is as good as it can possibly be, take a moment to check over the following checklist before submitting:

Statement of Purpose Examples for Graduate School

Sample #2 (984 words).

When I was 12 years old, my sister suffered a traumatic car accident that left her with PTSD, depression, and severe anxiety. Our parents did not really understand the impact of what she was going through and as a family, we never talked about it much, though we all could witness her pain. So, through my teen years, I watched as a beloved family member struggled with her mental health. Though I did my best to support her through the worst times and assist her in getting professional help, there were still many moments when I felt powerless and clueless in the face of her suffering. This challenging experience set me on the path to pursuing clinical psychology as a career. I wanted to question, dissect, analyze, and hopefully, understand, this mysterious phenomenon that had dominated my life for so long. Through my academic study of psychology and personal experience of my sister’s PTSD, I found that I was particularly interested in clinical psychology with relation to adolescent populations.

From the age of 16 to 21, I worked as a volunteer at an after-school care program for children and teens from disadvantaged backgrounds. While there, I met numerous young people, who had faced starvation, neglect, abuse, and violence, from a very young age, and who needed help to cope with the long-term effects of those early experiences. Working with these kids, helping them through events that might be unimaginable for most adults, further sharpened my interest in how trauma influences the development of generalized anxiety disorders and panic disorders, and in particular, the pre-existing conditions and underlying risk factors for suicide in adolescents with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. This is the topic I hope to continue to explore as a Master’s student in the Clinical Psychology program of your university. Thanks to my personal and first-hand experiences with the effects of trauma, I think I can bring a unique perspective to the study of long-term PTSD in adolescents.

Though my core interest in clinical psychology and the effects of trauma started as deeply personal, my scholarly curiosity and intellectual proficiency led me to academic explorations of this subject from a young age. While in high school, I took up Intro to Psychology classes from my local community college and completed a Peer Youth Counselling certificate course from the Ryerson Center for Mental Health. This academic exploration confirmed my desire to study psychology in college, and my coursework through my undergrad years focused on building a broad portfolio of the key areas of psychology, including Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Science, Industrial Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and more. I also took up courses in Biology, Physiology, and Neuroscience to better understand the physical pathologies of adolescent trauma. I believe this thorough grounding in the biological aspects of developmental psychopathology will help me to address the sorely needed requirement for cross-disciplinary research into effective treatment programs for trauma survivors.

Throughout my undergraduate education, I gained research experience that helped me develop the skills and knowledge I need for my clinical psychology graduate studies. For my last two years of undergrad, I worked with Drs. Rebecca Brown, Tyler Baker, and Gary Wolf at the Guntherson Memorial Lab at ABC University, on their studies into the development of substance abuse in adolescents suffering from PTSD. As a research assistant, my responsibilities included conducting literature searches, data collection, data entry, supervision of study participants, preparation of research documents, and drafting of participant assessment packets. Thanks to this experience, I was able to develop my valuable observational and data analysis skills and learn more about critical aspects of clinical research such as programming computer tests, investigating study measures, forming hypotheses, supervising participants, and more. I also enrolled in Dr. Brown’s senior level research class and through my final two years of undergrad, I published four research papers on a variety of clinical psychology topics, including a paper on “Depression, Anxiety, and Traumatic Amnesia in Adolescent Survivors of CSA” that was published in the New England Psychology Journal’s June 20XX year issue.

What attracted me to the clinical psychology master’s program at XYZ University was the strong emphasis on diversity in the classroom and cultural context in the curriculum which aligns with my ambition to gain a holistic, socially conscious understanding of trauma manifestations in vulnerable populations. Moreover, your program offers the chance for students to complete two research projects in the world-class research facilities associated with the XYZ University, allowing me to develop and perfect my research skills in the most appropriate environment. I hope to complete these projects under the supervision of your faculty members, Dr. Sally Hendrix and Dr. Mirian Forster, widely considered two of the most brilliant, forward-thinking minds in trauma research today. Their work on the endocrinological risks of anxiety development in adolescents and development of abnormal psychology in CSA survivors is particularly pertinent to my own research interests. With my background in clinical research, my first-hand experience of the effects of trauma, and my deep devotion to and understanding of the pathological effects of adolescent PTSD, I think I can bring a lot to your next master’s cohort.

Through all the clinical experiences and academic knowledge I gained in the last few years, my interest in the questions of trauma, anxiety, and depression continue to be deeply personal. Though my sister survived her teenage years, she continues to live with anxiety and symptoms of PTSD that she doesn’t fully understand. There is still so much about human psychology that we simply don’t know, and I hope to address that gap a little by using the training and education I gain at your university to pursue a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology in the future. By seeking the answers to the questions of how trauma can warp an adolescent brain and what we can do to try and manage it, I hope to shed light on an under-represented area of psychology that sorely needs our attention.

During the first year of my undergraduate degree, I took a small course entitled “Third World Development” taught by three rather radical and lively professors from Trinidad, Chile, and Lebanon, respectively. This course, despite its passé title, existed to deconstruct our notions of ‘otherness’ by illustrating the deep connectedness of issues, people, and nations. This theme of ‘connectedness’ is threaded through my research and work history under various labels and theories. My undergraduate research was dedicated to understanding the ways and means of political participation for women in remote Northeast India. I became curious about the role of women as informal politicians within their small collectives where survival literally hinges on connectivity. My time in observation of these women opened me to the idea that health and wellness can emerge from places facing serious food insecurity, poor shelter, corruption, and long distances from the center of national power. The extent to which women could draw upon their collective power and roles as givers of care in order to lobby local governments and participate legitimately in the polity was the very definition of their empowerment. 

During my graduate work at [x] University, public health approaches to vulnerable populations were of particular interest to me. It became clear, during my fieldwork with care providers for women who sell sex and do high-risk drugs in downtown eastside, that vulnerable populations around the world often have more in common with each other than with the ‘dominant’ or non-excluded populations. My research led to my questions about the role of social capital, defined in this case as a public good comprised of relationships and networks, in leading to better health outcomes amongst highly-marginalized urban women. The mechanisms through which both groups of women, in Northeast India and downtown Vancouver, became able to rely on or reject peers, givers of aid or care, and the social and political systems in which they were enmeshed, are very similar. I have witnessed how health outcomes can be a partial function of connectedness for women on the periphery.

Public health has proven the best venue through which I can search for explicit, concrete evidence that individual and population welfare can be socially determined, by access to and power to make choices regarding housing, education, employment, income, political participation, nutrition, and transportation. I see the centrality of connectedness, to institutions and peers, to the processes that enable an individual to access, choose, and influence. My current work as a policy analyst with the Public Health Agency within the Strategic Initiatives and Innovations Directorate is focused largely on reducing health inequalities by mobilizing action on particular social determinants of health. While this work is important and generally on point, I suspect that the United States and Canada may benefit from exploring the micro-level ‘enablers’ of change with respect to the social determinants of health. These enablers, including social networks as a form of social capital, are sometimes lumped, and incorrectly so, with the more tangible determinants, such as housing and nutrition. I see these enablers as characteristics of favorable environments in which health can be positively affected: in families, neighborhoods, schools, communities, etc.

