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The Statement of Purpose Post! (Part Two):

Posted by Medievalmaniac, 22 March 2011 · 1,254 views

Continued from Part One. We are now at draft five:

Draft FIVE:

The day I graduated from Longwood University’s master’s program in English, I should have been celebrating the long-awaited, long-worked for completion of my formal education. Instead, roughly an hour before commencement exercises began in Farmville, Virginia, I was standing before a crowd of medievalists, delivering a paper outlining my thesis findings at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo. Michigan.

That weekend in 2009, I became the first in my family on either side to earn an advanced degree. Far from satisfying my curiosity as regards medieval literature and culture, this degree has only sent me on a maddening quest to toe the line between the life of the mind I crave and the life I chose before I ever knew it existed. It is an untenable situation, and I find now that although I did not take a straight path towards becoming a professor, this is exactly what I have spent the past decade seeking to become. Therefore, I am requesting admission to your doctoral program in English, with a focus on medieval literature and secondary areas of interest in early modern and nineteenth/twentieth century medievalism, in order to receive the proper training and professionalization necessary for the life I have already in many ways been trying to live.

I bring with me a wealth of preparation for this training, beginning with thirteen years of teaching in a variety of academic settings: at the middle school, high school and college levels, in needs-challenged and advanced/AP courses, in urban and rural districts, and on public and private school campuses. Because of this I am confident in my ability to teach to a wide variety of student backgrounds and abilities. I feel I would be a great resource for other TAs newer to teaching than I am. In return, I could benefit enormously from watching and talking with instructors at the university level, testing and refining my skills to become an even more capable professional educator, one well-prepared for university-level instruction.

I am state-certified to teach both French and English, and earned a perfect score and ETS certificate of distinction on the Praxis II subject test in English. In my capacity as a state teacher, I followed an already-established curriculum aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning. In my current position at a private boarding school, I have written my entire curriculum, developing three programs of study from their inception. Originally hired to teach French, there were not enough language students to justify this as a full-time position, so I was offered the chance to teach other subjects. I chose Art History and English, influenced by the interdisciplinary work I did at American University during a year of master-level study. They needed a Latin course; I revisited the work I did in the language as an undergraduate and re-taught myself Latin. The research I did preparing to teach these new classes was both brutal, because I had so little formal training, and exhilarating, because I was doing the kind of work I had always wanted to do. My students in all three areas of study have gone on to earn scores of 4 and 5 on the AP examination. Because of the success of my students on these exams and at the college level, I am confident in my ability to design and implement effective curriculum, and to approach this work from a variety of methods, including chronological and thematic survey, comparative approaches to literature, and the subject- or author- specific seminar. As a doctoral student training to become a professor, I would welcome the opportunity to try to expand and refine some of my courses for students at the college level, and to learn from experienced professors what the reading and work load in such classes should look like.

Because I teach at a year-round school, my current workload is formidable: six, separate courses a term, five terms a year. I completed my master’s program while juggling this full-time schedule and a young family as well, earning a 4.0 GPA. I believe that this demonstrates that I am well-prepared for the challenges of balancing teaching as a TA and the completion of my own studies.

I have publications and extensive conference participation to my credit. In addition to an article in the Virginia English Bulletin based on my innovative approach to teaching classic literature at the high school level, I also have forthcoming in the MLA Approaches to Teaching Tolkien volume a chapter on my teaching of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as part of an epic literature course, as well as a number of entries in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage and Encyclopedia of Medieval Chronicle and the Facts on File Companion to Pre-1600 British Poetry, Companion to Literary Romanticism, and General Themes in Literature. I have presented papers at major conferences in my proposed field, including the Medieval Academy of America Graduate Student conference, the conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association, and the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo. I have also organized sessions in my areas of interest, and this year will further be presiding over my first panel. All of my publications and conference papers have derived from the teaching and research I have done in and for my classes, and I believe that this is the best approach to a life of scholarship: when teaching, research, writing and publication all rely upon and are influenced, inspired and drawn one from the other. As a doctoral student, I will learn how to refine my research and writing skills even more, honing my scholarship to truly professional academic quality.

