Applying to Graduate Schools in the US: The Statement of Purpose
Vice Provost and Professor, University of Washington;
Fulbright Academic Administrative Fellow
"Perhaps the most difficult part of the application process for admission to graduate school. is the composition of a Statement of Purpose. It may be helpful first to understand a little about graduate education. before undertaking to write this Statement.
Graduate Education Overview
". Faculty at institutions of higher education in the United States take their work with graduate students very seriously. Faculty take strong personal interest in their graduate students (after all, they will work with those students for many years), and expect their students to complete their programs once admitted. Faculty expect their students to go on after graduation to important positions in academia, industry, or government. Therefore, the work of graduate students affects the reputation of the Faculty. As a result, the selection of the right graduate students is very important to both the faculty and the long term reputation of the department and university.
Why the Statement of Purpose?
" Faculty want to know as much as they possibly can about all applicants. This is especially true today because most graduate programs have only a limited number of admission slots available. Test scores, grades and degrees, institutions of previous study and personal recommendations are all important indicators of an applicant's future success. However, these data do not reveal much about the individual, his/her motivation, why the applicant is interested in that particular program, or whether the applicant is the kind of student the Faculty want around the department. The Statement of Purpose exists to allow applicants to convey something personal about themselves and to convince the Faculty making the admissions selection that the applicant is an especially attractive candidate.
" The Statement of Purpose should not relate a life story or flatter either the applicant or intended readers. It provides applicants the opportunity to present information that is not conveyed through objective data, in a clear, direct, and concise way, to explain their interests, motivations, goals and special
talents. It must be honest.
Writing the Statement of Purpose
" So with this broad understanding of the Statement of Purpose and its function, how should it be written?
" The first thing to remember is that each application process for each university is different. That means that the questions asked in the application MUST be the questions answered, and answered directly. An effusive, evasive, or non-responsive answer will inevitably result in rejection. Be absolutely clear what the application instructions ask of you and tailor your statement accordingly. That may mean that each application requires that you write a somewhat, if not entirely, different Statement of Purpose, since each Statement must answer a particular question.
"As a general rule, the two generic questions that need answering, at least inferentially, in most Statements of Purpose are: "Why are you interested in this program?", and "What makes you special?". This allows applicants the opportunity to provide Faculty substantive information about themselves. This is where applicants can demonstrate that they did their homework about the program and that they thought seriously about the strengths and weaknesses they bring to graduate study.
Answer the Question!
" The following are some questions that Faculty ask themselves when they read a Statement of Purpose:
Why are you interested in graduate study?
" There is some personal reason that made you decide to continue your education beyond the bachelor's degree. Tell them directly why. This may be something that you have always wanted to do, or for which your parents or others were role models, or perhaps you have recently been excited by new possibilities of learning. All the Faculty had their own reasons for going on to get their graduate degrees and they will want to know that you are truly interested for a legitimate reason. Do not try to write what you think Faculty want to hear ("to advance the field"); they have heard it all already.
Why are you applying to this particular graduate program?