A strong statement of purpose (SOP) helps distinguish you from other students better any test score or GPA. Most students don’t take this into account, and often write repetitive statements with zero originality. Which is a waste, because these statements are super important for getting you into graduate school.
Throughout this article, we review the things that admissions officers look for in candidates, and offer some guidelines with tips and examples on making your statement of purpose stand out. We also explain how you to use storytelling as a means of communicating your passion, experience, and overall dedication to the subject.
What Is a Statement of Purpose
This is a written statement done in a standard essay form. It describes a student’s motivations for applying to graduate school, demonstrates their knowledge and experience, and gives admissions an accurate portrayal of who they are as a person.
Writing an SOP entails weaving your passion and background into a convincing story which shows your dedication in continuing your educational journey. This statement also tells what career you’re interested in and how this program is an important step for you on that path.
When preparing a statement of purpose, consider:
- Your college: Its facilities,community, location, core values, and how they’re a reflection of yours;
- Your goals: What has driven you to seek out this program, your personal level of dedication, how much background you have in this discipline or field.
Graduate schools seek confident, motivated students. Those who stand out from the crowd usually win that slot.
Not only does a statement of purpose illustrate your personality and drive to continue studying, but it also gives an insight into your writing ability. Basic skills like grammar and punctuation, your vision for storytelling, and your ability to sell yourself, will all be evaluated by picky admissions officers. When writing a statement of purpose, keep your mind on the big picture and present yourself as a motivated student.
Statements of purpose are structured like all basic essays. These papers do not require research and sources. There’s also no need for a title page and a works cited section as you will not use sources when writing an SOP. The format is as follows:
- 12 point Times New Roman (or similar) font;
- 1-inch margins on all sides;
- 1.5 line spacing;
- Up to 2 pages in length;
These format requirements are a basic formality which will show the school that you play long with the principles of academic writing.
How to Start a Statement of Purpose
Before starting out, it’s important to brainstorm and decide on your preferred portrayal of yourself. Review your future goals (perhaps you want a job in the field?) and explain why the school you’ve chosen is an essential step on your path to achieving it.
After you’ve brainstormed and written down your ideas, start making a draft of your statement of purpose where you cover your key principles for applying to this school:
- Intro, 1st paragraph: introduce yourself and specify your goal;
- Body, 2nd paragraph: what has motivated you to pursue this path?
- Body, 3rd and 4th paragraphs: explain why you are a fitting candidate for this program;
- Conclusion, closing paragraph: What are your goals in this field?
As you can tell, SOP basically follows the standard 5 paragraph essay structure.
An example of a good opening paragraph of a statement of purpose would look something like follows:
I intend to apply for the MBA program in Cartoon Animation at the University of Southern California for the spring of 2020.
My motivation to further study cartoon animation is somewhat connected to my daughter’s early fascination with cartoons and comics, in addition to my screenwriting career. I received my BFA in screenwriting in 2010 from Chapman University and became a screenwriter for cartoons immediately after graduating. After I became a father, I had an impulse to make my teenage daughter interested in filmmaking, which was inspired by learning about Steven Spielberg’s early life and achievements.
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Questions the Admissions Committee Expects You to Answer
In this section, we go over some fundamental questions that a statement of purpose addresses. The admissions committee will not ask these questions directly, rather they expect this info to be part of the read. Try to answer them through telling a story to build a full picture of your personality, your aspirations, and your dedication to the program:
- What academic direction have you chosen and what was your purpose in choosing it?
- How did you find this college and why have you chosen to apply?
- If you’re applying for a school abroad, why did you choose this country?
- What background experience do you have in the discipline you’ve chosen?
- What skills do you seek to gain from pursuing this degree?
- What is your post-graduation plan; will you find a job with this degree or continue studying?
- What are your expectations from this school and program?
- Is there a specific professor whose lectures you are looking forward to? If yes, explain why.
- How can your skills and experience make a contribution to the school?
- What are your hobbies, interests, or habits; what are you like as a person?
- How do you think you will fit in with the student community at this school?
- How do our school’s values represent your own, or vica versa?
- How do you stand out from other applicants?
Through answering these questions, you will show the committee that you are the right candidate for this degree.
Statement of Purpose Writing Strategies
A big part of writing a statement of purpose is standing out from the crowd. This is done by channeling your inner writer and crafting your statement into a convincing story. Here are a few strategies that can aid you in crafting an original statement.
Avoid Copying Templates
Many students pen statements of purpose that follow the same basic pattern and don’t stand out. Anybody can take one look at this statement before throwing it into the nearest recycle bin:
I am excited to apply for the Master of Science program at the University of Vermont because I have been interested in science from a very early age. I remember daydreaming in classrooms bout how I wanted to be a scientist/engineer.
