Graduate School statement of purpose

Personal Statement

Thegraduate school personal statement is your chance to demonstrate yourunique qualifications for and commitment to your field of study bydiscussing those experiences, and events that influenced your decisionto enter that field.

In thefollowing sections, you will come across some simple guidelines thatyou can follow in order to better your Personal Statement (akaStatement of Purpose).

General information regarding the Personal Statement

Theprimary question admissions committee members ask themselves when theyread a Statement of Purpose is: What does this essay tell me about theperson who wrote it? Academic achievements and good test scores areimportant. But in an era where the majority of applicants have goodacademic records, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguishamong individuals and decide who gets the offer of admission.

Whenyou apply, each of the items in the application packet -recommendations, extra-curricular achievements, work samples – adds anextra dimension to your personality. But it is the SoP that brings youto life.

Is the SoP the main deciding factor?

No. Your academic record, grades and the coursesyou took- are the first section admission committee members turn to.Standardized test scores are useful to know where you stand in theapplicant pool. For graduate schools, relevant work or academicexperience is important. Being from a reputed school or college confersa distinct advantage. What your teachers or boss think of you goes along way towards the school’s opinion. A good work sample can show yourcreativity, skill and professionalism.

However, only the SoP or application essays canbring out your uniqueness. And therefore make or break yourapplication. An applicant who does not take the essay seriously isthrowing away the best opportunity available.

So are the admission officers looking for specific personality sorts?

Well, yes and no. Creativity, curiosity, pridein your work, an enthusiasm for learning, a capacity for teamwork, theability to think independently and so on are all good attributes, andmost of us share these in varying proportions. But what schools lookfor is a mix of individuals that together, form a well-balanced class.This would include several personality types.

How can I impress the admission officers?

It is good to go through the school’s brochureor web site, speak to people about it, visit if that is possible; get afeel of the student mix that they look for and decide if this is theschool for you. However, trying to tailor your SoP to reflect what youthink the school is looking for is dangerous business. The people whoread your application have been doing so for years and are skilled atspotting fakes. They are likely to know soon if a particular author issaying something for effect or if an essay does not ring true. And thatmeans almost certain rejection.

Of course we want to have an effect on the admissionofficers. The important thing is to do so without appearing dishonest.If, for instance, you talk about your deep desire to make society abetter place, your application should reflect it. Have you doneanything about this desire? Can you talk about your actions andexperiences? A small example of something you did, not necessarilyspectacular, can do more towards boosting your chances than the noblestplatitude can.

How honest should I be?

Don’t try to be something you are not. Don’t tryto tell the admissions committee what you think they want to hear. Behonest, look inside yourself and do your best.

Which brings us to the next point – self-knowledge.The people who read your essay want to be convinced that you havethought long and hard about who you are, what are the things youappreciate, what inspires you, what you want out of life, and where youare going from here. It is not necessary to have all the answers. Afterall, several admirable people have no idea where they are going even atage 40 or 50. It is necessary to show that you have thought about thisand that these life experiences have taught you something.

Should I include my resume?

Write out your resume. It is best to get thisout of the way so that your SoP is not a repetition of the informationin the resume. It should instead, use the resume as a reference andhighlight the learnings you have received during some key points inyour career. There are a number of sites that help you to write asuitable resume for your college applications. You could also browseyour local bookstore for resume-writing aids.

Is there anything else I should do?

Research the universities you are consideringapplying to. Find out the strengths and weaknesses of each. Goodsources for this exercise are – university and department web sites andbrochures, home pages of students, your seniors or friends who arestudying at that university or in the same field elsewhere, yourcollege professors, friends in the same field. If it is possible foryou to access the university’s web site, find out which professors workin areas that interest you and write to them about your plans. Someprofessors respond, some don’t – but you have nothing to lose at thisstage. In fact, you could gain a better idea about the areas ofresearch emphasized upon by that particular department.

Tips for writing Graduate School statement of purpose

Background Issues

  1. Ask yourself why you want to study further.

    Take a piece of paper and start writing down all the reasons. Spendabout half an hour on this, so that you can go beyond cliched ideaslike wanting to improve your prospects or contribute to society. Writea few sentences on any reason that particularly strikes a chord withyou.