My proposed dissertation research would fall into the broader goals of studying the social mechanisms by which parental social connections impact the eating behavior of their children as well as the way in which these mechanisms may vary across local neighborhoods. My particular interest is the potentially causal nexus between maternal social networks, neighborhood environments, and the transmission of eating behaviors to children. In effect, my role would be to help operationalize maternal adversity and identify potential moderators on the effects of maternal adversity on obesity and eating behaviors of children.

I am drawn to [x] University School of Kinesiology and Health Studies specifically due to Dr. Spencer Moore’s background in medical anthropology and current work with social network analytic techniques. The application of network theory analytical techniques will be a new endeavor for me, but I am attracted to the study of populations that are not necessarily bound by their geography but by common circumstances, such as maternal adversity, and, potentially, common health effects related to obesity and food behaviors. I want to understand the links between the nature and degree of ties between low-income women and how these ties affect norms related to obesity and food.

The School of Kinesiology and Health Studies is an excellent institution that is well-equipped to support new graduate students interested in innovative ways to explore social challenges. It is here that Dr. Moore is developing an important critical mass surrounding this particular way of examining social networks as enablers of obesity and food behavior outcomes among marginalized women and their young children.

My prior individual research experiences were qualitative in nature, relying on grounded theory and warranted assertion analysis techniques common to sociological research. I have experience as a research assistant on a larger project studying large, linked quantitative databases of provincial health and corrections data in my home state. Also, I have a sufficient course work history in statistics and epidemiology to be able to make the leap to more advanced quantitative techniques, given access to graduate courses on the subject. Social network analysis is a fascinating way of quantifying social capital and social networks and I am very enthusiastic about the opportunity to study these methods and methodologies under Dr. Moore.

Sample #4 (993 words)

As a child of Bangladeshi refugees who fled from war, famine, death, and other horrors I myself have never had to face, I was always attracted to the hidden facts behind the grand narratives of history; the little stories of small people who didn’t leave an impact on major world events but lived, breathed, and worshipped just the same. My parents left everything behind in Bangladesh – their papers, property, lands, family, and friends. It was an erasure of not only their personal history but the history of generations who came before them. As I grew up, I became passionately interested in the history of my ancestors, perhaps as a way of making sense of my own experiences as a second-generation immigrant. I remember how once in grade school, we had to prepare a “family tree” project with the names and photos of our parents, grandparents, and so on. My mother started crying when I asked her for these details and photos; it was a traumatic reminder of all she had lost. I consider this genealogical tree my first history project, as I combed through the internet using the meagre information my mother gave me to supplement my bare project board with a few details. The internet wasn’t very helpful and, needless to say, I proved unsuccessful in finding any information. But it fueled a passion in me for finding out all about where I had come from, and from there, I developed my interest in the social, cultural, military, and economic history of south-east Asia.

I pursued this interest all the way to college, majoring in history with a minor in anthropology, and it was in my undergrad years that my general interest in the history of south-east Asia crystallized into an interest in the politics of historical interpretation, especially in regard to women in pre-modern south-east Asia. The history of women’s spaces, especially under patriarchal regimes, fascinates me; how oral traditions develop to combat lack of literacy, how their social roles shift and change in response to military and economic developments, and finally, how these historical changes constitute the present. Specifically, I am deeply interested in how women’s spaces evolved as a result of colonial influences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I credit a wide range of authors, thinkers, and historians with molding my interests and refining my analysis. The latest papers by BW Anandya, Wazir Jahan Karim, and N Choi about the pathways to religious and political power for women in southeast Asia, profoundly opened up my mind to the possibilities for what we can learn from primary resources about these “lost” populations of history. On the other hand, the philosophical and sociological theories of Edward Said, Gayatri Chakrovorti Spivak, and Homi Bhabha provide the philosophical framework for how I approach my writing.

I have always followed my intellectual curiosity to take on challenging coursework and build a solid academic foundation for my intended pursuit of historical research. Apart from completing the most intensive coursework pertaining to Asian history studies in my department, I also took courses in British History, Postcolonialism, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Women’s Studies, so as to round out my understanding of the key topics related to my area of interest. My professor also allowed me to complete independent studies and research projects in selected areas of my interest such as African American history in Canada and History of Hebrew Scriptures. The study of such diverse historical topics helped to provide greater context to my primary area of interest; I found many interesting parallels between the experiences of oppressed populations in different parts of the world. Three of my papers were published in our university’s academic magazine, and I presented my paper on “Development of Oral Traditions in Women’s Spaces” at the Annual National History Symposium in X year.

In my junior year, I got the chance to write an independent research paper about the historical figure of Savitri Bai Phule, analyzing her community ties from 1920 to 1935, within the framework of Spivak’s concept of “strategic essentialism” and cross-cultural solidarity. This was a major milestone for me as I got the chance to work on my main area of interest while using primary resources on loan from University of Mumbai, including Savitri Bai Phule’s journals, historical Times of India newspapers, and more.

I would love to continue my research into these and other unexplored histories of women in south-east Asia as part of the master’s program at your university. With my personal background, academic proficiency, and focused historical interests, I think I represent an ideal candidate for ABC University. I look forward to working in an environment that encourages diversity, forward-thinking research, and cutting-edge investigative techniques. Your rigorous curriculum will help me refine my understanding of historical investigation methods and expand my consciousness of the cross-cultural socio-economic influences in pre-modern women’s spaces. As an aspiring PhD candidate, I would love to get the chance to tap into ABC University’s extensive network of primary resources, subject matter experts, and trailbreakers. In particular, I am very excited to work with Dr. Nina Gupta from the History of Southeast Asia department. I am in communication with her about her findings on historical distortion and its intersection with political agendas in colonial Southeast Asia, as it directly impacts the research I’d like to do. In fact, her encouragement and support motivated me to apply to your master’s program!

My next big goal is to pursue a PhD, also from your university, under Nina Gupta’s supervision. Through my master’s education, I plan to work towards developing my expertise in Southeast Asian women’s studies and making myself an asset for your PhD program. One day, I hope I can become a professor at a top university such as yours, so that I can continue my research into the rich and untapped veins of history just waiting to be investigated, and pass on my love for the subject to interested young minds.

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave to me, very early on, was a keen sense of just how unique my childhood was. Though by no means a position of high stature, my mother’s clerking post at the American consulate in Cairo provided us with an immense array of benefits, and those that impacted me most were, unsurprisingly, the plethora of cultural institutions a short walk away from our home. Whether the Coptic, Luxor, or the Grand Egyptian, the first thing I wanted to do each afternoon after getting out of school was to zoom into cool air of a museum. Even at a young age, I was aware of the complexity of being a light-skinned American kid wandering through these halls, gazing at artifacts of a civilization that far preceded the origins of what I understood to be “western” civilizations. How did I end up here? What was the nature of my relationship to this rich and vast culture that both fascinated me and exacerbated my feelings of being somewhat alien in its midst?

This intersection of cultural and political analysis expanded as I got older and began to unpack the complicated colonial forces that played a part in both early and contemporary Egyptology. As I matured as a student, I became able to articulate questions that had hitherto lived as abstract uneasiness in my head. Curators and guides of many Egyptian museums were reluctant at first to really open up about the pervasive presence of English and North American archaeologists in the 19th century's antiquarian boom, but I was fortunate to have longstanding relationships with many such officials, both through my own wanderings and my parents' work.