Openers like this are bland and lifeless. The writer tells us that they’re passionate for science, but fails to convince us. To be original, communicate the same message through a story.
Story Is King
A story serves to connect you with your reader; make them empathize with you through illustrious imagery and descriptive language. A statement of purpose shouldn’t be narrative, rather contain key elements of a story.
Here’s a boring story:
Working in an office has made me think about starting my own company. Ever since I was a child, it was a dream for me to give something to the world. I was a very creative child. One day after work, I decided it was time to start searching for a business school where I could study to become a great entrepreneur.
This is a boring story because it’s facts without substance. The writer states that they’re tired of their office job, but fail to draw the reader in; there is no vivid or descriptive language used.
Here’s a better one:
I used to work at an office. Every day I would type for hours, arguing with dissatisfied customers and ensuring them that their issue will be addressed in the shortest time. One morning after work, I was feeling drained and decided to take a walk through my beautiful city. I found myself thinking, “I don’t want to work for somebody else. I want to start my own company.” Without wasting time, I jogged back home and started searching for business schools to apply to.
What’s the difference?
In the second story, the writer is more descriptive. The first sentence, “I used to work at an office,” is short and blunt enough to communicate the boredom of an office job. The next sentence describes this job, ironically twisting the “your issue will be addressed in the shortest time” phrase often used by customer support. Throughout the paragraph, the writer uses descriptive words like “drained” and “jogged,” which create a fuller picture than the words “sad” and “ran.”
The second story also follows a 3-act structure commonly used in movies, plays and literature: setup, conflict, and resolution. The protagonist is portrayed as a regular office Joe (setup), who becomes dissatisfied with their job (conflict) and finds inspiration, or even redemption, by reconnecting to their passion for becoming an entrepreneur (resolution).
Be Specific When Talking About Your Achievements
The admissions committee values applicants who are bold and confident in their success. To prove your level of experience, you have to be very specific in stating your achievements, using quotes, dates, award titles, etc.
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood” explains George Orwell, the author of 1984, and one of the many political books I surveyed for my honor’s thesis on political psychology.
To formally introduce my interests and aspirations in digital marketing, I offer a summary of my senior thesis which has granted me the 2007 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Marketing at Vermont University.
Don’t Write the Same Essay for Multiple Schools
The mistake that applicants often make is copy-pasting the same SOP and sending it to several schools at once. This will drastically decrease your chances of getting in as every school looks for unique qualities in each applicant, qualities that demonstrate why you are perfect for their school. You don’t have to write seven different statements of purpose, but a little editing can go a long way.
I have spent most of my childhood in Zanzibar before moving to Middlesex, England. As a result, I’ve adapted to multi-cultural environment from an early age. One of Harvard’s values states “respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others”, and fully reflects my upbringing and worldview.
My multi-cultural upbringing has urged me to research the world out of natural curiosity, and my working-class background has toughened me into a hard-worker who always closes the deal. That is why Stanford’s vision to “advance our mission as a research university to serve as a place of enlightenment and freedom of thought and expression” fully reflects my own.
Use a Formal but Conversational Tone
Although this is a formal document, try to maintain a conversational tone. The admissions committee wants to know who you are and what are your aspirations. They are not interested in your ability to use fancy synonyms and over-complicated language.
Bad: I seek a profession in the competitive discipline of digital marketing.
Good: I want to pursue a career in digital marketing.
Be yourself; be honest about your goals and aspirations, and you will get in.
Statement of Purpose Examples
Here is a free statement of purpose sample you may use for formatting and structural reference, but avoid rewriting somebody else’s work.
Statement of Purpose for Masters of Arts in Teaching Middle Grades Language Arts
Checklist for a Statement of Purpose
Writing is just half of the work. The most important part is editing; piecing your work together and making it flow. We’ve put together a checklist that you can follow for proofreading. Each statement of purpose is unique; these points can vary depending on your statement. If you feel like something is missing from the list, let us know in the comments and we’ll add it:
- Introduce yourself;
- Show your passion for the field of study;
- Give background on why you’re involved in this field;
- Describe your academic experience in this field;
- Answer the questions that the admission committee would like to know as discussed in this article;
- Say which classes or activities you look forward to in your studies;
- Name your academic and extracurricular achievements;
- Name your accomplishments in the field: speeches, official publications, awards, etc.;
- Name a problem would you like to address in the world, if any;
- Explain why you’ve chosen this specific school;
- Mention specific reasons for applying to this college like location, subjects, professors, etc.;
- Use descriptive language and storytelling;
- Avoid cliches like “I always dreamed of becoming a doctor”;
- Make sure your hook is strong, and your conclusion leaves a final impression;
- Get feedback from at least three different sources before submitting your work (a family member, a friend, and a professor).