A statement of purpose is an extremely important part of determining your GPA score. It helps to distinguish you from other students. A lot of people neglect the importance of the statement of purpose for graduate school, and they end up sounding repetitive with a lack of originality. You should not miss out on this great opportunity to show your writing skills and to prove to the educational institution you are applying to that you are exactly what they are looking for.
In this article, we will review the most important points that admissions officers look for in candidates and offer some guidelines with tips and statement of purpose examples to make your paper stand out. We will teach you how to write a statement of purpose that will ensure you a spot in your dream school. We will also touch upon how to communicate your passion, hobbies, experiences, and overall dedication to the subject by means of storytelling.
What Is a Statement of Purpose
A statement of purpose is a written statement composed in the standard essay format. It describes a student’s motivation for applying to graduate school, demonstrates their knowledge and experience, and gives the admissions office an accurate portrayal of who the student is as a person. It is always useful to include long-term goals and ways of achieving them, such as graduating from school. The office of admissions does not know you, and how well you explain who you are and why you are the right person to be admitted is up to you. Your statement of purpose is the best tool for realizing these intentions.
Writing a statement of purpose for graduate school entails weaving your passion and background into a convincing story that shows your dedication to continuing your educational journey. This statement also tells what career you’re interested in and how this program is an important step for you to succeed on this path.
When preparing a statement of purpose, you should consider:
- Your college: Its facilities, community, location, core values, and how they’re a reflection of yours, and how the program of this particular school will benefit you.
- Your goals: What has driven you to seek out this program? Discuss your personal level of dedication, how much background you have in this discipline or field, and show the passion and effort you are ready to put into your education.
Graduate schools seek confident, motivated students. In order to be selected out of hundreds of applicants, your statement of purpose has to stand out from the crowd. You need to touch admissions officers with your censerity and originality.
Not only does a statement of purpose illustrate your personality and drive to continue studying, but it also gives an insight into your writing skills. Basics like grammar and punctuation, your vision of storytelling, and your ability to sell yourself will all be evaluated by picky admissions officers. When writing a statement of purpose, keep your mind on the big picture and present yourself as a motivated student—not only in career goals but in your life overall.
How Long a Statement of Purpose Should Be
Your best bet for how long a statement of purpose should be is one page. If you feel like you need more, you can write an additional half of a page; a page and a half is, however, the maximum length you should write in your statement of purpose for graduate school. First of all, imagine how many of these admissions officers have to go through. If it is too long, they will think that you are not motivated enough to present a well-composed statement. A longer statement of purpose shows a lack of focus in expressing your thoughts. They might move on to the next candidate without even considering you. When determining the length of your statement of purpose, think quality over quantity—no longer than a page and a half.
Statement of Purpose Format
The statement of purpose format is very similar to any basic essay format. These papers, however, do not require research and sources. There’s also no need for a title page and a works cited section—as you will not use sources while using the statement of purpose format.
The formatting of a statement of purpose is as follows:
- 12 point Times New Roman (or similar) font;
- 1-inch margins on all sides;
- 1.5 line spacing;
- Up to 2 pages in length;
The statement of purpose format requirements are a basic formality which show the school that you follow the principles of academic writing and can present yourself professionally. Let's jump right into how to start a statement of purpose properly.
How to Start a Statement of Purpose
Before you start writing, it’s important to brainstorm and decide on your preferred portrayal of yourself. Review your future goals (perhaps you want a job in a certain field) and explain why the school you’ve chosen is an essential step on your path to achieving your goals. This is a crucial piece of information you are giving to the admissions office. Try to be very specific. Do not say “I want to be a designer”, say “I would like to work as a senior Graphic designer in a firm that focuses on environmental sustainability or has a focus on the improvement of our ecological situation” instead. By making the sentence more vivid with details, you give a much more full picture of what your specific interests are.
After you’ve brainstormed and written down your ideas, start making a draft of your statement of purpose where you cover your key principles for applying to the school you’ve chosen:
- Intro, 1st paragraph: introduce yourself and specify your goal;
- Body, 2nd paragraph: what has motivated you to pursue this path?
