Statement of Purpose
Applying to graduate school? You’re going to need to write a statement of purpose. More importantly, you need to write a good statement of purpose. Otherwise you won’t get into the grad school you’re applying to. And this grad school thing is your passion, your dream, your future.
So how are you going to make sure you get it right? How are you going to squeeze all your sense of purpose, all your passion, all your talent into a measly couple of pages?
Write Multiple Drafts
You’re probably going to need a few drafts. You’re probably going to need to do a preliminary sketch of your passions—to pin down the thing that led you to whatever it is you’re planning on studying in grad school, to map out the trajectory of why it’s piqued your interest and what you’re excited to explore further.
The drafting process is your friend here. With each draft you’re going to hone your understanding of what exactly you’re looking forward to pursuing at this particular grad school, and why you’re so passionate about it. Each revision, each decision to cut or add information, will be a lesson to yourself on what’s important to you. You’re trying to convince the grad school’s admissions committee that you want to study your passion, and that their school will be better for letting you work with their faculty and students. In your efforts to convince them, you’ll realize just what it is that you’re pursuing. You’ll learn about yourself. You’ll become a stronger candidate just by going through the process of creating a succinct application.
And you’re probably going to need some feedback as you draft. Ask people who know you and can help you highlight your personal journey better. Consult unbiased outsiders (like the professional editors here at Wordsmith). And, by the time you’ve figured out exactly how to pitch your purpose for your graduate school studies, you’ll have a solid final draft.
Remember The Purpose
But what exactly goes in that “solid final draft” of your statement of purpose? It’s not as simple as “I want to go to grad school to study ______ and become a _____.” But it’s not a place to get all David Copperfield with your life story, either.
You need to find a happy middle ground. The facts of what you’re pursuing and what your qualifications are should already be obvious from the rest of your application. But personal details like your favorite ice cream flavor are (probably) irrelevant.
You will need to demonstrate how you are primed to make the most of your grad school experience. You need your statement of purpose to convince the applications committee that you have a purpose. And that your purpose will be mutually beneficial to you and to the grad school you’re applying to.
Yes, you will need the passionate invocation of your personal experiences. But you should be using any and all narrative in what little space you have productively. You need to convince your readers that you’re not just applying to grad school because it’s expected of you. Convince them that you’re going to pursue a meaningful course of study and help their school look good by making something of yourself. This means you need to know yourself. But it also means you need to know your grad school.
Tailor Your Statement of Purpose
I cannot stress enough how important it is to write more than one statement of purpose. Not multiple drafts (though, as I’ve mentioned, those are an important part of the process), but multiple versions of your actual statement of purpose. Your purpose should be tailored to the grad school you’re applying to. More than one grad school? I don’t need to remind you of the fact that different schools have different strengths, do I? You already made your list of pros and cons when deciding where to apply, right? You are, at the very least, excited about some facet of the particular graduate program you’re applying to, right?
You better be. If you don’t have a strong reason for pursuing your particular course of study at a particular graduate school, then you have bigger problems than how well-written your statement of purpose is. (Big, existential problems. Like why you’re compelled to spend time, energy, and money—lots of money—on something that’s not actually important to you.) If you’re not passionate, it’ll show in your writing.
Get It Edited
What if you are passionate, but it just doesn’t show up in your statement of purpose? What if you just can’t get your passion to express itself properly on the page? What if you’re doomed to write bland, generic statements of purpose? Or rambling, unfocused ones? Does it mean your dreams will never come to fruition? Does it mean your whole undergraduate career was for naught? All for some stupid grad school statement of purpose that couldn’t live up to some bored old committee’s standards? Will your future become a desperate, shiftless venture—your mind decaying and your potential languishing in a dead-end job because you couldn’t get into that grad school where you’d finally make something of yourself?
Remember college applications? Remember those admissions essays? Well, it’s time to write a grown-up version.
How has your educational journey—both in and outside of the classroom—been leading you to this point? What kind of future are you imagining at this grad school? Tell the admissions committee. Tell them precisely, and with examples. Tell them eloquently, and with good grammar. Tell them passionately, in your own voice. And—after a few revisions, a few rounds of feedback, a few days setting it aside and coming back to it with fresh eyes—your statement of purpose will be ready.
Ready, that is, for a professional editor to double-check for typos, inconsistencies, and weaknesses. To give you honest feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. To coach you on how to make the best statement of purpose you can for whatever graduate program it is you’re looking to pursue. The collegial environment of peer-reviewed papers, the opportunity to have your words studied, challenged, and discussed—that’s why you’re applying to grad school, why you’re paying for the privilege of studying harder than you’ve ever studied before. Your statement of purpose is just the beginning.
You might want to check out Vince Gotera’s handy checklist (at the bottom of his article describing how to write a good statement of purpose). Or you might want to look at the sample statement of purpose Jessie Zaylía provides at the bottom of her article.
Image courtesy of PhD Comics.