As I began to ask more pointed questions, and gained the ability to explore museum records on my own, I became overwhelmed by how drastically the Egyptian archaeological "industry" had been shaped by British colonialism, and how this resulted in a still-developing tension between international exhibition and the local or indigenous preservation of civilizational artifacts. My undergraduate work in anthropology has sought to develop a number of theses in this regard, most importantly the need for efforts of artifact repatriation and return from the British Museum as a step toward more complete reconciliation after centuries of extraction.

Throughout my undergraduate research with Professor X at [undergraduate university], I sought to utilize careful historiographical analysis to better support repatriation efforts popularized by former Egyptian antiquities minister Dr. Y. These efforts helped mobilize the X museum in Boston to return a priceless bust of Prince Ankhhaf under Dr. Y’s insistence, which was not only one of the most satisfying moments in my academic career so far but of my life overall.

In addition to the historiographic focus of my work, I’m keen to shift into the present politics around artifact repatriation and reclamation of physical heritage, specifically relating to how contemporary North African political struggles utilize cultural and anthropological discourses. Professor Z’s work in this realm has been hugely influential and inspiring to me, and were I to be admitted to your PhD program it would be an incredible honor to assist her ongoing research in contemporary cultural discourse in Egyptian and Islamic political movements.

I was fortunate to be selected for the American University in Cairo’s Presidential Internship program in 2019, just after graduating. Returning to Cairo for the first time since I was 13 years old was incredible but bittersweet in some ways. The lens through which I observed many of the institutions I’d mythologized as a child was far more critical, and I realized that my graduate work would necessarily be inflected by this added layer of complexity and disillusionment. If admitted to this PhD program in anthropology, I would seek to capitalize on this personal experience. I think it’s incumbent upon people who have lived in anthropological intersections like this—in my case specifically as an unwitting addition to longstanding “Western” colonial presence in North Africa—to produce academic work that illuminates the political and cultural tensions that they’ve hitherto experienced as largely subjective phenomena.

To this end, I propose utilizing modeling techniques common to digital-archaeological projects in Egyptological studies to support a more culturally-focused analysis of the flow of expropriation during the heyday of colonial extraction in the early 20th century. I believe that object-oriented models of provenance can be utilized to support analysis of ongoing repatriation discourse. This would build on Professor X’s work mentioned above, providing more graphic and tangible insights into emancipatory nationalist and post-nationalist movements in contemporary Egypt and North Africa in general.

If admitted to ______'s graduate program, I would not only seek to contribute to the program's ongoing scholarship as a student, but would hope to continue working collaboratively with the department once I move into independent scholarship and teaching following graduation. I feel especially passionate about forming long-term relationships with faculty given the scarcity of nuanced scholarship that addresses the intersections of anthropology, political science, and archaeology in Egyptological studies. Teaching and research have guided every step of my journey so far, and I know without a doubt that this is my path forward as well. As such, I would seek to serve as a paragon not only of ________’s interdisciplinarity and intellectual inventiveness to my future students, but to continue to be a productive and prominent member of _____’s research cohort no matter where I end up teaching. 

Sample #6 (859 words)

My road to mechanical engineering began with my dad unceremoniously kicking me out of the kitchen. By the time I was in kindergarten, I couldn’t resist rummaging through my family’s cupboards, trying to find something to take apart and rebuild it. This became a running joke in my family that, rather than knives or other sharp objects, I had to be kept away from screwdrivers, lest I end up taking the whole house apart. This all changed when I discovered desktop computers, and specifically GPUs, which I found endlessly fascinating in their ability to be easily disassembled and modified.

Although my free time during high school was indeed spend huddled over computer hardware much the way my childhood was, I became interested in the capabilities of redirecting the work capacity of hardware, and in particular the ability to reorganize the way hardware acceleration can be optimized to assist in Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) tasks in manufacturing. During my undergraduate work at X University, I developed an interest in machine learning while working on Dr. Cheboygan’s ongoing research in augmenting GPU software to better optimize their performance in general-purpose computations. In both my senior thesis and independent study blocks, Dr. and I studied a number of potential workarounds for latency bottlenecks relating to DDR5 infrastructure.

This phase of my research cemented my desire to continue on with both machine learning and CAE, and it’s precisely around these points that I’d like to develop my MSc thesis. Specifically, I want to build on the considerable research on GPU acceleration I undertook during my BS in order to further expand upon shifts in both manufacturing and product design. As abstract as this work has been in many ways, its end result would be to streamline workflows for product engineers that will greatly speed up the process of dealing with intractable problems relating to bottlenecking by physics computations.

I’m motivated to address sophisticated problems like this for a fairly non-academic reason. Throughout the last two years, I’ve participated in organization drives with X organization, my region’s largest manufacturing union. Admittedly, I came to this work with quite personal motivations, having seen my mother’s engineering positions often under attack by naïve or even ignorant efforts to automate various aspects of product design. My work with this union sought to argue, from a scientific perspective, the need to improve both software and hardware using human-supervised machine learning and not wholesale robotic automation. Rather than downsizing and eliminating human positions in the manufacturing process, I offered data to union leadership that showed how a minimal investment in technological upgrades at the level of product implementation could preserve job security for product engineers and implementation supervisors while vastly speeding up the manufacturing process to deliver an increased output of nearly 80% in some cases.

This was immeasurably satisfying, and although not every negotiation was a success, I was able to contribute something unique to a class of workers who I felt had suffered under an outmoded and overly aggressive model of automation for nearly 20 years. In short, I would like to pursue graduate work in mechanical engineering at Z University because I think my work can have an overwhelmingly positive impact in aspects of labor tensions relating to instrumentation and automation. I think that through careful work in machine learning and deep learning, we can target specific aspects of the manufacturing process that have proven to be flashpoints of conflict between engineers and administrators.

The department's emphasis on teaching throughout the graduate program is also a huge draw for me. I tutored privately throughout my undergraduate years, and volunteered at my school's learning center to help students not only with introductory engineering courses but also calculus and linear algebra. Reconnecting to this passion for high-level mathematics, I would seek to work with Dr. Muskegon and Dr. Flint to both participate in and utilize their research in computational methods to clarify the mathematical dimension of my proposed thesis. Dr. Muskegon’s recent publications in the International Journal of Computer Theory and Engineering are especially relevant to this work, as I believe my course of study would benefit greatly by implementing her utilization of novel approaches to principal component analysis.

Lastly, on a simpler note, I’ve always been drawn to the West Coast, and would love to explore the wilder, mountainous areas North of Vancouver during my free time. Growing up in the flatlands of the Midwest seeded a very strong desire for the “big landscape” areas of Western Canada, and I can think of no better compliment to the abstract and small-scale work I’d be undertaking in the mechanical engineering program than to spend my free weekends hiking and camping in places like Coquitlam mountain Which is to say, simply, that I believe UBC is an ideal location for my next phase of scholarship not only because of its academic innovation and integrity, but because its surrounding environment is both beautiful and inspirational. I would arrive and continue to be an enthusiastic and incredibly engaged student in UBC’s MSc program, and I would be honored to assist in the incredible work being undertaken by both faculty and fellow graduate students alike.

