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Writing a successful Statement of Purpose for postgraduate study in the USA

What is a Statement of Purpose?

The objective of a well researched and written Statement of Purpose (SoP) or Personal Statement is to tell the admissions committee who you are, how you think and what you can do. 

Specifically, they expect to see the following:

  • What areas of study/research you are interested in and why
  • How well defined your interests are
  • If these interests based on experience (academic or work) that the school may find useful
  • How you want your career to develop after your studies, e.g. go on and do a PhD, develop a career in academia, research, development, the public sector, consultancy etc
  • How your interests and goals match with the programme you are applying for.
  • How you think graduate school will help you achieve your career goals
  • Experiences you had that will help you make the most of the programme and achieve your goals
  • If you are also applying for a Graduate Assistantship (administrative, teaching or research) you should provide evidence of your ability to perform this role

Preparing to write a Statement of Purpose

  • Get to know the university and graduate school, department and programme you are applying for.
  • Do not limit your research to the institutions' web pages; research the academics involved in your target programme.
  • Don't be afraid to get in touch with administrators and academics if you have questions you want to ask. It is expected that applicants make contact in this way in the USA.

Review what you want to communicate about yourself and the connections you want to make with the programme you are applying for.

  • Prepare your CV and make notes of the relevant knowledge and skills your academic, work and extracurricular experiences have enabled you to develop, e.g. has working part-time whilst studying helped you learn how to manage a heavy workload and multiple priorities?
  • Evidence your interest in your subject, e.g. are there any relevant books, electives or conferences you have accessed beyond your required work which show your interest
  • Evidence of your ability to learn at graduate level, e.g. work you have undertaken independently, research work you have done
  • Explain any inconsistencies
  • Applying for an Assistantship?  You will need to evidence your ability to do this role

Writing your Statement of Purpose

The SoP should be written in essay form. It should have:

  • A clear structure with sentences and paragraphs that flow
  • An introduction, middle and conclusion
  • A consistent and positive tone, which communicates your individuality without being too personal

Advice for writing:

  • Don't worry about the length, you can edit it later
  • Don't repeat information which is available elsewhere in your application unless it is very relevant or needs further explanation
  • Avoid using jargon and abbreviations
  • You should not include activities prior to the start of your undergraduate degree unless these are particularly relevant
  • Check spelling and grammar and for errors, do not rely on spellcheck
  • Get feedback from friends or class tutors
  • Sit down and go over it again bearing in mind the feedback you have received
  • Show it to the people writing your letters of recommendation to get their comments and to inform them of what you have said
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