Congrats! You’ve chosen a graduate program, read up on tips for applying to grad school, and even wrote a focused grad school resume. But if you’re like many students, you’ve left the most daunting part of the application process for last—writing a statement of purpose. The good news is, the task doesn’t have to feel so overwhelming, as long as you break the process down into simple, actionable steps. Below, learn how to write a strong, unique statement of purpose that will impress admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.
What is a Statement of Purpose?
A statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes referred to as a personal statement, is a critical piece of a graduate school application that tells admissions committees who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you’ll add value to the graduate program you’re applying to.
Jared Pierce, associate director of enrollment services at Northeastern University, says a strong statement of purpose can be the deciding factor in a graduate student’s admission.
“Your statement of purpose is where you tell your story about who you are and why you deserve to be a part of the [university’s] community. It gives the admissions committee the chance to get to know you and understand how you’ll add value to the classroom,” he says.
How Long is a Statement of Purpose?
“A statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words,” says Pierce. He advises that students use a traditional font at a readable size (11- or 12-pt) and leave enough whitespace in the margins to make the statement easy-to-read. Make sure to double-space the statement if the university has requested it, he adds.
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Steps for Writing a Strong Statement of Purpose
Now that you understand how to format a statement of purpose, you can begin drafting your own. Getting started can feel daunting, but Pierce suggests making the process more manageable by breaking down the writing process into three, easy steps.
Step 1: Brainstorm
First, he says, try to reframe the task at hand and actually get excited for the opportunity to write your statement of purpose. He explains:
“Throughout the application process, you’re afforded few opportunities to directly address the committee. Here is your chance to truly speak directly to them. Each student arrives at this process with a unique story, which includes prior jobs, volunteer experience, or undergraduate studies. Think about what makes you you and start outlining.”
When writing your statement of purpose, he suggests asking yourself these key questions:
- Why do I want this degree?
- What are my expectations for this degree?
- What courses or program features excite me the most?
- Where do I want this degree to take me, professionally and personally?
- How will my unique professional and personal experiences add value to the program?
Jot these responses down just to get your initial thoughts on paper. This outline will act as your starting point that you’ll use to create your first draft.
Step 2: Write the First Draft
When you begin drafting content, make sure to:
- Provide insight into what drives you, whether that’s professional advancement, personal growth, or both.
- Demonstrate your interest in the school by addressing the unique features of the program that interest you most. For Northeastern, he says, maybe it’s experiential learning; you’re excited to tackle real-world projects in your desired industry. Or perhaps it’s learning from faculty who are experts in your field of study.
- Be yourself. It helps to keep your audience in mind while writing, but don’t forget to let your personality shine through. It’s important to be authentic when writing your statement to show the admissions committee who you are and why your unique perspective will add value to the program.
Step 3: Edit and Refine
Before you submit your statement of purpose:
- Make sure you’ve followed all directions thoroughly, including requirements about margins, spacing, and font size.
- Proofread carefully for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Remember that a statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words. If you’ve written far more than this, read through your statement again and edit for clarity and conciseness. Less is often more; articulate your main points strongly and get rid of any “clutter.”
- Walk away and come back later with a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes your best ideas come when you’re not sitting and staring at your computer.
- Ask someone you trust to read your statement before you submit it.
Your statement of purpose can leave a lasting impression if done well, says Pierce. If nothing else, stay focused on what you uniquely bring to the classroom, the program, and the campus community. If you do that, you’ll excel.
To learn more tricks and tips for submitting an impressive graduate school application, explore our related Grad School Success articles.