To gain admission into some programs, you need to write a statement of purpose. I’ve had to write three–one when I wanted to study abroad, another when I applied to Teach for America, and the third when I applied to graduate school. What’s the point of a statement of purpose? To make you stand out. The statement of purpose can often be your only opportunity to let an admissions committee or hiring committee see your personality. Grades don’t necessarily communicate anything about you as a person other than how you performed academically. A statement of purpose that’s well-crafted can help support your already outstanding grades or can help make up for grades that are less than impressive.
So what should you put in your statement of purpose? Well, the first thing you should do is make sure that your statement of purpose is finely crafted towards whatever your end goal is. If you’re applying to grad school, you want to show them that you have the traits necessary to excel in their program. If you want to explain that you overcame difficulties in your undergrad, then do so. However, you have to relate whatever you say about yourself to your goal. Don’t just tell the committee that your aunt had breast cancer in the hopes of gaining pity points. Graduate committees and hiring committees aren’t interested in pity. What they are interested in is what makes you a good candidate. So go less for pity and more for overcoming obstacles.
In the same vein, make sure that your statement of purpose is upbeat. Show your reader that you are positive, that you thrive on challenges and that you are excited to have new opportunities. While nobody is positive all the time, when you’re in an application process you certainly want people to think that you’re positive at least most of the time. Be enthusiastic about your past experiences and the benefits that you’ve received from them, and be excited about whatever it is your applying to. Make some specific reference to whatever it is your applying to. For example, say, “I appreciate that your department is small and will allow me to foster strong relationships with the professors and the rest of my cohort.” Show them that you’ve done research and have made a thoughtful decision to apply.
Although this may be a given, you definitely want to make sure that your statement of purpose is error-free. Even if you have a 4.0 GPA in your undergrad and were involved in tons of extra-curriculars, if your statement of purpose is lackluster and full of errors, your chances of getting in diminish significantly. Remember, the statement of purpose is all about how you present yourself, and if it isn’t polished then you’re showing your reader that you aren’t particularly concerned about performing well or that you don’t take pride in your work.
Finally, be specific. Rather than giving a total overview of your entire life, try focusing in on one or two major experiences that have made you a good candidate for the position. When applying to grad school, I focused on three different ways that my study abroad experience made me a good candidate for grad school. Finding one experience that has multiple benefits can be a helpful organizational tool, and if the experience is something that helps you stand out all the better. Your experience doesn’t have to be volunteering at an African orphanage; it can be something as simple as babysitting your next-door neighbor who has autism or taking a hiking trip. It’s all about the presentation.
What are some other tips you have for writing a statement of purpose?