While my teaching, research and publication background is diverse and can appear at first glance erratic, in actuality it renders me extremely prepared for doctoral level work in my particular areas of interest. My language skills lend themselves well to comparative reading and research, and my particularly strong background in French and more recent work in Latin are all but prerequisite in the study of literature in England from the 11th through the 15th centuries, or post-Conquest to Middle English, which is the area in which I intend to concentrate most fully. Further, my work in Art History recommends me as a particularly strong candidate for doctoral study in medieval literatures, where manuscript studies and the marriage of print and visual media as text are the norm rather than the exception. Because of my long-standing fascination with Arthuriana, or the Matter of Britain, I have naturally branched out into the study of epic and romance and folklore in general, medieval chronicles including the Historia Regum Britanniae and the Prose Brut, early modern studies, most specifically Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries via the Romantics and Moderns, who themselves were highly influenced by medieval and early modern models; in the twentieth century, I have worked with medievalism through C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles, highly modeled on the Welsh Mabinogion, itself counted among Arthurian texts. My work with Tolkien led me to my interests in the Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Icelandic traditions, while all of these traditions lend themselves to the study of the overarching themes of violence, chivalry and courtliness, magic, and identity, including gender studies, which comprise the majority of my teaching and scholarship. As an applicant to your program, I believe that my sound preparation in such a wide array of genres and eras recommends me as a student who can handle training in multiple and diverse literary traditions. As a doctoral student, my primary goal will be to learn how to refine my interests into a manageable – and marketable – program of research.

At present, I am engrossed in two ongoing projects, which I hope to continue to work on at the doctoral level. The first is an expansion and revision of my graduate thesis on the role of medieval writers as nation-builders exploiting specific fictional characters and character traits intentionally to bring people(s) once on the margins to the center of a nation as its kith and kin. Focusing on the figure of King Arthur, this work currently centers around Geoffrey of Monmouth, Layamon, and Thomas Malory, and I am hoping to expand it to include other chronicles and romances such as the Prose Brut and the Alliterative Morte Arthure. This project would benefit enormously from the input of professors familiar with the Arthurian literary tradition, but also with professors working in chronicle and romance traditions and with the themes of identity, postcolonialism, and nationalism.

My second ongoing project is a challenging of the dual Eve/Mary construction often employed in analyzing women in medieval texts with a view incorporating the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female. The publication of Sarah Miller’s and Dana Oswald’s monographs among others assures that this subject will continue to be revisited as important to our understanding of the medieval world view; I am currently working on it as it relates to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. This project requires the support and suggestions of both medieval and early modern scholars working in gender and feminist studies and in female saints and mystics and the monstrous.

I envision as a possible subject for my doctoral dissertation a comparative examination of the presence and function of feasts in select Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Celtic and/or Middle English texts produced in England from post-Conquest through the 15th century. I am interested in the way in which feasts appear to serve different functions dependent upon where they are held (indoor/outdoor and mortal/immortal planes), where they occur in the narrative (at the beginning, they catalyze the action; in the middle they serve as a pause in the action and an opportunity for regrouping or reconfiguring the figures involved, and at the end, they serve as the dénouement), and who is holding them (secular, holy, or immortal figures, or outlaws or nobles). I am fascinated by the differences between feasts held by men, which seem to be a display of wealth and power and generally are of a celebratory nature either for religious or political commemoration, and those held by women, which seem to be a display of wealth and power, usually in order to seduce, and the fact that this seems to remain true regardless of whether the text is fictional or historical in nature. My particular background lends itself well to this project, and I know it to be a highly under-represented area of study at present. This project could be ably supported by a medievalist specializing in Middle English romance and professors working in hagiography, historical chronicle, gender and postcolonial studies.

I am aware that my final undergraduate GPA is lower than admissions committees generally like to see. Aside from its being thirteen years old and superseded by outstanding work at the master’s level since then, this reflects neither my work ethic nor my academic ability. I transferred two years in with a 3.3 GPA. I worked full time and commuted 40 minutes each way daily to offset the costs of transferring programs. My job at a Colonial Williamsburg tavern entailed a simple scheduling policy for students at the College: we submitted our course schedules at the beginning of the term, and the headwaiter scheduled us for every full shift during which we were not in class. Between that and the commute, I physically did not have the time to get the reading and research done. In light of this, I ask that my application be given particular consideration as regards everything I have done since that point, which I believe recommends me as a student of clear passion and potential, and one well-prepared for the challenges of doctoral-level work and a career as a university professor.