Not many students seek to spend their gap year surrounded by the choking aroma of sulfur, but I will readily admit to being just such a student. After 4 years spent in a blur of library lighting and research, I found myself in desperate need of immersion into both Soto zen Buddhism and Japanese culture more generally. So, after some careful planning, I spent 4 months last year working in an onsen in Fukui, spending my 1 day off each week wandering around the shrines interspersed between Echizen and Kyoto and generally trying to soak up every bit of soto history I could.

My real wish was granted near the end of my time in Fukui, when I was accepted for a 1-week sesshin at Eiheiji castle. This was the fulfillment of a desire I’d stoked throughout my BA work in Asian studies at X University. Throughout my research, I’d devoted considerable time to analyzing concepts of time in extended religious ritual, and at Eiheiji, I was able to not only observe this in action but to experience it directly as well. My personal relationship to zen was not especially developed prior to this point, but after just the first step through Eihiji’s main gate, I felt something shift in me, and knew that I wanted to dedicate my academic career to exploring not just zen but soto ontology specifically.

To this end, my dissertation with the religious studies department would seek to utilize ongoing scholarship by professor Farmington in discussions of temporal dilation and dissolution in religious ritual. At Eihiji, and in sesshin settings specifically, there are numerous conceptualizations of time that are at odds with typical monastic linearity, and I believe incorporating a more careful analysis of temporal augmentation is key to unpacking the metaphysics of both sesshin and “intensive” events in other traditions as well. I may feel a personal connection to much of what I’ve studied and written about so far, but I feel an even stronger dedication to exegesis of religious ritual experience for the sake of furthering philosophical and theological discussion across traditions.

My abiding love for Soto zen is a key motivator in this project, but I come to this study earnestly and with academic rigor. Interfaith dialogue has been a constant part of my life outside of academia. Throughout high school I volunteered a great deal of time with both Saint Sophia Orthodox church and Bharatiya Hindu temple in [hometown]. This provided not only opportunities to engage in beneficial community projects, but also myriad opportunities to discuss theological and doctrinal matters with people outside my own religious practice. These activities, much like my enthralling experiences in Fukui, clarified and concentrated my desire to pursue high-level scholarship in religious studies.

Your program will allow me to pursue interdisciplinary studies that will touch upon more than just community interfaith dialogue. My early undergraduate years heavily focused on Western philosophy, and specifically German idealism. Dr. Huron’s work in examining influxes of hermeticism and esotericism in general in this tradition is incredibly fascinating to me, and while my thesis doesn’t directly touch on it, I am quite curious about potential intersections of Western esoteric ritual and Soto Zen ritual, specifically their descriptions of atemporal experience. Indiana university’s overarching emphasis on collaborative work, and especially the religious studies department’s similar commitment to intersectional and comparative analysis, is a massive draw for me. Although Northwestern’s Asian studies department boasted a number of interdisciplinary and cross-specialty working groups, the offerings at IU are significantly more numerous and broader in scope, and I would be honored to participate in the East Asian epistemology working group especially. The paper I presented at last year’s International Conference on Buddhist Philosophical Studies centered on epistemological contradiction in Yunmen’s koans, and I think there’s a great deal of room in my proposed project to explore theories of knowledge in relation to the discussions of ritual temporality and chronology.

While I certainly found aspects of my time working in an onsen exhausting, the difficulty of the work and communication therein was a challenge I greatly enjoyed. I would bring this newly enhanced sense of dedication and discipline to graduate studies at[BeMo3] Indiana university, and, gratefully, be able to formalize an ongoing academic project that’s deeply connected to the religious and cultural experiences I had during this time as well. I feel profoundly ready, in other words—ready for both advanced scholarship and the semi-monastic lifestyle that best supports this work. My week at Eiheiji was transformative in a few ways, but perhaps the most unexpected of which was the way it showed me what I already knew about myself from a clarified or even purified perspective, and I know without a doubt that the zeal I felt bloom within me is inextricable from continuing along the path toward doctoral research and eventually teaching.

Sample #8 (1144 words)

Note how the following personal statement is truly personal and after reading this statement you feel like you know this applicant already. They also leave you feeling a lot of emotions. Both warm and sad. And that's good. You want to create some sort of emotion in the admissions committee members that read your personal statement.

Click here to read this statement of purpose example.

Sample #9 (1705 words)

Statement of purpose is a chance to tell the story of your life. Your statement is not only a celebration of your triumphs, but also a true reflection on the challenges and struggles you have faced. Remember, you cannot victimize yourself in the essay. Rather than simply talking about your difficulties, make sure to emphasize how you overcame them. Create a captivating narrative of how events in your life led to this moment - your decision to apply to grad school.

A statement of purpose tells the admissions committee more about you as an applicant. A strong statement of purpose offers a compelling narrative about your interests, abilities, and experiences, to show the committee that you are a strong applicant and the right fit for their institution and program.

A statement of purpose usually ranges between 500 and 1,000 words in length. Be sure to check the specific requirements stated by the program as you prepare to apply.

Set aside plenty of time for preparation so that you are not doing anything at the last minute. Research your institution and program of choice carefully to get a better sense of its values and academic culture. Brainstorm how and why you would make a good fit for the school and program of your choice. Contact any potential mentors amongst the academic faculty to discuss your research interests with them. Make a list of any requirements your program specifies for your statement of purpose. If you have any questions, be sure to ask the appropriate authority at the school for clarification. Before you start writing, make sure you have all of the materials you may need for reference close at hand, such as your academic transcripts. Make some notes outlining what you would like to include in your statement to help guide you as you write.   

A statement of purpose should contain an introduction, a main body based on 2 or 3 experiences, and a conclusion. Your statement should be clearly written and well-organized to help the reader follow the flow of your narrative.

A statement of purpose should include four main elements: your research interests in your chosen field, your academic and professional preparation, your strengths and weaknesses, and your career plans. You need to give specific examples for each of these main elements, and to explain what you have learned from every experience you mention.

In writing your statement of purpose, you need to commit to writing several drafts to make sure your statement is as strong as it can be. You should ask for feedback from trusted academic mentors or professional consultants to ensure that your statement is effective and compelling. You also need to carefully proofread your work multiple times before submission.

You must never plagiarize your statement of purpose. Avoid using clichés and tired phrasing to keep your writing original and fresh. It is also important to favor clarity over artfulness, so be sure to avoid using overly-fancy language so that the focus is always on the substance of what you’re saying. Also avoid technical or overly specialized language unless absolutely necessary, and be sure to define any technical or specialized terms that you must use. 

Before you submit your statement of purpose, take some time to review your statement in its final form to make sure it is the best version it can possibly be. Make sure you have followed all of the requirements in terms of length and formatting as specified by the school. Ask yourself if you have rewritten the statement several times, and if you truly believe it does not require another draft.

Check to make sure you are providing compelling examples for every claim you make regarding your experiences or abilities. Read your statement over again and make sure it is a narrative that gives the reader interesting details and context, not just a list of your achievements to date. Finally, make sure you have proofread your statement and eliminated any typos or grammatical errors that would distract your reader.

