Statement of Purpose

Everyone finds it challenging to write a statement of purpose. However, if you start early, give it a lot of thought and receive feedback from faculty in your department, you can develop a strong statement that will increase your chances for admission. It may also be helpful to have a career counselor from the Career Development Center review your work.

General guidelines to remember:

  • There are several different names used for this required piece: essays, personal statement, goal statement, statement of purpose. All are essentially asking for the same information.
  • There is no specific format or outline required for this document. Schools may pose a question in a way that would cause you to frame each essay differently, but much of the information will be the same for each school. As you are most likely drawn to each school for a different reason, no two of your statement of purposes should be exactly the same.
  • The graduate school committee wants to learn more about you as a person. Convey your personality as best you can. Remember they will be looking for traits that will make you an outstanding graduate student.
  • Prior to beginning to write your statement, do a self-analysis to determine what is most important to include. Think carefully about your motivation and about your career goals.
  • The information should be stated sincerely and naturally.
  • Be sure to answer all questions that are asked completely.
  • Proof read to catch any spelling or grammatical errors.
  • While you may develop a generic essay to use as a basic starting point, it should be revised to address the specific information requested by each individual school

The Audience for Your Statement of Purpose:

Your statement of purpose will be read by the admissions committee of the university where you are applying. The committee will generally be made up of a variety of faculty members and perhaps some professionals from the field that you plan to pursue. They will be looking at your level of commitment and passion for your subject. Mentioning specific faculty members whose research you admire or with whom you would like to work with in the department can help show your dedication and knowledge of the school.

Preparing to Write:

  • Start writing early to give yourself enough time to do a good job.
  • Read the questions carefully to ensure you answer them completely.
  • Read the catalogue and research the program in your field.
  • Make a list of information that would be important to include and that addresses the questions being asked.
  • Select the information or ideas that you wish to include in your statement. Keep desired length in mind.
  • List topics and subtopics in outline form.

Questions that will help you collect ideas and information:

  • Why do I want to go to graduate school?
  • What benefits will graduate school contribute to my career plans?
  • What are the strengths of the program that I am applying for at this school? Who are the faculty with which you would like to work? Why did I decide to apply here?
  • What academic and professional work experience have I had in the field? How has it prepared me for graduate school?
  • What is my interest and motivation for pursuing this field?
  • How do my ambitions and plans relate to this program?

Things to avoid:

  • Little white lies: “This program is my first choice…”
  • Flattery: “This program is the finest in the country…”
  • Overgeneralization
  • Philosophical: “Life in the universe is ever-changing…”
  • One-dimensional: “My greatest desire is…my only goal in life is…”
  • Juvenile: “I have always wanted to be a doctor…”
  • Painfully obvious: “I believe my undergraduate education has prepared me for…”
  • Autobiographical: “…and when I was twelve my family moved to...”


Too general: “My work as a teacher’s aide was challenging.”

Better: “My work as a teacher’s aide in bilingual third grade classroom included planning and implementing lessons in English and Spanish, organizing recess activities, and working individually with students who needed extra help with reading and writing skills."

Too General: “I think I can contribute a great deal to the program.”
Better: “I also plan to use the analytic skills developed in my undergraduate studies in Philosophy and the critical reading and writing skills developed in my studies of Literature to contribute to the law school’s journal, and to teach legal writing in the undergraduate pre-law program.”

How do I revise my first draft?

   Check the following before seeking further feedback:

  • CONTENT: Evidence for detail and accuracy
  • STRUCTURE: Paragraph order, breaks, and transitions
  • STYLE & PRESENTATION: Clarity, conciseness, grammar, spelling

Other Helpful Resources:
Comprehensive essay guidance organized into comprehensible lessons.

UC Berkeley’s Guide to Writing a Personal Statement
A guide to getting started on your personal statement complete with a break down of essay content and structure.

Statement of
Comprehensive information on writing a Statement of Purpose as well as samples in a variety of fields.