From the first, I consciously set out to become a teacher, and to be the best, most skilled and most knowledgeable teacher I could be. Over time, this has unconsciously shaped my career along a path I never could have foreseen thirteen years ago. I chose to be a secondary school teacher before I ever saw what academia could truly be for me. Because of the force of my desire to know, to teach and research and to write about what I teach and research, I have become a strange hybrid – a secondary school teacher performing the tasks of a college professor. I have already begun in many ways to live the life of a professor, but I feel that I began in medias res. It is time to take a step back and return to the beginning, and to receive proper advanced training for the life I have begun to live, and I sincerely hope that you will afford me that opportunity.

And here's the meat of this post, folks: Actual professorial commentary on this draft(I changed colors for each comment to distinguish them from one another):

Prof 1:

try not to be too sentimental/sappy, okay? You would be amazed at some of the students you will be competing with who will mainly just be showing off their erudition and theory expertise, earned at the best schools in the country, in the most elitist ways imaginable [and yet, for some reviewing faculty, this is effective]. Obviously that can be tiring to admissions committees, too, and it would be good to humanize your statement--just don't go overboard on the *personal* narrative details or even mention desires for "life of the mind"--some evil faculty will think that's silly [even though, let's face it, it's the truth of why we do this]. Be "real" but practice some reserve, too, okay?

I'm not sure I would mention details as specific as having taken the Praxis II subject test in English: will anyone know what that is outside of public school teaching in Virginia? Letting them know you have varied foreign language skills/experience--GREAT--but they don't need these nitty-gritty details.

I'd be careful of your description of your second ongoing project as a challenge to the supposedly predominant "dual Eve/Mary construction often employed in analyzing women in medieval texts with a view incorporating the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female" as those who work in medieval women's studies, gender/sexuality studies, etc. may find this an overly narrow description of their field and even find it off-putting and perhaps a bit too smug.

While it's clear that you're a much more mature and advanced applicant than others who will be competing for similar spots in the programs to which you are applying, I would tone down a bit the section on what you envision as your doctoral research--it's way too detailed for someone who has not yet started a program somewhere and it's bit too much of "counting all of one's chickens before they hatch." Established scholars sometimes have the same problem when they are asked what they are working on and and they start talking about their 3 or 4 book projects and you wonder how they could even find the time to do one of those. I'm sure you want to be impressive, but you need to be careful not to look as if you are being hyperbolic--also, the idea is that you would be accepted into a program where you would meet scholars who would help you to conceptualize and execute a doctoral project--not that it would already be outlined before you got there. Even if you believe that's what you're going to do, I would really aim to make that sound much more open-ended and not-yet-fully-formed. Speak of your doctoral pursuits as areas you want to research further, not as a diss. prospectus you've already formed, if that makes sense.

Other than all of that, I think what you have here is excellent, especially your last two paragraphs. I hope this helps. And good luck!


Reader 2:

This version is 100% better than the first one you showed me. You have very effectively showcased both your teaching background and research and publishing experience. These are things that no wunderkind 22 year old can boast of, and will recommend you highly.

I only quibble with a couple of word choices. At one point you say that your work to date may appear "erratic." I would expunge that clause. No one expects someone coming off of an MA to have a razor sharp focus on a particular project, and most medievalists must of necessity be dabblers in diverse fields because of the nature of our sources. So I wouldn't describe your work with a word with such negative connotations when people probably won't read your productivity to date as such.

Second, I wouldn't call your situation "maddening." It's an innocent enough word, but there are enough genuinely unstable people in academe that it might send out the wrong signals to an application committee. To be on the safe side, I would tone that part down a notch.

But on the whole I would say it's an excellent application and just about as close to perfect as you're going to get. I'm afraid that from this point forward all you will be able to do is put your fate in the hands of others, and wait.


Prof 3:


A) That seems a LONG letter.
> B) The research needs to be put up front, and made the main focus.
> C) Emphasize your strengths, don't dwell so much on weaknesses.
> D) I'd moderate throughout your claims to be like a prof -- I think that this makes you sound (as I know you not to be) like someone who will refuse to see the hierarchy between grad student and advisor, and therefore not listen to advice, etc. We've all had returning students who are often the best ones we get, but some, close to us in age or older than we are, having already run their own shows, etc., can be unwilling to accept that in THIS area, we have good advice to give, and this can set up a problematic dynamic. Remember, you are not applying to be a colleague, but a student. Some of this reads as if you are applying for a teaching job, not a PhD program.
>
> I hope that doesn't make me sound like a total jerk. I am not saying what I think, but what I think others will think on reading your letter. I know you, so I don't worry about these sorts of things, but they don't, and this letter is all they will have to go on, so the tone is important. You don't need to be groveling, or anything, but some of this sound ahead of itself.


