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About the Grad School Statement of Purpose

written by: Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 12/12/2010

A statement of purpose is a must if you're applying for a Master's or Doctoral degree. Learn about the grad school statement of purpose in this article: What is it? What should it do? What should you put into it? How long should it be?

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    All graduate school applications require that you to write a carefully considered essay. More often than not, this essay will become the differentiator that will set your application apart from the others. In simple terms, the grad school statement of purpose is your personal representative. It substitutes for your physical presence in front of the admissions committee as they go through your application and decide whether or not to offer you a place in their Master's or Doctoral program.

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    The Grad School Statement of Purpose

    The grad school statement of purpose is also known as the personal essay or the statement of goals. It may come in various guises:

    • You may be asked to write an answer to a specific question such as "Why do you think you are suited for graduate studies?" or "What specific areas of research interest you and why?"
    • You may be asked to write an essay with certain markers given to you as thinking points--Why this field? Why this school? Talk about experiences that made you think about grad school.
    • You may be given a word limit and told to write a general statement of purpose.

    You must try very hard to address the questions asked and to adhere to word limits. How you can maximize your opportunities while abiding by the prescribed constraints shows your critical thinking skills and tells the committee whether or not you're capable of working creatively even as you're subject to strict rules, regulations and quality control measures.

    The admissions committee is also looking at how you can put your own stamp of ownership on an essay everybody who fills in an application will be writing. How is the statement of purpose uniquely "you" and not someone else? How does your essay reflect your personality, your "self" and your particular history, experiences and bent of mind? Does the essay give the admissions committee a glimpse of someone they would want to get to know more? Does the essay show that you've considered their questions and guidelines carefully and worked hard on it? Does the essay sound genuine and sincere? Does it exhibit your ability to think with some degree of complexity? Most importantly, does the statement of purpose convey your knowledge of and passion for the subject area of your choice? Does it make the committee believe that you have what it takes to spend the time and effort it will take for you to complete the program?

    Even if there are no guidelines and word limits given, your statement of purpose should be long enough to transmit your keenness and short and succinct enough to show your capacity for restraint and hold your reader's interest. There are no rules about beginning and ending a certain way. It should seem spontaneous and natural while being well-crafted and complete.

    For example, consider a beginning that is both personal and relevant to someone wanting to go to grad school to study and conduct research in Biotechnology:

    "Obviously, I don't remember this first hand but my mother often recounts the exact moment when she knew I'd become a biological scientist. I was 4 years old and suffered from frequent bouts of asthma. One day at the pediatric clinic, I made Dr. Kapoor explain to me what made me cough so much and how the nebulizer helped make me better. When we got home, I told my parents in all seriousness that I when I grew up I would make better lungs so that no child would have to cough like I did. She believed me.

    Through childhood and into adulthood, I have always been fascinated by the intricate and precise inner workings of the human machinery. I have often imagined how I can repair its defects and improve its functioning..."

    ...and so on into addressing the questions outlined above so that your answers come seamlessly and thematically, each paragraph logically segueing into the next.

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    Closing Advice

    I would advise you to be specific rather than make general, sweeping statements. Your grad school statement of purpose should justify everything you claim by relating your assertions of intent to particular life experiences. Talk about why and how you became interested in your proposed area of study, why you want to be admitted to this particular program, what makes you a good candidate, what real character and personality traits make you ideally suited to this field of study, why grad school is so vital to your blueprint for your future, what professional or informal work you've done so far in this area and what you will bring to the program if you are selected.