Your own research and ability to write concisely and clearly will be important in making your statement strong. Firstly, give yourself enough time for multiple drafts. Trust us when we say that your statement will need to be written and rewritten multiple times - it's inevitable. Secondly, be selective with the experiences you choose to include in your statement. It is more important to show rather than tell how you would be a great addition to the program. Being selective about your experiences will allow you room to go into detail and demonstrate to the admissions committee how your experiences make you the perfect fit.

Remember, if you are feeling overwhelmed, you can always research legitimate companies or consultants that can help you polish your statement and avoid wasting another year on applications. If you are considering whether BeMo is worth your time and money , make sure to read up on the successful experiences of our past students.

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BeMo Academic Consulting

Hi Ablie! Thank you for your comment! We are glad you found this helpful!

Ayman Alfadil

Thanks a lot for your information. If my intended field of Ph.D. research is quite different from my previous research experiences, what am I suppose to do to link my previous interest with the new one? and Is it possible to have feedback on my writing?

Hello Ayman! Thank you for this wonderful question! It is not a problem that your previous research experience is not related to your new PhD interest. Even if they are not related in theme, it is important to showcase how your previous research experience honed your skills as a researcher. Demonstrate that the expertise that you acquired throughout your research history can be easily translated into this new field. Do not forget to give the admissions committee some sense of how you got interested in this new field, but it is not a problem that you decided to switch disciplines/interests. And of course we can help you with feedback on your writing. Please contact us for a free initial consultation (https://bemoacademicconsulting.com/Contact-Us.php) and we can discuss how we can help you make your statement the best it can be.

Ayman Alfadil, you are the winner of our weekly draw. Please email us by the end of the day tomorrow (June 19) at content[at]bemoacademicconsulting.com from the same email address you used to leave your comment to claim your prize!

Joana Smith

This is indeed the best Statement of purpose ever ,I love everything written here! It has really help me thank you!!!

Hello Joana! Thanks for your comment! We are glad you enjoyed this article!

Asra Tabassum

Hi...I want the sample for statement of purpose (for masters) where the student changes his filed/background/majors from science to IT... Atleast one sample which helps me to write my own. Thank you.

Hi Asra! Thanks for your comment and suggestion! We will try adding this kind of example as soon as possible!

Segun Abiri

I am so much in love with the way you make a big and difficult task simple. As a practitioner in adult education in Nigeria with over 6 years of experience, I intend to further my experience by having a Masters program in Canada. Problem is, my first degree is not in education, but Arts - Philosophy. I hope to scale through. Thank you for this great write ups.

Hi Segun! Thanks so much for your comment! We are glad you enjoyed the article. When you apply to a Master's program in Education, you do not need to have an undergrad degree in education. Your first degree in liberal arts will be a perfect fit for an Education graduate degree. Good luck and let us know if we can help you any further!

Chika happiness nwachukwu

Hi,indeed is the best statement of purpose ever,please I want the sample for statement of intents for masters,where the student changes his field,background/ majors from accounting education to educational foundations that will help me write my own. Thank you.

Hello Chika! Thanks for your comment! We will keep your request in mind when we update this blog! Thanks!

Hi, I wonder if you can only help me with SOP edits? Thanks.

Hello Bob! We can absolutely help you! Please contact us here https://bemoacademicconsulting.com/Contact-Us.php to schedule your free initial consultation.

Nwabueze Kewulezi

Hi, this is the best article on SOP I have read. Please, I need your advice. I am very passionate about teaching. I studied English, but my M.A. thesis is related to pragmatic. How do I relate both to my deep flare for education?

Hello Nwabueze! Thanks for your comment. Try to reflect on what connects your educational and professional background to teaching? Just because your MA thesis is not related to education, it does not mean that it cannot inform your love for teaching. Try making connections between your experience in the MA and what you want to do next. Hope this helps!

Samuel Frimpong

Can i get samples of these write-ups in Music?

Hello Smuela! Thanks for your comment. When we update the blog, we will make sure to keep your request in mind.

Chisa Amadi

Good morning, please I want to start up personal statement but don't seem to know how to go about it am applying for Agricultural science soil and water option. Please I will need a guide. Thank you

Hi Chisa! Thanks for your comment. Please feel free to reach out to us to discuss how we can help you with your personal statement! Look forward to hearing from you!

hey, thanks for the clear explanation, can you please help me write purpose statement for a journalism degree course

Hello Lucy! Please feel free to reach out to us to discuss how we can help you with your statement of purpose. Hope to hear from you!

This piece is extremely helpful

Hi Frimpong! Thanks! Glad you found this helpful!

Thank you for sharing this useful tips on SOPs.

Hello Anne! Thank you so much for your comment. Glad you found this helpful!

Elif Ülkü Türkoğlu

Thank you so much, this will be super helpful for my MA applications.

Hi Elif! Thanks for your comment! We are glad this is helpful!

Raphael Barrack Wangusu

Currently struggling with SOP preparations..i pursued Law for my bachelor degree and i wish to apply for masters scholarships in CANADA, UK, SWEEDN and USA. Thank you.

Hello Raphael! Thank you for your question. Please reach out to us for a free strategy call to discuss how we can help. 

Amazing content! I've never seen it explained the way you guys did it here!! Thank you!!!

Hello Joy! We are very glad you found this helpful!

It made me understand clearly what i have to do. thank you

Thanks Tumie! Glad you found this helpful!

i cant find any sop become related to food science. I really need a sample to help me. Could you help me please

Hello Shabnam, thanks for your message. We will keep your request in mind for when we update this blog.

I have enjoyed reading every bit of this document. I am so enlightened by it. Thank you.

Hello Michael! Glad you found this helpful! Thanks for your comment. 

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Stories and Resources for Graduate Students

How to Write a Statement of Purpose for PhD Admission


The dreaded doctoral statement of purpose — every PhD program asks for it, but why is it so difficult to write? Writing a strong statement of purpose is essential to getting into your top PhD programs. A PhD statement of purpose gives admissions committees an introduction to your research interests and why their specific program is of interest to you.

Like a cover letter for a job application, a great statement of purpose allows you to highlight your strengths, interests and experience. If you need statement of purpose advice, keep reading for guidance on how to write a successful statement of purpose that will make your PhD application stand out.

Statement of purpose vs. personal statement

Though the two may sound similar, they’re not necessarily interchangeable. A personal statement gives insight into who you are, while a statement of purpose is meant to showcase what you want to do. Rarely will you be asked to write a personal statement for a PhD program.

As you go through the PhD application process, you will likely see schools requesting either a statement of purpose or a research statement. In most cases, they're both looking for the same thing. Admissions committees want to know about your academic background, your research goals and what you hope to accomplish as a candidate in a PhD program.

Your research goals should align with faculty research

Being admitted to a PhD program is a great feeling, but if you enroll in a program that doesn’t match your research interests or help support your career goals, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment later down the road.

Applying for admission to a program is all about fit. Faculty reviewers are looking for students who best represent the department’s mission and will help them obtain their research objectives.

By the time you apply, you should have a solid understanding of what the department’s primary research and content areas are, as well as which faculty members you’d like to work with more closely. This might mean finding information about what their labs do and reading published articles related to their work.

Be sure to include how your interests and past experiences align with the work that they do and how you would be an active contributor to those endeavors. This approach shows that you took the time to look into their program, so the committee will be more willing to invest theirs in reviewing your application.