AND, that brings us to the final draft that went out (forgive the underlining, I have no idea why it did that but I can't make it go away):


The day I graduated from X University’s master’s program in English, I should have been celebrating the long-worked for completion of my formal education. Instead, roughly an hour before commencement exercises began in This City, I was standing before a roomful of scholars, delivering a paper outlining my thesis findings at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rather than concluding my formal education, I was embarking on a new and exhilarating path of scholarship.

That weekend in 2009, I became the first in my family on either side to earn an advanced degree. Far from satisfying my curiosity as regards medieval literature and culture, this achievement has led me on a futile quest to toe the line between the life of the mind I crave and the “real life” I chose before I ever knew it existed. Therefore, I am requesting admission to your doctoral program in English, with a focus on medieval literature and secondary areas of interest in early modern and nineteenth and twentieth century medievalism, in order to receive the proper training and professionalization necessary for the life that in many ways I am already striving to live.

I am engrossed in two ongoing projects and a third line of enquiry which I hope to continue work on at the doctoral level and beyond. The first of these is an expansion of my graduate thesis on the role of medieval writers as nation-builders exploiting specific characters and character traits intentionally to bring people(s) once on the margins to the center of a nation as its kith and kin. Currently centering around the figure of King Arthur as he appears in the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Layamon, and Thomas Malory, I plan to incorporate further works such as the Prose Brut and the Alliterative Morte Arthure into this study. This project would benefit enormously from the input of professors familiar with the Arthurian literary canon, and also professors working more generally in chronicle and romance traditions and with theories of identity, postcolonialism, and nationalism.

My second ongoing project considers the cultural importance of the central-to-the-tale, yet marginalized-by-society mystic or monstrous female in medieval and early modern texts. The publication of Sarah Miller’s and Dana Oswald’s monographs among others assures that this subject will continue to be revisited as important to our understanding of the medieval world view; I am currently working on it as it relates to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene[1]. This project requires the support and suggestions of both medieval and early modern scholars working in gender studies, in identity and theories of the Other, and in female saints and mystics.

A third area of interest for me is the presence and function of feasts in Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Celtic and Middle English texts. I am interested in how feasts in medieval texts appear to serve different functions dependent upon where they are held (indoor/outdoor and mortal /immortal planes), where they occur in the narrative, and who is holding them (secular, holy, or immortal figures; outlaws or nobles). I also wonder about their rhetorical purpose - how much feast descriptions are intended merely to persuade between characters, and how much, if at all, they are intended to persuade between author and reader. I am fascinated by the differences between feasts held by men, which are a display of wealth and power, occasionally are an attempt at assimilation (seduction) of a desirable figure or group of figures into a court or company for collective gain, and generally are of a celebratory nature either for religious or political commemoration, and those held by women, which are a display of wealth and power, seem always to be an attempt at seduction of a desirable individual, and misappropriate state funds for personal gain, and the fact that this appears to remain true whether the text is fictional or historical in nature. Such a study could help to shed light on questions of power, identity, gender, and the importance of material culture to England as they are inscribed in these textual feasts. This work would be ably supported by medievalists specializing in Middle English romance and the insular literatures of Britain, and professors working in hagiography, historical chronicle, gender and postcolonial studies, and rhetoric, especially as concerns theories of food.

I bring a wealth of experience recommending me as particularly suited to doctoral training, beginning with thirteen years of teaching in a variety of academic settings: at the middle school, high school and college levels, in special needs and advanced/AP courses, in urban and rural districts, and on public and private school campuses. Because of this, I am confident in my ability to communicate to students with widely disparate backgrounds. As a two-year fellow of the National Writing Project, I have also been trained to teach writing instruction to other teachers, and the teaching of writing skills is a particular strength of mine. In this capacity I could be a great resource for other English TAs newer to teaching than I am. In return, I would benefit enormously from watching and talking with university-level instructors, testing and refining my skills to become a professional educator well-prepared to teach at the college level.

