Writing a Personal Statement

The Statement of Purpose is an essay about your background, and your reasons for wanting to pursue advanced study in the field or profession you have chosen. If the application asks you to respond to certain questions or cover certain topics in your Statement, make sure that you do so. It is a good idea to read all of the requirements on your applications before beginning your statement of purpose. You'll find that they overlap quite a bit, but there are enough differences that you should be careful to address all the questions even if you have to tailor the Statement to the individual school.

The Statement of Purpose is important to admission selection committees; it provides them with a sample of your writing skills and your ability to present ideas in clear, coherent language. As you write it, ask yourself, "Would I be inclined to admit myself to this graduate program?" Before submitting the statement, seek constructive comments and criticism from friends and advisors. The following is a sample outline which might be used in writing a Statement of Purpose.

Opening Paragraph. This includes one or two sentences that introduce you to the selection committee and state your general reasons for pursuing graduate study.

Background. Briefly describe your community and family background and tell how your interest in, and knowledge of, your chosen field developed. Giving examples, describe any personal attributes and qualities that would help you complete graduate study successfully, such as determination in achieving your goals, initiative and ability in developing ideas, and capacity for working through problems independently.

Qualifications. Describe those experiences that are the foundation for your forthcoming graduate work. Discuss (1) your expertise and accomplishments in your major field; (2) your undergraduate studies in general and how they relate to what you intend to do in graduate school; (3) specific learning experiences that demonstrate your motivation and inspiration for continued study; (4) other relevant experiences such as jobs for community activities, including names of organizations and other concrete detail; and (5) who you would be interested in working with in the graduate program. Be able to describe some of that person's recent work and why you would want to work with that person. The more concrete and specific your examples are, the more persuasive the essay.

Closing Paragraph. This is a sentence or two that should leave the reader with a strong sense that you are qualified and will be successful in graduate or professional school.

Your essay should be clear, concise and well-written. Make it interesting; the committee members will read many applications, so be sure yours gives them a sense of your particular talents and individuality. Talk about yourself and your experiences in positive terms. Usually, a Statement of Purpose is not much longer than one page. Again, Admissions Committees have a lot of applications to look at, so they won't want to read long papers.