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Impact of Statement of Purpose on Applications


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I was rejected to Clinical Psych PhD programs two years in a row, so I'm taking a break to garner more experience. I'm applying for the Fall 2023 cycle and I'm taking my time developing my approach to grad school apps. One thing I want to hear from folks is the impact your statement of purpose (also the personal/diversity statement) has on your overall application? I've been told some programs just focus on the first and last paragraphs, while some don't read them at all. I'm going to present a polished essay regardless, but I'm wondering what others have heard. Does it depend on the school, program, reviewer?

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From my (limited) experience as now the most senior PhD student in my lab reviewing applications, I can say that it is very important. Naturally the top 5-10% of applicants are all very similar: good GPA, good GRE (if applicable/needed), good LORs. What really can separate people invited vs. those not invited is how clearly the articulate fit with the prospective PI(s). For example, a good SOP will clearly articulate what your research experiences have been like and why that aligns with the PI's current projects, but especially in a way that adds something new to the PI's line of research. You may also draw heavily form clinical experiences or unique skills (I did) to state why working with a certain mentor could help you build on these skills and develop new ones. 


Ultimately, being concise, avoiding jargon, and REALLY avoiding cliches are the best practices. If my PI had a $ for everyone person who wrote "I want to become a clinical psychologist because I want to help people" they would be VERY rich and not need to work so hard in academia. ?  We *all* want to help people, otherwise, why would you be going into this field? Having a lot of people read over the SOP is also good, including people not in your field (that way you can know if you are very clear to a general reader). 

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I'm not in clinical, but for my field (and specifically for me), the statement of purpose is pretty much *everything.*

I want to see that the person is familiar with my work, has interests that align with that work (and other stuff on my website), and has a rough idea of how they might contribute/advance this work. A strong statement of purpose will trump every other aspect of the application.

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