How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Grad School

Your Statement of Purpose should have a compelling hook (Photo by Kurt Thomas Hunt)

Brad’s fingers started to slip. Panicked, he threw his right hand up as high as he could reach, and shoved his entire fist into the dirt, trying desperately to hold on. His left hand cramped. “No!” he cried, and…

Do I have your attention? Good. While your Statement of Purpose does not need to be as dramatic as the scene I created, it should have a hook, and it should tell a story. A hook is a statement or question that captures the audience’s interest. Once you’ve gotten their interest, you need to follow through with a compelling story. Remember, the faculty read through hundreds of Purpose Statements every year—yours needs to stand out. The best, most authentic way to do that is to set out what motivated you to apply to this particular school. Don’t be afraid to state your case passionately—it is that drive to succeed that your readers are looking for.

As Glen M. Callaghan, of San Jose State University, explains, “Usually graduate and professional schools are interested in the following:

1. Your purpose in graduate study. This means you must have thought this through before you try to answer the question.

2. The area of study in which you wish to specialize. This requires that you know the field well enough to make such decision.

3. Your future use of your graduate study. This will include your career goals and plans for your future.

4. Your special preparation and fitness for study in the field. This is the opportunity to relate your academic background with your extracurricular experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.

5. Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores such as a bad semester. Be sure to explain in a positive manner and justify the explanation. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities.

6. Any special conditions that are not revealed elsewhere in the application such as a large (35 hour a week) work load outside of school. This too should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and your future.

7. You may be asked, “Why do you wish to attend this school?” This requires that you have done your research about the school and know what its special appeal is to you.”

Pick any one of the seven topics above and make it personal. Make it irresistible. There is no other you who has applied to this school before. Let your audience know what sets you apart from the crowd, how you will benefit from their program of study, and how their program of study will be changed as a result of your attendance.

Then, once you have shown how you are uniquely qualified to be accepted into the graduate program of your choice, have someone proofread and review your Statement of Purpose before you submit it. Your best option for proofreader is a professor you respect, but any other set of objective eyes will work. Look it over once more yourself, then send it off. Good luck!

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