- Body, 3rd and 4th paragraphs: explain why you are a fitting candidate for this program;
- Conclusion, closing paragraph: What are your goals in this field?
As you can tell, your statement of purpose (SOP) basically follows the standard 5 paragraph essay structure.
An example of a good opening paragraph of a statement of purpose would look something like the following:
Statement of purpose example: I would like to apply for the MBA program in Cartoon Animation at the University of Southern California for the spring of 2020. My motivation to further study cartoon animation is somewhat connected to my daughter’s early fascination with cartoons and comics, in addition to my screenwriting career. I received my BFA in screenwriting in 2010 from Chapman University and became a screenwriter for cartoons immediately after graduating. After I became a father, I had an impulse to help my teenage daughter become interested in filmmaking, which was inspired by learning about Steven Spielberg’s early life and achievements.
Statement of Purpose Format – What Do I Write?
The first paragraph, according to the statement of purpose format, should explain who you are and include your background information. It is also important to note your career goals. Make sure that all the information you are providing is specific to the program you are applying for. If you are applying for an Engineering program, talking about your passion for marine biology does not really benefit you in any way. It is best if all the information you tell the admissions board about yourself relates to what the program has to offer in one or the other way.
For example, if you are applying for a Painting and Printmaking program at San Diego State University’s School of Art and Design, it is crucial to mention what kind of experience you have in drawing, and what your skills are in the design field. Obviously if you are majoring in it, nobody is going to teach you how to draw the basics, you need to have your own background and show the admissions board that you possess them already. Also, add what excites you about drawing and painting – Is it self-expression? Is it striving to share your art with other people? It can be anything. If you just be yourself and write from your heart, your statement of purpose will be great.
The second paragraph in your statement of purpose should discuss how your interest developed into the passion it is now. You have set the stage in your previous paragraph explaining that you have the skills and background needed for the program, and now is the time to show a little glimpse into the growth of your interest.
You cannot simply say “I like teaching”. Go deeper and be specific. Was there an episode in your past when you explained a math problem to your little sister who just could not get it without your help? Or maybe you liked helping schoolmates with their homework and they really benefited from it? Details like that make the admissions board appreciate you as a person, as someone who genuinely loves to teach and help others. Very often people are too general with this type of writing, and that is how they end up sounding boring and not standing out.
The third and fourth paragraphs include your experiences in the field. In the beginning of the third paragraph, explain the general experience you might have. Then get into the specifics, such as the job you might have had, any internships, volunteering, or interesting projects. Although, do not forget that these experiences have to relate to the program you are applying for. It might seem difficult to think of experiences like that, but there is always a way to tweak things.
For example, if you are applying to be a teacher, your experience being a grocery store clerk has little to no relevance to that field, although explaining that the way you trained and educated new cashiers showed the best results, presents you as a good teacher who can deliver impressive learning outcomes.
Your experiences should go hand in hand with the school's program. The more your experiences are accordant with the program, the better chances you have. In your statement of purpose, you need to prove that you are a worthy candidate for the program.
Additionally, in the fourth paragraph you can also include any other information about yourself that you have not had a chance to present in previous paragraphs. Although do not go into lengthy stories that are not very likely to influence the admissions board’s decision. Be straightforward and list your accomplishments accordingly. Treat it as an extra opportunity to show why you are the person that they should accept. Remember, a statement of purpose should ideally be a page, or a page and a half at most.
In your conclusion paragraph, you need to talk about your goals. Attention to detail and specifics are extremely important. Do not say “I want to be a registered nurse”. Instead, say something like “My dream is to work in an ICU at the local hospital and be a first responder to help people in critical conditions. I am perfectly capable of working under stress and would love to implement my calm yet attentive behaviour into my work ethic”. After reading the second career goal, admissions board officers can clearly imagine you wearing scrubs and doing CPR.
Up until this point, you have talked about your accomplishments and experiences. It is now time to show that you have a clear idea of what you are going to do once you graduate, and where you see yourself ending up exactly.