  2. Make lists of instances you can use in your SoP.

    For example, if you’ve been asked to talk about an important event inyour life, list down events that have made a significant impression onyou. Don’t worry if these are events that are not ‘conventionally’important or seem insignificant; what matters is that they have hadsome influence over you. Similarly, make a list of people you admire orwho have influenced you – this could be a friend, a family member, ateacher, etc. and need not necessarily be a famous person.

  3. Go through your resume

    and reflect on what you have learned from your various experiences: howhave they molded your interests and led you to this point? Pick one ortwo cases that you can talk about in-depth. For graduate school, it isbest to take at least one professional situation and show what you didand learned.

  4. Make a list of schools you plan to apply to.

    As you continue through the background check, you will add a fewuniversities and delete several. A final shortlist of ten to fifteenschools is common. Ask yourself why you wish to study at each of theschools you have listed. For graduate study, it is important to ensurethat your interests are compatible with the research interests of thedepartment you are applying to. As you progress through the backgroundcheck and understand more about your interests through subsequentrevisions of the SoP, add to and improve the list.

General Tips for Better Writing

  1. Express yourself in positive language.

    Say what is, not what is not.

  2. Use transitions between paragraphs.

    Transitions tie one paragraph to the next. A transition can be a word,like later, furthermore, additionally, or moreover; a phrase like Afterthis incident…; or an entire sentence.

    If you are writing aboutTopic A and now want to discuss Topic B, you can begin the newparagraph with a transition such as “Like (or unlike) Topic A, TopicB…”

  3. Vary your sentence structure.

    It’s boring to see subject, verb, object all the time. Mix simple, complex, and compound sentences.

  4. Understand the words you write.

    You write to communicate, not to impress the admissions staff with yourvocabulary. When you choose a word that means something other than whatyou intend, you neither communicate nor impress. You do convey thewrong message or convince the admissions officer that you areinarticulate.

  5. Look up synonyms

    in a thesaurus when you use the same word repeatedly. After the DELETE key, the thesaurus is your best friend.

  6. Be succinct.


    • Duringmy sophomore and junior years, there was significant development of mymaturity and markedly improved self-discipline towards school work.
    • During my sophomore and junior years, I matured and my self-discipline improved tremendously.

    Thefirst example takes many more words to give the same information. Theadmissions officers are swamped; they do not want to spend more timethan necessary reading your essay. Say what you have to say in as fewwords as possible.

  7. Make every word count.

    Do not repeat yourself. Each sentence and every word should state something new.

  8. Avoid qualifiers

    such as rather, quite, somewhat, probably, possibly, etc. You mightimprove your writing somewhat if you sometimes try to follow thissuggestion.

    The example containsnonsense. Deleting unnecessary qualifiers will strengthen your writing1000%. Equivocating reveals a lack of confidence. If you do not believewhat you write, why should the admissions officer?

  9. Use the active voice.


    • The application was sent by the student. (Passive voice)
    • The student sent the application. (Active voice)

    Theyboth communicate the same information. The active voice, however, ismore concise; it specifies who is performing the action and what is theobject. The passive voice is wordier and frequently less clear.

  10. Read and re-read

    Elements of Style

    by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Containing basic rules ofgrammar, punctuation, composition, and style, this indispensableclassic is available in paperback and is only eighty-five pages long.

This information is provided by, Inc. Further information is available at

or via e-mail at

Graduate School statement of purpose

Writing your Graduate School statement of purpose

Remember that your essay has the following objectives:

  1. Show your interest in the subject.

    Rather than saying that you find electronics interesting, it is moreconvincing to demonstrate your interest by talking about any projectsyou may have done and what you learnt from them. If you have taken theinitiative to do things on your own, now is the time to talk about them.

  2. Show that you have thought carefully about further studies

    ,know what you are getting into, and have the confidence to go throughwith it. Have the admissions committee like you! Avoid soundingopinionated, conceited, pedantic or patronizing. Read your essaycarefully, and have others read it to find and correct this.

  3. Demonstrate a rounded personality.

    Include a short paragraph near the end on what you like to do outsideof your professional life. Keep the essay focussed. Each sentence youuse should strengthen the admissions committee’s resolve to admit you.So while you may have done several interesting things in life, avoidfalling into the trap of mentioning each of them. Your essay shouldhave depth, not breadth. The resume is where you should listachievements. Remember that you have very little space to convey whoyou are, so make every sentence count.

