The statement of purpose (SoP) is key to admission and funding decisions for graduate school. Here is the response of an Associate Professor to a friend's Statement of Purpose.
If you are still in the process of developing a captivating statement, here is the format this candidate used.
The first rule: Read the instructions on the department's website. They may have unique formatting and writing instructions. If there are no special instructions, you may then use templates. Regardless, the following will enlighten you on how to argue certain points and impress your reader. For this article, we'll do a 5-6 paragraph SoP that shouldn't be more than 2 pages.
Paragraph 1- Writing a captivating introduction: Many reviewers argue that this is the most important part of any writing. It is important to impress right from the start as the professor above expressed. It is beneficial to know who this applicant is and where they are going right from the start of the document. Hence, this paragraph should give us a brief look into your purpose. Other paragraphs after this would now explain your preparedness for this purpose, and why a grad degree would help achieve the purpose. And remember, your purpose is not just a position. See an example below:
There are generally two recommended approaches to describe your purpose in paragraph 1: via a personal story or statistical support. The best ones use a combination of both.
For more explanation and samples from a successful Ph.D. applicant, click here.
Paragraph 2- Your educational and research background: Don't just repeat your CV here. The key is to be concise and describe the fit of these experiences with the graduate program you are applying to.
For example, you could flex your preparedness and fit by telling them you have knocked out some key prerequisite courses in undergrad. If you have a lot of relevant research experience, this paragraph could be divided into two. See other points here:
If you are changing fields, this section is a good place to describe that and why. The key question is can you describe transferable skills or knowledge between the two fields and how you intend to quickly catch up on the background knowledge in the new field. We gave an example of how to argue changing fields on our Instagram page here. For more explanation and paragraph 2 sample from a successful applicant, click here.
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Paragraph 3- Explain other RELEVANT experiences and quantifiable achievements: It gets a bit easier in this paragraph. You likely have a lot of experiences to choose from. Only use relevant ones and avoid repeating your CV. Don't forget to describe the fit to their graduate program.
For more explanation and an example of Paragraph 3, click here.
Paragraph 4- Why this program or university? Why are this university and department the fertile ground for your professional development in this field?
For more explanation and a paragraph 4 example from a successful applicant, click here.
Paragraph 5- Conclude by leaving a lasting impression: Summarize all you have told them. Remind them of your fit to the department/university.
Click here for an example from a successful applicant.
To help reduce the temptation to plagiarize, the samples I referred to in this post are from successful US applicants in different fields. I hope the samples, the key questions, and point-by-point explanations would help you think about your journey and draft your own unique SoP.
When or if you'd be required to appear at a grad school interview, here are the top potential questions and answers collated from the common experiences of 20 successful students in the US.
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