Questions the Admissions Committee Expects You to Answer
Now that you know how to construct a statement of purpose, let’s move on to some specific questions you can ask yourself to make sure you have included every point possible to make a great impression. The admissions committee will not ask these questions directly, rather they expect this information to be a part of your statement of purpose. Try to answer them through telling a story to build a full picture of your personality, your aspirations, and your dedication to the program:
- What academic direction have you chosen and what was your purpose in choosing it?
- How did you find this college and why have you chosen to apply?
- If you’re applying for a school abroad, why did you choose this country?
- What background experience do you have in the discipline you’ve chosen?
- What skills do you seek to gain from pursuing this degree?
- What is your post-graduation plan: will you find a job with this degree or continue to study?
- What are your expectations from this school and program?
- Is there a specific professor whose lectures you are looking forward to? If yes, explain why.
- How can your skills and experience make a contribution to the school?
- What are your hobbies, interests, or habits; what are you like as a person?
- How do you think you will fit in with the student community at this school?
- How do the school’s values represent your own, or vice versa?
- How do you stand out from other applicants?
Through answering these questions, you will show the committee that you are the right candidate for this degree.
Statement of Purpose Writing Strategies
A big part of writing a statement of purpose is standing out from the crowd. Many statements of purpose are very similar, and they get lost among hundreds of others. You can achieve being unique by challenging your inner writer to give it all out and by crafting your statement into a convincing story. Here are a few strategies that can aid you in crafting an original statement.
Avoid Copying Templates
Many students’ statements of purpose follow the same basic pattern and don’t stand out. An admissions officer will take one look at this statement before throwing it into the nearest recycling bin:
Example of a bad statement: I am excited to apply for the Master of Science program at the University of Vermont because I have been interested in science from a very early age. I remember daydreaming in classrooms about how I wanted to be a scientist/engineer.
Openers like this are bland and lifeless. The writer tells us that they’re passionate for science, but fails to convince us. Unfortunately, as passionate as the writer might be, such a poor statement does not give a proper idea of how exactly the author is feeling towards the subject. To be original, communicate the same message through a story.
Story Is King
A story serves to connect you with your reader. Make them empathize with you through illustrious imagery and descriptive language. Do not shy away from adjectives and other tiny details that help the readers build a picture of you. A statement of purpose shouldn’t, however, be a narrative, rather it should contain key elements of a story.
Here’s a boring story:
Example of a good statement: Working in an office has made me think about starting my own company. Ever since I was a child, it was a dream of mine to give something to the world. I was a very creative child. One day after work, I decided it was time for me to start looking for a business school where I could study to become a great entrepreneur.
This is a boring story because it’s dry facts without any context. What kind of office was it? How are all these things related: being creative, wanting to change the world, and researching for a business school? There is no storyline, no connection. The writer states that they’re tired of their office job, but fails to draw the reader in; the reader does not sympathize with the author in any way; and there is no vivid or descriptive language used.
Here’s a better one:
Example of a good statement: I used to work at an office. Every day I would type for hours, arguing with dissatisfied customers and ensuring them that their issue would be addressed in the shortest time. One morning after work, I was feeling drained and decided to take a walk through my beautiful city. I found myself thinking, “I don’t want to work for somebody else. I want to start my own company.” Without wasting time, I jogged back home and started searching for business schools to apply to.
What’s the difference?
In the second example, the writer is more descriptive. The first sentence, “I used to work at an office,” is short and blunt enough to communicate the boredom of an office job. The next sentence describes this job, ironically twisting the “your issue will be addressed in the shortest time” phrase often used by customer support. Throughout the paragraph, the writer uses descriptive words like “drained” and “jogged,” which create a fuller picture than the words “sad” and “ran.” By being explicit, you create this bridge, a special connection with the reader who immediately “feels for you” and sympathizes.
