Hacking the Grad School Application: The Statement of Purpose
by UTEP Connect
The Statement of Purpose on your grad school application is more important than you may think. In fact, it’s really the one way you can go from “statistic” to “human.” Grad school admissions committees like stats – but they connect with humans.
Grad school applicants are people, too. And people are more than transcripts and test scores. Much of your competition for admission likely have impressive statistics. What you have that they don’t is your unique experience, life history, and perspective.
You need to tell the admission committee your story, your way – remembering to tie everything back to why you’d be the perfect fit and a true asset to their program. Here are 5 tips for writing a Statement of Purpose that helps get you into your dream grad school.
1. Know what a school is really asking.
Every school will ask a bit differently, but they all basically want to know the same thing:
- What do you want to study?
- Why are you interested in that field?
- What relevant experience do you have?
- How do you plan to use your degree, once completed?
- Why are you applying to our school in particular?
- What do you bring to our program?
Admissions committees want candidates who can prove that they have a passion for their chosen concentration that comes from personal experience. Write down answers to each of the above questions, then build a story from them that the committee will love to read and be unable to forget.
2. Don’t just write facts, write a compelling story.
Think about a great experience you had where you couldn’t wait to tell your friends. You didn’t just tell them. You added little details, let them know what you were thinking, how you felt and, maybe, what you learned from it about yourself and human nature. Your excitement about that great experience and your personality are what made your story great as well.
Your Statement of Purpose needs to read like that story about your great experience. Really think about why you want to study your subject. When and how did you first discover your interest, talent, or desire to learn all you could about that subject? How does it fit into your life goals? Then turn all of that into a compelling story.
3. Let your voice be heard
When writing your Statement of Purpose, don’t be too formal, or to casual. Let your personality show. Include wit and insight, but don’t be jokey. Use technical terms where they make sense, to show experience in your field, but don’t fill it with jargon or clichés. Think of your Statement of Purpose as a conversation with one of your professors.
4. Remember your goal
Yes, you need to tell a story – and the best stories make a great point. In your case, that point is that you are the best graduate school candidate for admission. So, you need to:
- Make sure you cover all the information the admissions committee is looking for
- Be specific about why this school is perfect for you (name a certain professor you’d love to study under, something unique about that school’s program, a niche area of expertise that interests you, etc.)
- Quantify your stories – use numbers and facts to add detail – to emphasize your challenges and accomplishments in your relevant work and life experiences
If you need examples and inspiration on how to be compelling and make your point, watch a few TED talks. Many of the speakers are witty, self-effacing, insightful, and use personal anecdotes to brilliantly make their point.
5. Ask for feedback
Show your Statement of Purpose to people you respect, and people who know you. An undergraduate professor who is writing a letter of recommendation for you would know what schools are looking for in a candidate and can offer valuable advice. Close friends and family really know you and can point out strengths you may not realize. They might also remember anecdotes about you that you’ve forgotten. Let their perspective add to your story.
Also, have your Statement of Purpose proofread by someone other than yourself – more than once.
Your Statement of Purpose is the way you introduce yourself to those who decide whether or not you get into graduate school. Make them think, “This is someone I’d really like to know and work with. If every students’ papers were this interesting, I wouldn’t have my TA’s grading them.” – and you’ll succeed.