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Each program has a different SOP topic description - do you need a different one for each?

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I am applying to PhD programs in Public Affairs this upcoming cycle and am beginning to write my statement of purpose. I was initially under the impression from reading past posts that most folks write a base essay and tweak it slightly for every school (for the why Michigan/Duke/Indiana University etc... section). However, after browsing school websites they seem to be asking for totally different essays. For Example: 

UT Austin:

Broken up into two essays 

1 - Please address your medium to long-term career goals and how a doctorate will assist in achieving those goals. There are no specific formatting requirements, but please try to keep it under the equivalent of three double-spaced pages in a normal, 12-point font.

2 - Please address the following in your proposed program of study:

  • Specific areas of research
  • Potential dissertation topics
  • Types of courses that would fit into your overall plan
  • The work of individual professors that seem most relevant to your policy interests


As part of your online application, you must upload a statement of purpose. The statement should be one to two pages and single spaced. It should briefly discuss

  • your purposes and objectives in pursuing graduate study;
  • your special interests and plans;
  • your strengths and weaknesses in your chosen field;
  • any research projects or any independent research in which you have actively participated and how they have influenced your career choice and desire to pursue graduate studies; and
  • any particular reasons you may have for applying to Duke (e.g. you would like to work with a specific faculty member).

Would you recommend writing each essay essentially from scratch or should you assume they have different prompts but really all want the same information? 

Any insight would be SUPER helpful! Thank you!

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Yeah, so the Duke essay prompt sounds more or less like a standard SOP prompt, so the essay you write for that one could serve as the basis for most of you other applications. The UT Austin prompts sound very specific and targeted to their program. I think you have to write that one as separate  essays, though some parts you'll be able to recycle, like your career goals, research, and potential ideas for a dissertation topic (although that's the kind of thing I would keep vaguer in other applications if not specifically asked that question. I'd talk about interests in general, not dissertation topics per se).

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@fuzzylogician thank you for the pointers! From the other schools I've looked at there seems to be a lot of non-standard essays in public affairs PhD programs. Thank you for pointing out I can recycled different parts of the essays - makes this process seem a little less daunting. 

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I agree with fuzzylogician. I would also add, before starting the SoPs, spend some time writing down the answers to each prompt. Some of the information you'll notice is repeated, but the way you discuss that information may be different in each SoP. 

I'm in the same boat; trying to finalize my list for applications (applying to anthropology and communications programs) and determining which information most of the SoPs ask for, which have specific prompts, and how to create the best SoP for each school. Fun times, haha.

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