Don’t be afraid to address your weaknesses

Many people assume they should avoid listing their shortcomings in their essays. The whole point of applying to a program is to impress the reviewers, right? But constructively addressing your weaknesses can be a great way to demonstrate how this program can help you achieve your academic goals.

Look at the catalog and read through the courses that are part of the program. If there is a particular class that fascinates you, talk about how it could help you obtain a new skill or a better understanding of a concept that you’ve struggled with before.

This demonstrates that you are actively seeking programs to help you better your education. It also exhibits that you’re mindful of what areas of your knowledge need some improvement, which shows maturity and the ability to self-assess.

Keep it succinct

If your program of interest does not specify a page word or word limit, it’s best to assume that your statement should not exceed two pages total. It should be enough to give them a glimpse of who you are and what you have to offer but not share your life story.

The aim is to communicate how and why this particular program will help you meet your academic and career goals. Limited space means you must prioritize what you include in your statement.

Create an outline before you start writing to ensure you are including points that are relevant to your application and the program to which you are applying. Your statement is also an example of how well you can write. By framing your essay before you write it, you can avoid stream-of-consciousness writing that can often come across as undefined and incoherent.

Proofread! And read it over and over

When you think you have a finished product, read your essay out loud. This makes it easier to catch typos, poor grammar, and oddly worded sentences. If you have a friend who is also applying to grad school, help each other out by editing each other’s essays.

Having someone else read your statement and ask questions can help you clarify your points and make it more compelling. Your statement is your one chance to present yourself professionally in your own words. The occasional mistake is excusable, but messy writing will make them think you lack attention to detail.

Before you hit submit on that application, be sure that you have attached the correct document for the right institution. It can be very embarrassing if your statement mentions the wrong faculty member’s name or refers to another school’s library! It could also cause the reviewers to think you are not as serious about their program.

You’ve spent a good amount of time perfecting your application, so take your time to review everything before you submit it so you can rest easy knowing you’ve presented your best.

Get tips and learn more about how to apply to a Ph.D. by reading our guide on Choosing, Applying for, and Thriving in a Ph.D. Program! hbspt.cta._relativeUrls=true;hbspt.cta.load(3974384, '4a1b2e0c-19c6-4d1d-9869-9e41c6abf53f', {"useNewLoader":"true","region":"na1"});

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Statement of Purpose for PhD Admission (A Universal Formula)

PhD Statement of Purpose for PhD

Formulas are beautiful, aren’t they? Whether the elegance of a binary logarithm or the universe contained within the laws of thermodynamics, it’s wondrous to see how much we can explain through gracefully arranged information. Prose writing is no different. Even with the statement of purpose for PhD admissions, when we filter our thoughts through an elegant formula, the reactive power can be amazing.

Of course, the opposite is true as well.

If our writing doesn’t conform to the timeless formulas of narrative structure, our words fall flat. We don’t overcome the activation energy requirement. Our code doesn’t compile. We submit an essay hoping it convinces some erudite professor that we’re a worthy student, but it only makes them scratch their chin and flip to the next essay in the pile.

This isn’t good, friend. Especially considering that for PhDs, writing well is part of the job.

Luckily, we don’t need to be literary scholars to utilize the eternally elegant formulas of writing. (I’ve already done that hard work for you.)

Instead, we only need the formula itself, and specific instructions about which information to plug in. Then we can fully ignite the minds and hearts of PhD advisors.

Sound good to you? If so, keep reading.

It’s time to cause a life-changing reaction.

The Statement of Purpose for PhD Formula

You may have already read “ Structure is Magic ,” my article which illustrates how successful SOPs adhere to the classic “hero’s journey.” You may also have read my SOP Starter Kit , which describes the 4 questions that every successful statement of purpose must answer to be effective. Both present the same structural formula for your SOP:

Section 1 – Introductory Frame Narrative & Academic Goal (1-2 paragraphs)

Section 2 – Why This Program (1-2 paragraphs)

Section 3 – Why You’re (Overly) Qualified (1-3 paragraphs)

Section 4 – Closing Frame Narrative (1 brief paragraph)

You should read those resources if you haven’t (especially the SOP Starter Kit which basically writes your essay for you). Yet, for our purposes today, let’s think of the formula like this:

Statement of Purpose for PhD Formula

1. Introductory Frame Narrative & Academic/Research Goal

In this introduction, you use a tiny bit of storytelling to make yourself memorable. You won’t use too much, and everything you write will build toward expressing your hyper-focused academic goal – your research proposal. It’s not a story of your childhood. In fact, it won’t mention anything prior to the last few years when you truly became a researcher. Because that is the story we’re telling – how you realized that you want to become a professional researcher .

Now, what problems do you want to solve in grad school? How did you discover these problems? Were you working 20 hours per week in the Xavier Lab at Marvel University? During an independent study, did you grow fascinated with the way Latin American literary critics have overlooked certain economic aspects of the 19th-century Belgian slave trade? In the last year or two, you took a mental leap. You transformed from a talented undergraduate to a burgeoning researcher. In this section, you tell that story, then end it by stating exactly what you hope to achieve in your PhD research.

When I ended my career with the California Ballet in 2016, I looked forward to an academic experience studying the metabolic and neurological systems which had silently governed my physical reality as a performer for so long. Surprisingly, the opportunity proved more rewarding than I could have imagined. The perseverance I cultivated as a ballerina proved essential as I immediately dove into the Psychology, Biology, and Philosophy curricula at Stark University, and I soon developed an interest in the neural regulation of metabolic development. After joining Dr. Jean Grey’s research lab in my sophomore year (a position I have maintained ever since), I had the great fortune of studying the effects of obesogenic diets on conserved signaling pathways governing metabolic regulation in Drosophila melanogaster. Through this work, I have become singularly fascinated with the myriad factors that contribute to the growing obesity epidemic, and its developmental origins in particular.

The questions that underpin our work in the Grey Lab are compelling. How do critical or sensitive periods of neuroendocrine development contribute to long-term functioning in animals and humans at the behavioral and cellular levels? Interestingly, current research at Gotham University seeks answers to these very questions, and that is precisely why I apply as a PhD candidate to the interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience.

2. Why This Program

This section is all about “fit.” This is your proof that “University X” is the perfect place for you to achieve the goal you expressed in the previous section. As you write, you’ll notice an elegant logical flow from the previous section. You’ve just told the reader: “this is my goal.”

Now, you’re telling them: “…and University X is the ideal place for me to pursue this goal, because…”

(Notice how the formula works? The seamless logical and narrative transitions are the magic behind it all.)

So, what do you say in this section? You describe the professors with whom you hope to work. You’ve already emailed them. You’ve already read their recent research. Now, in 2-4 sentences, you describe how your Academic Goal from Section 1 is uniquely related to their current work. You’ll engage with that work intellectually. You’ll link it to your own proposal. Then, you’ll repeat this 1-2 more times for each professor who you believe will be a great mentor. All the while, you’ll emphasize exactly what you want to research for the next 5 years.

