How to Write a Statement of Purpose That Stands Out
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.
Things 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.
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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.
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 to write an essay, 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.
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.
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.
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: