Writing a Strong Statement of Purpose
It’s the time of year when seniors are
graduate school applications and finalizing where they will submit applications. The application process can be an overwhelming process as students try desperately to stand out in a sea of strong applicants. However, for many students, there is little guidance available on what a school is actually looking for and what aspects of their undergraduate experiences to highlight. In many cases, the student’s only prior guidepost is their success with their undergraduate application. However, duplicating that process is unlikely to achieve the desired result. This is especially evident when it comes to writing a strong statement of purpose for a graduate school application.
The statement of purpose is the one place in the application where a student can talk about themselves as a person (and not classes they took or jobs they have had). They also get to use their own words and not rely on someone else to sell their best features, as in their recommendations. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to to fall prey to common mistakes. Here are 5 tips to writing a strong statement of purpose.
Focus on your research
Contrary to your undergraduate essay, your statement of purpose should not focus on your extracurricular activities or how well-rounded you are. Your statement of purpose should focus on your skills as a researcher, what your interests are (in terms of conducting research), and who you would like to do research for at the school you are applying to.
Highlight several areas where you would like to work
As you discuss where you are interested in doing research, you should list several (2 or 3) labs and/or professors with whom you are interested in working if you are admitted. You should explain why these labs/professors interest you and what you think you could contribute to their research. Picking only one limits your opportunities, especially if that lab/professor is not taking on new students (you should think very carefully about applying to a school solely because of one lab or professor). Conversely, by listing more than three, you appear unfocused. Interested in more than 3? If you gain admission, you will not be restricted to the labs or professors included in your statement of purpose.
Don’t be cliché
The people evaluating your application have read hundreds (perhaps thousands) prior to reading yours. It is vitally important to avoid cliché statements. Your readers will have definitely heard them all before and these statements will not help you stand out. For example, “I knew I wanted to be an engineer because I loved taking things apart.” Almost all engineers have had this experience. If you want to highlight this aspect of your background, focus instead on a specific project and how it shaped your experience and future plans.
If there is weak point in your application, explain it briefly
If you are concerned about a weak point in your application, use a sentence or two to justify it in your statement of purpose. A common concern is GPA. Occasionally, students struggle during the early part of their college years, but strengthen as they approach graduation. If this is true for you, you might choose to characterize it as an “adjustment period” and describe how going through that period has strengthened you. For example, you might highlight your major GPA to show how you excelled in those core classes.
Check, double-check, and triple-check
Make sure to have your final draft reviewed by at least two people for grammatical mistakes and aspects that are not clear – select your reviewers for their ruthlessness and honesty, not because they are your friends, supporters, or relatives. One very common mistake is applying to school A, but having school B in your letter (or referencing labs / professors from another school). Not waiting until the last minute to prepare your statement of purpose will also help avoid careless mistakes made by rushing.
We hope these tips are helpful. If you are applying for graduate school and would like more information or tips, please let us know.
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