At GU, I hope to continue elucidating hypothalamic metabolic circuits, and exploring how obesogenic diets affect long-term developmental outcomes in relation to the normal functioning of the satiety hormone leptin. I am quite interested in the work of Dr. Jonathan Crane, whose research on the development of hypothalamic circuits, and how they regulate feeding behavior, has been critical to my understanding of sensitive periods for the trophic actions of leptin in the brain. I believe my experience with quantitative immunohistochemistry and RT-qPCR make me well qualified to contribute to such research. In fact, Dr. Crane’s continuing work on the molecular signals connecting postnatal overnutrition to abnormal development of hypothalamic circuits represents questions similar to those that drew me to studying the neurobiological aspects of feeding and development. It also defines the kind of work I hope to accomplish as a doctoral candidate. While Dr. Crane’s investigation into the necessity of LepRb for typical hypothalamic development is fascinating, I am interested in studying the role LepRb and its developmental actions might play in leptin resistance and obesity in adulthood.

Additionally, Dr. Otto Octavius’s research on the effects of high developmental sugar consumption on memory circuits is fascinating to me; it dovetails nicely with my experience using high-fructose corn syrup diets to mimic obesogenic conditions, while using both behavioral and molecular assays such as weight, food intake, and RNA sequencing to investigate physiological and neural changes. For these reasons, I believe I would be a great fit in either the Crane Lab or the Octavius Lab, given my experience researching metabolic development at both the behavioral and cellular level.

3. Why You’re (Overly) Qualified

This section is your “Greatest Hits” list. In it, you provide relevant proof that you’re ready to succeed as a professional researcher. What is relevant proof? Your excellent undergraduate grades – that’s a good start. Specific research skills you’ve acquired ( here’s a list for STEM students, if you’re unsure). Any unique accomplishments you’ve achieved, such as presenting at conferences, co-authored papers, time you’ve spent in journal reviews, or awards from national academic organizations.

You will not mention anything unrelated to your potential as a researcher, like your job as a campus tour guide or volunteer work at homeless shelters. Admittedly, non-academic achievements can be important in showing that your values align with the department. But since the SOP has a strict word limit, such stories cause a bad reaction in our formula. They distract the reader from your TRUE academic talents, and thus, they’re best left as a side note in your CV or topic of discussion in your interviews.

The only way you would mention something “non-academic” is if it relates uniquely to your research. For example, if you’re pursuing an Art History PhD specializing in Buddhist architecture, and you’re dual-citizen in India and Hong Kong who doesn’t need to apply for visas to conduct field work, then you have a competitive advantage over others.

Having averaged 25 research hours per week during the last few academic years, and up to 50 during the summers, I believe I have acquired all the necessary tools to succeed as a graduate student at GU. I lead the developmental subdivision at the Grey Lab, a project investigating how the timing of a high-fructose diet during development affects cellular and behavioral outcomes in adult Drosophila as it relates to unpaired 1 – the Drosophila analog of leptin – and its downstream JAK/STAT signaling pathway. In investigating this evolutionarily conserved circuit, I created a new experimental protocol for carrying out developmental feeding experiments with Drosophila larvae, as well as performing behavioral assays related to feeding such as weight, two-choice feeding preference, and capillary feeding assays. Additionally, I have performed dissections and imaging with destabilized transgenic fly lines to quantify neuropeptide-f and STAT92E expression at both the cellular and terminal levels, hoping to elucidate the potential role of SOCS36E in receptor functioning. This work has lead to me identifying a unique obese phenotype related to early dysregulation of unpaired 1, of which I was slated to perform RNA sequencing prior to COVID-19 related disruptions.

Pursuing these research projects as an undergraduate has been a monumental task, I admit, so I am proud to have maintained a 4.0 GPA, all while achieving numerous successes in my second major, Philosophy. Having coauthored a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics, as well as winning the California Philosophical Association’s undergraduate award and presenting at their annual conference, I am all the more confident in my readiness to succeed at GU.

4. Closing Frame Narrative

This is the end of your journey, friend. This is where you compile the code. This is where you make the calculations work.

In this section, you’ll briefly refer back to the story you told in the introduction. This is important. It involves a literary technique called “circularity,” which gives the reader an emotional sense of completion. They’ll feel like they’ve read something elegant, something composed by a truly talented writer. If you don’t do this, the essay will feel dry – like a movie with an anticlimactic ending.

You’ll also reaffirm your academic goal and remind the reader that University X is the perfect place to achieve it. You may also end by stating your career aspirations. Want to pursue a tenure-track teaching job? Work in R&D at SpaceX? Tell them here.

When my career in ballet drew to a close, I looked forward to fully devoting my time to the study of the human brain’s infinitely curious adaptive processes. Now, I find myself in a similar situation, once again eager to devote myself to the study of the developing brain and how it governs metabolic regulation. The rigorous standards of The Grey Lab, along with Dr. Grey’s strict belief in personal responsibility, have shown me that (like dance) true intellectual contributions are only possible through perseverance, determination, and a ruthless eye for weakness in both experimental design and execution. Balancing laboratory workloads with a full schedule of undergraduate classes has been a taxing endeavor, but this too has been essential to my growth as a researcher. Today, I look forward to the new intellectual challenges that Gotham University will provide, and I am sure that I will discover new passions, curiosities, and questions as I prepare for my hopeful career in academia, as a professor.

Lab Warning: Avoid Regurgitating Research Experience

For PhD applicants, few things can bungle an application like long, meandering, and un-focused accounts of past research projects.

If you’ve mixed up all the proper SOP ingredients, pipetted them carefully into your literary test tube, and…blah…nothing happens, this is usually the reason.

In the example above, you’ll notice that the applicant NEVER ONCE mentioned any specific, singular project on which she worked. She described the problems they tackled. She described her role in the lab, new protocols she developed, and the most relevant skills she acquired. But never once did she make the mistake that hundreds, maybe thousands of applicants make every year: writing 200-word paragraphs that describe nothing more than the facts of a research project.

“ At University X, I spent eight weeks working on a project titled ‘Algorithmic stability for adaptive analysis of fart expansion.” First we did A (etc etc). Then, we did B (blah blah blah). Then, we did C (yawn). Then, we did D (tear out hair). Through this project, I acquired relevant skills in teamwork and the Washburn-Bunting Method. ”

Don’t confuse the “Statement of Purpose” with the “Research Statement” that many programs require. This latter statement DOES require you to list the facts of your research, even though it should still focus on the problems and their implications.

For example, the PhD program in Biomedicine at the University of Pennsylvania provides the following prompt:

Please provide a description of your research experience(s), including the goals of each project, approaches used, results obtained, and implications of the findings for the project and the field at large . You may choose to describe a single research experience or several experiences, but please limit your statement to around 1000 words in length .

The SOP is not a Research Statement. Much like the tricky Diversity Statement, Research Statements are all about the past. The Statement of Purpose, however, is all about the future.

So, don’t fall into the trap of drowning your essay in meaningless laboratory details. It’s not an info dump. I repeat: the statement of purpose for PhD admission is not an info dump . It’s an argument. It’s elegant writing. It’s a carefully measured formula.

You can avoid this problem by adhering to the rough word-total percentages illustrated in the graphic above:

Writing is no different than any other intellectual field. A great many brilliant people worked across the centuries, testing all sorts of ideas and techniques, finding some that worked and some that exploded in their face.