  4. Pitfalls your essay must avoid :

    It is a repetition of the resume or other information available fromthe application form. It could have been written by just about anybody;your individuality does not come through. It is not an honest accountin response to the essay question (why you want to study what you do,what you have learned from an event/person in your life and so on). Ithas embarrassing, highly personal and emotional content that should beavoided unless it makes a unique, creative point. The admissionscommittee would not appreciate reading about the pain you went throughafter breaking up with your boyfriend. An account of how you overcamedifficult family circumstances, illness, or a handicap, would be avalid point to include in your essay. However, avoid emotional language.

Language Guidelines

  1. Flow :

    Whileeach paragraph should make a complete statement on its own, the essayshould logically progress from paragraph to paragraph. Read your essayfor flow, or have someone else read it, and ask yourself if there seemsto be an abrupt shift between ideas in two consecutive paragraphs.

  2. Structure :

    Thisfollows naturally from flow. Do all the paragraphs mesh together toform a cogent whole? Does the essay, through a logical progression ofideas, demonstrate your interest, enthusiasm, and fit in the departmentyou have applied to?

  3. Language :

    Avoidslang and abbreviations. For acronyms, use the full form the first timeand show the acronym in parentheses. Use grammatically correct Englishand ALWAYS read your essay carefully for spelling mistakes before yousend it off – your computer’s spellcheck may not flush out all theerrors. Try to make your essay crisp, cutting out unnecessary adverbs,articles and pronouns (for instance, a careful reading may yieldseveral “the’s” that are superfluous).

  4. Tone :

    Usea consistent tone throughout the essay – it will only confuse theadmissions officers if you alternately sound like Ernest Hemingway andShakespeare, and is hardly likely to endear you to them! While youshould avoid flowery language and cliches, there is no harm in lookingfor the most apt phrase or sentence. Be careful while using humor – itcan misfire and harm your chances.

Polishing your SoP

Sonow you have a coherent essay put together. You think the structure ismore or less right, the ideas flow, and the language isn’t bad. Whatnext?

  1. The ‘In their shoes’ check :

    Putyour essay away for a day or two. When you take it out, lay it facedown for two minutes while you put yourself in the admissionscommittee’s place. Think of what you’d look for in an essay, if youwere reviewing application essays and see if yours satisfies all ofthese requirements.

    The admissions officer will also expect to see the following :

    • What areas you are interested in and why
    • How well defined your interests are
    • Are your interests based on experience (academic or on the job)
    • How you think graduate school will help you
    • What experience you may have had that will help.
  2. Showing your stuff around :

    Itis essential to show your SoP to a few people whose opinion you respect: an English teacher from school, a professor, an older friend, aparent or a relative. Include among these, 2-3 people who know youwell. Ask your readers to write their comments on the essay. Also,spend some time discussing it with them. Listen to their suggestionscarefully but remember that this is your essay. You don’t have toimplement every suggestion, only those that make sense to you.

  3. The Final Printout :

    Once you have the final draft ready, do the following before you take a final printout:

    • Run a spelling and grammar check.
    • Read the essay carefully two-three times for spelling or grammar errors the program did not detect.
    • Look for and correct any anomalies in spacing, font and margins.
    • Choosea readable font and size, nothing fancy. Avoid special effects likeunderlining, boldface and italics (except in the title, if you haveone). Don’t use colors. Don’t use special stationery or your letterhead.
    • Make sure that the school and program mentioned in the essay are correct.
    • Includea header in the top right-hand corner with your name and the name ofthe program you are applying to. Use a smaller font size for this.
    • Take a rough printout and show it to someone else who can read it over carefully for errors and anomalies.
    • Keep the final printed copy carefully in a folder till you are ready to transfer it to the application envelope.

Here are some sample personal statements for your reference:

1. Engineering Student

2. Public Health Student

3. Environmental Studies Student


Subscribe to our free newsletter.

Don’t have an account yet? Get started with a 12-day free trial

Related Posts

View all
  • Nam lacinia arcu tortor, nec luctus nibh dignissim eu nulla sit amet maximus.

    Continue reading
  • Nam lacinia arcu tortor, nec luctus nibh dignissim eu nulla sit amet maximus.

    Continue reading
  • Nam lacinia arcu tortor, nec luctus nibh dignissim eu nulla sit amet maximus.

    Continue reading
  • Nam lacinia arcu tortor, nec luctus nibh dignissim eu nulla sit amet maximus.

    Continue reading