How to write: Statement of purpose

by Gavin Meichelbock

Laying out one’s life goals, career aspects and how they plan to improve a graduate school they are not even a part of for a statement of purpose is no small task. Thankfully for us, the Peer Learning Facilitators at the Undergraduate Writing Center, or UWC, can help us fulfill this tall order.

Fariah Khan is a fourth-year student majoring in economics and international development studies. Going into her third year working at the UWC, she knows a thing or two about how to write a statement of purpose.

Starting, Khan said that a statement of purpose should not have anything super personal. Statements of purpose are solely focused on academic studies, specific qualifications and relevant work experience. It is also important to mention the names of one or two professors at the institution the student is applying to and how they can contribute to their research, Khan noted. This can be done by discussing previous work experience that demonstrates why they are qualified for and interested in these professors’ work.

Before writing a statement of purpose, the biggest thing people should keep in mind is specificity. “If I took off my name and put your name on my statement of purpose, would it still apply?” said Khan. “It has to be specific to my own experiences. If it’s something that a different student can easily write, then it’s not going to work. It’s not going to make it special.”

The first paragraph should be academic and focused on what brought someone to their major, Khan said. Specific courses students took that sparked their interest in their prospective field should be brought up in the first paragraph.

The second paragraph, said Khan, will connect how their work, courses or personal research have prepared them for their graduate studies. Khan said to use both qualitative and quantitative examples. Qualitative examples would focus on how their work experiences will benefit their graduate research. Quantitative examples would focus on technical skills gained from taking specific classes.

Khan said that the third paragraph is where the writer ties why they are interested in their major to specific research from one or two professors. When talking about a professor’s research, Khan said, it is important not to summarize it. Instead, the writer should emphasize why the research interests them and how they can contribute to it.

The addition of a traditional concluding paragraph is entirely up to the writer, said Khan. When writing a conclusion, Khan said students should avoid the robotic sounding, “Thank you for considering my application.” Instead, use something along the lines of, “I’m excited to move forward with this at your institution.” If the writer does want to have a conclusion, Khan advises them to use it as a way to reemphasize how they will benefit and contribute to their desired institution.

An issue students have when writing statements of purpose is answering all the questions within the limited word count. Khan said to avoid or limit the use of flowery language, as it is not necessary for a statement of purpose. Another tip is to not bring up anything that can be found elsewhere in their application.

Additionally, a big topic to not include in a statement of purpose, Khan said, is money as a part of the decision-making process. “Money is a motivating factor in most people’s decision-making processes (but) …(t)he admissions committees don’t like it when you talk about it,” said Khan. “I don’t like it that they don’t like it, but I would discourage anyone from talking about that … because I know that it can end up putting you in a bad limelight.”

Khan said that another big issue students face when writing statements of purpose is a recurring problem seen in other entries of the “How to write” series: a lack of confidence. Khan said that students should be more confident in their work. Students will often send their statements to tons of people for feedback, said Khan, but they should not dilute their voice because of someone else’s suggestion.

“Take into consideration everyone’s advice, but don’t close your eyes and listen to it,” said Khan. “We’re not going to know who the student is and we can say whatever we want, but it’s up to the student to do what they think will be best for their statements.”

For more help on how to write statements of purpose, click here. To book an in-person or Zoom appointment with the UWC, click here.

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