I am state-certified to teach both French and English. In my capacity as a state teacher, I followed an already-established curriculum aligned with the My State Standards of Learning. In my current position at a private school, I have written my entire curriculum, developing three programs of study from their inception. Originally hired to teach French, there were not enough language students to justify this as a full-time position, so I was offered the chance to teach other subjects. I chose Art History and English, influenced by the interdisciplinary work I did at W University during a year of master-level study. They needed a Latin course; I revisited my undergraduate notes and re-taught myself Latin, which I since have used for my scholarly work on medieval texts. My students in French, English and Art History have gone on to earn scores of 4 and 5 on the AP examination. I am confident in my ability to design and implement effective curriculum, and to approach this work from a variety of methods, including chronological and thematic survey, comparative textual approaches, and the subject- or author- specific seminar. As a doctoral student I would welcome the opportunity to try to restructure some of my courses for college students. I am especially eager to learn from experienced professors the differences between secondary and post-secondary instructional design and implementation.

I publish and speak in my field regularly. In addition to an article in the Virginia English Bulletin based on my innovative approach to teaching classic literature at the high school level, I also have forthcoming in the MLA Approaches to Teaching Tolkien volume a chapter on teaching Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as well as signed articles in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Medieval PilgrimageEncyclopedia of Medieval Chronicle and the Facts on File Companion to Pre-1600 British Poetry, Companion to Literary Romanticism, and General Themes in Literature. I have presented papers at major conferences in my proposed field, including the Medieval Academy of America Graduate Student conference, the conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association and the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo. I have also organized sessions and this year will be a panel moderator. My publications and conference activity derive from the research and writing I have done in and for my classes, and I believe that this is the best approach to a life of scholarship: when research, teaching, writing and publication all are influenced, inspired and drawn one from the other. As a doctoral student, I will learn to refine my research and writing skills, honing them to an exceptional academic quality.

I have prepared carefully for advanced work in my areas of interest. My language skills lend themselves well to comparative reading and research, and my especially strong background in French and more recent work in Latin are all but prerequisite in the study of English literature from the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries, the post-Conquest to Middle English era in which I intend to specialize. Further, my work in Art History recommends me as a particularly strong candidate for doctoral study in medieval literature, where manuscript studies and the marriage of text and visual media and even substitution of visual media as text are the norm, rather than the exception. My long-standing fascination with the Matter of Britain has branched into the study of epic, romance, mythology and folklore in general, medieval chronicles, early modern texts (particularly Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene), the nineteenth century Gothic and Romantic movements, and the works of Moderns such as T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf , themselves highly influenced by medieval and early modern models; I have worked with twentieth century medievalism through the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and through Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles, which are modeled on the Welsh Mabinogion. This, in turn, led me to read widely in Celtic literatures. My work with Tolkien also led to my interests in the Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Icelandic traditions. All of these reading and research paths have contributed to the thematic studies in violence, kingship and outlawry, chivalry and courtliness, magic, monstrosity, identity, and gender studies, which comprise the majority of my scholarship and teaching. As an applicant to your program, my experience with such a broad range of genres and eras qualifies me as a student able to handle training in multiple and diverse literary traditions. As a doctoral student, my primary goal will be to refine my interests into a manageable – and marketable – program of research. With academic hiring as it currently stands, when I go on the job market as a medievalist, I will be expected to have a stated specialization and to bring an “and also” factor to the table. My background supports perfectly that need, and with further training in languages and the help of my advisors in selecting a set of courses and reading lists designed to strengthen and underscore my preparation in the sub-specialty areas of early modern literature and nineteenth and twentieth century medievalism, I believe I will be poised as a uniquely qualified and marketable candidate.

I am aware that my final undergraduate GPA is lower than admissions committees generally like to see. Aside from its being thirteen years old and superseded by my 4.0 at the master’s level, this reflects neither my work ethic nor my academic ability. I transferred two years in with a 3.3 GPA. I worked full time and commuted 40 minutes each way daily to offset the costs of transferring programs. My job at a Famous Tourist City tavern entailed a simple scheduling policy for students at the College: we submitted our course schedules at the beginning of the term, and the headwaiter scheduled us for every full shift during which we were not in class. Between that and the commute, I physically did not have the time to get the reading and research done; my strong work ethic broached no dropping of courses or asking for extensions. However, I learned from the mistakes I made overextending myself as an undergraduate how to balance work and life and what my limits are, and I believe that everything I have done since then recommends me as a student of clear passion and potential, one well-prepared for the challenges of doctoral-level work and a subsequent career as a college professor.

