How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

For some prospective students, writing a statement of purpose is the most dreaded part of the application process. It takes some serious thought, making it both easy to procrastinate and difficult to finish.

When applying to graduate school at Colorado State University, I found it much, much easier to take care of my resume, references, transcripts and just about everything else compared to my statement of purpose. But it was the lynch pin of my application materials, the one thing holding it all together. If you’re putting off writing your statement, or you’re spinning the wheels and can’t get it done, I encourage you to grab a pen and paper – or your trusty tablet – and jot down these tips for crafting a statement of purpose.

  1. Remember Why You’re Writing This
    The statement of purpose is a chance to introduce yourself to the review committee and explain why this program is a good fit for you and your career. It is the cover letter for your application materials, an opportunity for you to be personable and persuasive and provide information not covered in other materials. Your statement should convince the review committee that 1) you are a good fit for the program, 2) you’ve carefully considered the program’s curriculum and have a plan to complete it, and 3) you have solid potential to excel in graduate school.
  1. Write Out Your Goal
    In a single sentence, state why you are applying to graduate school in terms of your educational and long-term career objectives. When writing and editing the rest of your statement of purpose, make sure all you include in it relates back to this goal. To give you an example, the (admittedly verbose) goal from my own statement of purpose read:Through graduate studies in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University, I want to meld my professional skills and passion for our planet with the goal of becoming a writer or communication specialist for an environmental nonprofit, consulting firm, government agency or publication.
  1. Crank Out the First Paragraph
    With a goal written, you’ve already got a sentence of the first paragraph done. Nice! Expand on this goal to develop the intro paragraph for your statement of purpose. Touch on why you are pursuing graduate school and what makes you passionate about your field in your intro. Really, the focus of the paragraph is up to you, but consider closing the intro paragraph with your goal so it’s clear to the review committee.
  1. Hit the Highlights
    Get out your resume. Scan it and note educational, work, volunteer and other experiences that relate to your goal. Take a few moments to brainstorm other relevant experiences not included in your resume. In the next few paragraphs, you’ll want to create a narrative explaining how you’ve gotten to where you are today with your career. Depending on what you have to mention, you can write this narrative chronologically or simply hit the highlights. If you have experience not relevant to your goal, strongly consider skipping it. For example, I studied journalism and psychology as an undergraduate. In my statement of purpose for graduate school at CSU, I played up my journalism background and only briefly mentioned psychology.
  1. Outline Your Academic Plan
    Get out the program’s curriculum. Scan it and note courses you are excited to take and faculty members with whom you hope to work. In the next few paragraphs, you’ll want to outline your plan for completing the degree and explain how specific courses will help you achieve your career objectives. If you mention professors by name, tell briefly how their interests align with your own. Email those individuals prior to applying so it’s not just name-dropping. If you’ll need to complete a thesis, also mention topics you might pursue and your ability to secure funding, partnerships and other resources needed to complete it.
  1. Restate Your Goal
    At this point, you’re nearly done with the first draft of your statement! All you have left is the closing paragraph. Start off the paragraph by restating your goal. My restated goal read:Through the Master of Science in Public Communication and Technology degree program, I can achieve my goal of working as an environmental writer or communication specialist.Expand on this goal as you did in the intro paragraph, touching again on why you are pursuing graduate school and your passion for your field. If you’ve gotten this far and are struggling with a closing sentence, you can’t go wrong with, “Thank you for your consideration.”
  1. Edit, Edit and Edit Some More
    Congratulations! You’ve finished a draft of your statement of purpose, but you’re not done. Give yourself plenty of time to edit and rewrite it. Send it to people who know you or are familiar with the academic process to give you feedback. Make sure your statement is truthful, persuasive and 100% error free. Don’t spin the wheels too long, but don’t skimp on editing.

Good luck with applying to school! Remember, faculty members want students who are easygoing, responsible and prepared, and can work independently. They want you to succeed in their graduate program. Once you get into the program, you will!

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