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Starting Your Statement of Purpose



Hey everyone,

I wanted to start my blog off with a basic intro to the statement of purpose and the steps you can take to start your first draft. I'm an admissions reader and former writing consultant and love helping folks write better essays. By no means am I a writing expert, but I've read 1000s of personal statements/ SOPs and worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of clients on their college essays and applications and I just like helping folks craft better essays for their college applications. So, here we go!

The statement of purpose, or what I like to refer to as the cover letter essay because of its similar structure, is generally used for graduate school applications and focuses much more on describing the skills, experiences and education that has prepared you for the program you’re applying to than a personal statement for undergrad would--mostly because when entering grad school you usually have a much better grasp on what your career path will be. Its main purpose concentrates less on developing a story-like narrative about your personal attributes and more on explicitly communicating the qualities that make you a perfect candidate for the particular field of study you're applying to. Ideally, the statement of purpose should convey your genuine interest in and enthusiasm for the program of study you’re pursuing, and what you have done in the past to nurture that passion.

There are many topics you can choose for your SOP, but ultimately colleges want to see you answer 3 questions: why you, why us, and why now. Here are 4 steps to get you started on answering those questions and drafting your statement of purpose. 

1. Start off your statement of purpose by describing your motivations for applying to the particular grad school program and how earning a grad degree fits in with your broader academic and personal goals.

2. Next, you should communicate the subjects you’ve studied, previous jobs you’ve held, and relevant skills and certifications you’ve obtained that prepare you for the curriculum or program of study. This is the part where you really get to brag on yourself in discussing your relevant qualifications and unique skill set that ideally prepare you for success in the field you’ve chosen.

3. Follow that up by communicating your interest in attending the particular university you’re applying to. It’s important to articulate why you’re choosing X school or Y program at every level of education. As an example, you might state your interest in working with Prof. Baker, who is an expert in 18th-century archeological preservation techniques - the only one in the field. Admissions officers and committee members want to know that you did your research and have a compelling and personal reason for wanting to attend their institution. In this section, be sure to also include statements about what you can bring to the university’s campus and how you will contribute to the prevailing culture of the college.

4. Lastly, don’t forget to include in your statement what attributes and traits make you special because, yes, it matters to admissions committees what kind of person you are and student you will be. As an example, you could focus on describing the parts of your personality that demonstrate your ability to learn and think as well as your desire to collaborate and communicate effectively as a student-scholar. Colleges want to know that you possess the traits that will contribute to both your growth and the betterment of the university community. One of the important things to remember is that the best way to communicate your traits is to use an anecdote or experience from your past, that shows rather than tells what makes you a top candidate.

No matter what, remember to be authentic and your uniqueness will shine through in your statement of purpose. Otherwise, follow these 4 steps and you’ll be on your way to writing an effective statement of purpose.


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I am a writing consultant in my graduate division and I have to say, this is great advice!! I love how you mentioned the framework for a graduate school SOP. Applicants need to write a manuscript that focuses on their experiences and skills, describing what makes them a well-suited candidate for the next level. 

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I have actually received similar advice, however I also received advice that it needs to reflect who you are. So it seems as though in addition to what you've said, some personality should be coming through. I am not sure if they are meant to be dry or pop with who you are as a person. My statements of purpose are written and I feel they are solid. The thing for me that I came up against was that I do not have much research experience although I have a GREAT deal of teaching experience so I focused in on my teaching. I think I did that right or lets hope. 

Thank you for this advice! 

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