The second story also follows a three-act structure commonly used in movies, plays, and literature: setup, conflict, and resolution. The protagonist is portrayed as a regular office Joe (setup), who becomes dissatisfied with his job (conflict), and finds inspiration – or even redemption – by reconnecting to his or her passion for becoming an entrepreneur (resolution).
Be Specific When Talking About Your Achievements
The admissions committee values applicants who are bold and confident in their success. To prove your level of experience, you have to be very specific in stating your achievements, using quotes, dates, award titles, etc. When you are being too general, it sounds like you are boasting. Although with specifics, the admissions committee knows exactly what you're talking about.
Example: “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood” explains George Orwell, the author of 1984—one of the many political books I surveyed for my honor’s thesis on political psychology.
To formally introduce my interests and aspirations in digital marketing, I offer a summary of my senior thesis which has granted me the 2007 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Marketing at Vermont University.
Don’t Write the Same Statement of Purpose for Multiple Schools
The mistake that applicants often make is copy-pasting the same statement of purpose and sending it to several schools at once. This will drastically decrease your chances of getting in as every school looks for unique qualities in each applicant that demonstrate why you are perfect for their school. They want to see your effort in creating a statement of purpose specific to their program and school in general. You don’t have to write seven different statements of purpose, but a little editing can go a long way. The base can stay the same, but making it personalized for each school will drastically increase your chances of getting in.
Harvard: I have spent most of my childhood in Zanzibar before moving to Middlesex, England. As a result, I’ve adapted to a multicultural environment from an early age. One of Harvard’s values states “respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others”, and this fully reflects my upbringing and worldview.
Stanford: My multicultural upbringing has urged me to research the world out of natural curiosity, and my working-class background has toughened me into a hard worker who always closes the deal. That is why Stanford’s vision to “advance our mission as a research university to serve as a place of enlightenment and freedom of thought and expression” fully reflects my own.
Use a Formal but Conversational Tone
Although this is a formal document, try to maintain a conversational tone. The admissions committee wants to know who you are and what your aspirations are. They do realize that you are trying your best to impress them, and what is a better way to do so than being yourself? They are not interested in your ability to use fancy synonyms and over-complicated language, they want to get to know you, your passions, and your goals.
Bad: I seek a profession in the competitive discipline of digital marketing.
Good: I want to pursue a career in digital marketing.
Be yourself; be honest about your goals and aspirations, and you will get in.
Statement of Purpose Example
Here is a free statement of purpose example you may use for mastering how to write a statement of purpose and its formatting. Avoid rewriting someone else’s work. As we have said before, be unique and genuine.
Watching a child grow and develop thanks to your teachings is beautiful and inexplicable. Some come to you with a passion for learning, while others are hesitant, slow learners. Nevertheless, every one of them is an individual with a unique character and personality.
I wanted to become a teacher ever since primary school. Being exposed to socially and culturally diverse groups of students has broadened my perspective on the world. In pursuing the Master of Arts degree, I aim to enrich my skillset and transform my passion for teaching into a career.
Checklist for a Statement of Purpose
Mastering how to write a statement of purpose is just half of the work. The most important part is editing; piecing your work together and making it flow. We’ve put together a checklist that you can follow for proofreading. Each statement of purpose is unique; these points can vary depending on your statement. If you feel like something is missing from the list, let us know in the comments and we’ll add it:
- Introduce yourself;
- Show your passion for the field of study;
- Give background on why you’re involved in this field;
- Describe your academic experience in this field;
- Answer the questions that the admission committee would like to know as discussed in this article;
- Say which classes or activities you look forward to in your studies;
- Name your academic and extracurricular achievements;
- Name your accomplishments in the field: speeches, official publications, awards, etc.;
- Name a problem would you like to address in the world, if any;
- Explain why you’ve chosen this specific school;
- Mention specific reasons for applying to this college like location, subjects, professors, etc.;
- Use descriptive language and storytelling;
- Avoid cliches like “I always dreamed of becoming a doctor”;
- Make sure your hook is strong, and your conclusion leaves a final impression;
- Get feedback from at least three different sources before submitting your work (a family member, a friend, and a professor).