Graduate Education

How to Write Your Graduate School Statement of Purpose

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Preparing a Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose for a grad school application can seem like a daunting task. It’s your opportunity to speak to the admissions committee and let them know who you are and how their program fits into your career goals. If you allow plenty of time to brainstorm and prepare, you will be able to write a successful Statement of Purpose. Listed below are a few points to assist you in drafting an effective essay.

Before sitting down to write, organize your thoughts.  Answering the following questions may help:

  1. What is your background?
  2. What is your current research or professional area?
  3. What is the goal of pursuing your graduate degree?

After answering the above questions, it’s time to dig a little deeper.  Below are ten points you may want to consider while drafting your statement.  Keep in mind, not every point will apply to everyone.

1. Describe your relevant qualities and accomplishments, and connect them to the program you are applying to.

What are your strongest qualities that will help you to be successful in this program? What are your future aspirations, and how will this program help you accomplish them?  Share your enthusiasm for the journey ahead.

2. Highlight how you will achieve your goals. Demonstrate that you know why this program is a good fit.

There are two questions you must answer: Why you? Why this school? Research your prospective graduate institution.  Read through the school website and learn about the faculty, staff, and alumni.

3. Follow the guidelines provided by the school.  If the admission requirements do not specify a word or page count, it is suggested to keep your essay to approximately 500 – 700 words. Essays should be clear, concise and memorable.

You are responding to a prompt. Follow it and keep your statement succinct. You may be the oldest of 10 children or a proud pet parent — those are interesting details, but they may not be relevant.

4. Avoid large blocks of text. Aim for paragraphs that are no more than five to seven sentences.

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  • A paragraph is your best friend. Break-up the text. Indent. Vary the length of your sentences. Good technique keeps your reader interested.
  • Edit and proofread carefully.  Watch for run-on sentences, spelling errors, poor grammar, and punctuation.

5. Create a compelling opening that grabs the admissions committee attention. Conclude by reiterating why you are a good fit for our program.

Tell a story. Why are you choosing to go into this career field? Was there a specific moment, event or person that sparked your interest in this topic?

6. Cohesion is key. A well-told story will have a greater impact if it is connected to your goals. Do not reiterate everything on your application, transcript(s) and resume.

The admissions committee has already read your application, transcript, test scores, and resume. Your goal here is to tell the committee what these documents do not.  Who are you?  Why this program?  Why this career field?

7. Aim for a balance between confidence, humility, and respect. Avoid making excuses, shifting blame or bragging; however, explain why there may be some deficiencies in your grades or exam scores.  Remember, many schools take a holistic approach to admissions and grades are not always the deciding factor in whether to admit a student or not.

  • Example DO: “In reviewing my transcripts, you may notice that my grades slipped for a period of time during my sophomore and junior years.  Unfortunately, our family suffered the loss of both my grandmother and grandfather, thus during this period of time I was distracted from my schoolwork. 
  • Example DON’T“I didn’t do well in some classes because I have ADHD and the professor couldn’t hold my attention.”

8. Avoid the use of: get, got, give, gave, and “I” statements.  Varying your sentence structure is key to an interesting and readable prose.  Also, do not abbreviate or use contractions.

  • Example DO: “Although a career in business might have led to financial stability, I began to recognize the importance of having an enjoyable career path.”
  • Example DON’T“When I got into XXX University, I discovered that I was drawn to certain classes.”

9. Reference the correct school. Yes, applicants sometimes use the wrong name — a clear indication that they have submitted the same essay to multiple institutions.

If you are applying to multiple schools, your Statement of Purpose should be different for each of them. DO NOT CUT AND PASTE. This leads to mistakes and could lead to a negative outcome.

10. Grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and spelling count. Your essay is a professional document. It should be error-free.

As stated above, but it can not be understated:  Proofread! Proofread! Proofread!  Make sure to utilize the resources available to you. This can include your writing center, family members and friends. It can also be helpful to read your statement out loud to yourself. This is a good way to identify any awkward phrasing and make sure your statement reads well.

Your personal statement is an important component of your application and the one part of your application you have complete control over. By following the tips outlined above you’ll create a well-written, focused, and effective statement of purpose for your graduate application. 

An outside view of Clarkson University's Capital Region Campus building in Schenectady, New York.

If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to the admissions office of the school you are applying to for clarification.

Best of luck,

-The Clarkson Graduate Admissions Team

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