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 more convincing to demonstrate your interest by talking about any projects you may have done and what you learnt from them. If you have taken the initiative 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 through with it. Have the admissions committee like you! Avoid sounding opinionated, conceited, pedantic or patronizing. Read your essay carefully, 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 outside of your professional life. Keep the essay focussed. Each sentence you use should strengthen the admissions committee's resolve to admit you. So while you may have done several interesting things in life, avoid falling into the trap of mentioning each of them. Your essay should have depth, not breadth. The resume is where you should list achievements. Remember that you have very little space to convey who you are, so make every sentence count.
  4. Pitfalls your essay must avoid : It is a repetition of the resume or other information available from the application form. It could have been written by just about anybody; your individuality does not come through. It is not an honest account in 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). It has embarrassing, highly personal and emotional content that should be avoided unless it makes a unique, creative point. The admissions committee would not appreciate reading about the pain you went through after breaking up with your boyfriend. An account of how you overcame difficult family circumstances, illness, or a handicap, would be a valid point to include in your essay. However, avoid emotional language.

Language Guidelines

  1. Flow : While each paragraph should make a complete statement on its own, the essay should logically progress from paragraph to paragraph. Read your essay for flow, or have someone else read it, and ask yourself if there seems to be an abrupt shift between ideas in two consecutive paragraphs.
  2. Structure : This follows naturally from flow. Do all the paragraphs mesh together to form a cogent whole? Does the essay, through a logical progression of ideas, demonstrate your interest, enthusiasm, and fit in the department you have applied to?
  3. Language : Avoid slang and abbreviations. For acronyms, use the full form the first time and show the acronym in parentheses. Use grammatically correct English and ALWAYS read your essay carefully for spelling mistakes before you send it off - your computer's spellcheck may not flush out all the errors. Try to make your essay crisp, cutting out unnecessary adverbs, articles and pronouns (for instance, a careful reading may yield several "the's" that are superfluous).
  4. Tone : Use a consistent tone throughout the essay - it will only confuse the admissions officers if you alternately sound like Ernest Hemingway and Shakespeare, and is hardly likely to endear you to them! While you should avoid flowery language and cliches, there is no harm in looking for the most apt phrase or sentence. Be careful while using humor - it can misfire and harm your chances.

Polishing your SoP

So now you have a coherent essay put together. You think the structure is more or less right, the ideas flow, and the language isn't bad. What next?

  1. The 'In their shoes' check : Put your essay away for a day or two. When you take it out, lay it face down for two minutes while you put yourself in the admissions committee's place. Think of what you'd look for in an essay, if you were reviewing application essays and see if yours satisfies all of these 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 : It is essential to show your SoP to a few people whose opinion you respect : an English teacher from school, a professor, an older friend, a parent or a relative. Include among these, 2-3 people who know you well. Ask your readers to write their comments on the essay. Also, spend some time discussing it with them. Listen to their suggestions carefully but remember that this is your essay. You don't have to implement 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.
    • Choose a readable font and size, nothing fancy. Avoid special effects like underlining, boldface and italics (except in the title, if you have one). 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.
    • Include a header in the top right-hand corner with your name and the name of the 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