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Writing a statement of purpose

For any writing assignment, the first questions to ask yourself are, “Why am I writing this? What is my goal?” In the case of a statement of purpose (SOP), the goal is to introduce yourself to the admissions committee, and provide them information that might not be covered by other application pieces (transcripts, test scores, etc.).

Your ultimate goal is to convince the committee that (a) the program you’ve chosen to pursue fits your future goals and your past academic experience, (b) you understand what the program will demand of you and what you can bring to the program, and (c) that you have strong potential for excelling in graduate school.

Faculty look for students who are hard workers, responsible and easy to work with, a good fit to the program, can work independently, and can take direction and constructive criticism. Past work experience, past degrees and other educational endeavors (relevant certificates, credit and non-credit coursework), and at least a general idea of your research interests can all factor in to the SOP.

Remember that the review committee will be able to see all the other pieces of your application, so in the SOP, you should frame all that data into one cohesive picture, and distinguish yourself from other candidates applying to the program. What will make you stand out? What can you say about yourself and your goals that will make the reviewing committee want to accept you?

The SOP is your chance to showcase your writing ability, demonstrate your motivation for graduate study, and show your passion for the field. Details will bring your SOP to life, and good organization will keep the readers on track with your narrative.

In writing a SOP, you’ll want to:

  • Do preliminary research about the University to which you’re applying (what areas are professors/students currently researching, etc.).
  • Ask yourself honestly why you want to pursue further academic achievement, and make sure that is the foundation of your SOP.
  • Demonstrate knowledge about the degree, what further studies will require of you, and how it will reward you.
  • Be aware of your audience. Academics will want a polished, cogent narrative, free of slang and written with a consistent tone and feeling.

Don’t just go with your first draft, and don’t keep it to yourself. Share the SOP draft with others who know you, and who are familiar with the academic process, so that your resulting SOP is both truthful and persuasive (and error-free!). Count on going through many drafts – ten is not unreasonable – to end up with an SOP in which every word in every sentence works toward the end goal: convincing the reviewing committee that you are well-suited to the degree program, and that you will be a successful, productive, contributing student.

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