Even Einstein made mistakes . But no one remembers mistakes. No one saves shoddy peer-reviewed papers that don’t stand the test of time, just like no one saves SOPs from students who didn’t get admitted. Yet, Einstein’s name is synonymous with “genius” because he found a way to describe the universe with a formula that even schoolchildren know: E = mc 2 .

Now, you understand the (seemingly) simple formula that makes great essays work. You might not recognize the elegance in it, the circularity, the balance, the woven thread of narrative, but it’s stood the test of time. And if you experiment with it yourself, pouring in your own unique ingredients to see how they react, at the very least you’ll save yourself a great deal of time and trouble.

At the very most? Well, you might ignite that magical reaction where a professor finishes reading, runs her hands through her hair, and says to herself: “Whoa, this one is special.”

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Apr. 28, 2022

Writing a killer statement of purpose, by ivan rosa de siqueira: learn more about this important component of grad school applications and how you can write an effective sop.

Sunset over Lovett Hall

Most graduate programs at Rice (and in the United States broadly) will require applicants to submit a Statement of Purpose (SOP) as part of the application process. In my opinion, the main objective of the admissions committee when asking for the SOP is very clear: to get to know you better and understand your motivations to go to graduate school. Even though the SOP is only one of the many components of the application package – which will typically include other important documents such as CV, transcripts, recommendation letters, etc. – the SOP will probably be your only opportunity of talking (writing, actually) about yourself with your own words. CV and transcripts are documents that are somewhat official and bring a list of achievements and accomplishments throughout your career; recommendation letters are written by others and bring an outer perspective of yourself as a potential graduate-level researcher. Conversely, the SOP should provide the committee with information that cannot be explicitly found elsewhere; information that only you can express accurately. That being said, the SOP is a central component of any application process to graduate school.

There are many different ways of constructing a good SOP; the first step, however, should always be the same: double-check the instructions provided by the program and what points should be addressed in your essay. For instance, the following text was adapted from Rice’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. [1]

A statement of purpose should address the following questions: Why do you want to obtain a degree in Chemical Engineering? Why are you interested in Rice and in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice? What relevant experiences do you have in research, academics, and/or prior jobs? Why do you believe you will be successful in either a thesis or non-thesis degree graduate program? What would you like to do after completing your degree, and what are your long-term career goals?

Overall, the SOP should bring an overview of your academic and professional trajectories, focusing on: (1) why you are interested in that graduate program, (2) what are your academic, professional, and research/extracurricular experiences, (3) how these experiences make you an ideal candidate for that program, and (4) what are your plans after completing your degree. These are the general guidelines followed by most graduate programs (in STEM, at least). Before start the actual writing, I believe you should invest some time in making a detailed timeline of your academic/professional life thus far. Make sure you highlight the main points that marked your path since the beginning of your education. My understanding is that this requires a lot of reflection and self-knowledge; however, I can assure this exercise will be very useful to help you track events chronologically throughout your text.

I now draft the structure of what I consider a good SOP. This is very general; make sure you adapt the actual content to your reality and incorporate some other stylistic changes.

Continuing, be truthful and original, and always avoid cliché s. Describe your skills and abilities in detail, and make sure you provide the committee with examples of past research works that support your claims with concrete evidence. More importantly, show how much the program will benefit from having you as a student. Never try to fit your story into a “dream candidate” profile; this profile does not exist and attempts to do this will be easily identified by the committee. Do not hide adversities you have eventually gone through (both personal and academic); instead, describe these problems and explain how you overcame them, what you learned from them, and how they contributed to who you are today. Resilience when dealing with problems, motivation to overcome challenges, and learning from mistakes will be essential in graduate school. Make sure the committee knows you know that.

Writing an SOP is extremely time-consuming. I recommend you start working on yours as soon as you have decided what programs you will be applying to. You will likely need to write many, many versions of your SOP until they converge to a final, satisfactory result. Length and formatting can change depending on program requirements. In general, I recommend 2 pages with editing that will ease the reading (e.g. Arial or Calibri, font 12, spacing 1.5-2, standard paragraphs and margins, etc.). Some programs might be a bit more demanding and determine a maximum number of words (e.g. 500 or 1000). Expressing ideas clearly and concisely is key in graduate school; use the SOP to demonstrate you master this skill. In contrast to other languages such as Brazilian Portuguese (I am Brazilian), English allows for a very direct and effective writing communication. Go straight to the points you want to highlight and do not waste space (sometimes precious) with sentences that do not add relevant information about yourself as a future graduate student. The committee will have hundreds of SOP to go through; do not make yours boring.

The committee will know if you are an international student, and the committee members will not expect to read an essay written by Shakespeare. Be careful with your writing and avoid naive mistakes, but do not spend too much energy trying to improve your vocabulary beyond what you are comfortable working with. Avoid too many adjectives and adverbs; use short, direct sentences in an active voice. If possible, you might want to ask some friends to review your SOP. However, be careful. First, make sure your reviewers are aware of the SOP overall goal in the application process and are sufficiently proficient in written English; second, do not ask many people for feedback because it might become unfeasible to incorporate so many different suggestions in a single text. Finally, keep in mind that you know your story better than anyone else and that the SOP should bring your own perspective about yourself.

[1] Notice that this department offers two different graduate programs: a PhD program (which requires a thesis) and Professional Master’s program (which does not require a thesis). Both require an SOP as part of the application process.

[2] Contacting faculty members (potential research advisors) in advance is another important step of the application process. Review the post  here for some tips.

Acknowledgements: I am very thankful to the comments and suggestions by Igor Cunha (Queen’s University), Raíssa Dantas (University of Illinois Chicago), and Natasha Heinz (Kent State University) – all members of the Brazilian Student Association (BRASA).

About the author:  Ivan Rosa de Siqueira is originally from Rio de Janeiro, but spent most of his adult life in Brasília. He received his BS and MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Brasília and PUC-Rio, respectively. Since 2017, Ivan has been a PhD student in the CHBE Department under Dr. Matteo Pasquali. Learn more .

/images/cornell/logo35pt_cornell_white.svg" alt="phd statement of purpose word"> Cornell University --> Graduate School

Writing your academic statement of purpose.

Student typing on a laptop

What is it?

Each applicant must submit an academic statement of purpose (ASOP). The ASOP is one of your primary opportunities to help the admissions committee understand your academic objectives and determine if you are a good match for the program you are applying to. The goal of this document is to impress upon the admissions committee that you have a solid background and experience in your area of interest and that you have the potential to be successful in graduate study.

The ASOP is also a place, if necessary, where you can (and should) address any blemishes, gaps, or weaknesses in your academic record. In these situations, you will want to be honest, but brief. It is best to turn negatives into positives by focusing on how you overcame obstacles, remained persistent in the pursuit of your goals, and showed resilience. Share what you learned from the particular experience, and how it led you to become a better researcher/scholar/person, etc.

Why is it important?

The ASOP is one of the most important pieces of your graduate school application because it:

Information to Include

Introduce yourself and your academic interests.

Describe your academic background, preparation, and training

Show them you are making an informed decision

Important Things to Remember

Length, Format and Tone

Final Checklist

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Statement of Purpose

The Statement of Purpose is an essay about why you are applying to the program you have selected.

Your Vanderbilt

Have a question? [email protected]

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