From the first, I consciously set out to become the most skilled and most knowledgeable teacher I could be. Over time, this has unconsciously shaped my career along a path I never could have foreseen thirteen years ago. I chose to be a secondary school teacher before I knew what academia truly could be for me. Because of the force of my desire to know, to research and teach and to write and dialogue about what I research and teach, I have become a strange hybrid – a secondary school teacher performing many of the functions of a college professor. While I have already begun in many ways to live the life of a professional academic, I feel that I began it too much in medias res. It is time to take a step backward in order to move forward with the proper advanced training for the life I am striving to live. I sincerely hope that you will afford me that opportunity.

[1] Sarah Alison Miller, Medieval Monstrosity and the Female Body, Routledge, 2010; Dana Oswald, Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature, Boydell and Brewer, 2010.




And there it is. With a little shift in language here and there, and the flip-flopping of the research and teaching statements, this is the document that got me the fully-funded admissions offer, as well as a number of individual emails from professors in the department telling me how impressed they were with this statement. It's long, but it's specific, scholarly, professional AND personal and, most importantly, it's mine, and one no one else could have written it.

I did apply to schools that did not have a limit for how long the SOP could be, and my final statement was two and a half pages long. BUT, I think you can see that in fact, if I cut anything else out of it it would not have been an adequate expression of who I am, where I am, how I got there and where I am going. I think it is also CLEAR that a statement of purpose takes a lot of hard work and effort. Mine went through six full drafts, three of them commented on and critiqued by three or more professors, before I wrote one I could live with and that I thought really said what I needed and wanted to say.

I hope this is helpful to those who are in the application process still, and that it gives you some ideas and insight into the process of writing an effective statement of purpose. Please do just remember that stealing another person's ideas without his or her permission or knowledge is verboten in academia, and that I am posting this for you to consult and learn from, not to cut and paste from. Also remember this is ONE successful statement of purpose, out of hundreds if not thousands, all of which are different. This is not THE example of a successful statement, it is just A statement that was successful. :)

  • 9



Thank you very much for posting these. Its helpful looking at the whole process.
    • 0
Yeah, I would definitely narrow your focus. Remember most schools ask for 500-1000 words for SoP.
    • -5
SO helpful! You're awesome!
    • 0
That's a *great* SOP -- thanks for posting! :)
    • 0
Thank you so much for sharing!
    • 0
Wow, how many pages did that fit? Is it more than the 1000 word limit for a lot of grad programs?
    • 0
Wow, I am sure that many people will find this helpful-- not only for the specific suggestions, but also for understanding the intensity of this part of the process.

Personally, I put it off too long. I thought I'd get my WS done first and then move on to my SOP, which meant that I wrote the SOP in about two weeks (mostly a few days before Dec. 15th) and didn't have any professors look at it. I was too self conscious, to be honest, and didn't have any mentors that were generous with their time. I think most people not in undergrad anymore (or an MA program) have this issue.

It all worked out for me though. So, to anyone reading this without MM's level of support-- you can still do it. Use these online communities and ask your friends, even their "layman" suggestions can help you communicate your ideas more clearly.
    • 0
Inquiline - the final statement I sent out was three full pages long, and is definitely longer than the 1000 word limit many graduate programs set (2000 words, as opposed to 1000). However, the programs to which I applied did not have word limits, and this serves as a personal statement and statement of purpose both - in essence, I combined the documents into one comprehensive piece instead of sending out a separate SOP and personal statement. In cases in which there are word limits, I would recommend shortening the discussion of interests by going into less detail concerning the projects currently being worked on and/or considered; further, most applicants to graduate school don't have the amount of working experience I have as a non-traditional student, so that section could be substantially shortened as well(I devoted three full paragraphs to discussion of my teaching, publishing and conference activity, but certainly this could be shortened to a single, succinct paragraph).

catherinian - yes, the tendency of many of us is to assume this piece is going to be easy - talk about what you want to do and why. But when you sit down to write it, it really IS an arduous process to distill everything you have been, done, seen, and said into a single, coherent, succinct statement. I thought my first statement was great - but when I went back and re-read it, I cringed. And definitely, DEFINITELY, get other people's eyes on this document. The final statement I sent out was the product of my own writing and thinking, but the critiques I received were instrumental in making it work as well as it did in terms of organization and focus. Hopefully, my posting them here will help people who don't necessarily have that kind of support in terms of being able to look at criticisms from "real-time professors". :)
    • 0

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