Graduate School Essay Statement Of Purpose

Statement of Purpose (SOP)

What is it?

Each applicant must submit a Statement of Purpose. The Statement of Purpose is your opportunity to help reviewers better understand your academic objectives and determine if you are a good match for the field to which you are applying. The statement of purpose should convince the faculty on the selection committee that you have solid achievements behind you that show promise for your success in graduate study.

If necessary, the SOP gives you the chance to address any gaps or weaknesses in your academic record.  Be honest, but brief.  Turn your weakness into strengths and illustrate how you overcame obstacles, showed resilience and remained persistent in your goals.

Why is it important?

  • One of the most important pieces of your graduate school application
  • Gives the reviewers an understanding of your academic background and interests
  • Helps them determine if you are a good match for the program

Length, Format and Style

  • Unless otherwise noted 1-2 pages is typical
  • Use a standard font and font sizing for easy reading
  • Included your full name and proposed program of study at the top of each page


  • Your reasons for undertaking graduate study
  • Explanation of your academic interests
  • Information on your undergraduate study and any research experiences and how they fit with the program you are applying to
  • Skills you have learned from academic, lab or research experiences
  • Professional goals

Essential SOP Writing Tips

Pay Attention!

  • Follow instructions carefully - some programs have specific items they want you to address in the essay. 
  • Look on the web for information about departments you’re interested in, including professors and their research. Are there professors whose research interests parallel yours? If so, indicate this. Check the specific program. Again, some require you to name a professor or professors with whom you would like to work.

Reading Between the Lines

  • Admissions committee is looking for self-motivation, competence, potential and resilience
  • Be honest – address any important things that happened to you to affect your grades.  Be positive and show your perseverance in overcoming obstacles
  • Evaluate rather than narrate – give specific examples and illustrate


  • Keep the language simple, positive and focused
  • Write with an active rather than passive voice
  • Proofread and pay close attention to details – they matter!
  • Have others read your essay before you submit it

Four Part Outline

Part 1: Introduce yourself, your interests and motivations

Part 2: Summarize your academic career

  • Research you conducted – title of project, research mentor, your role and the outcome.

  • Important papers or thesis project you completed, as well as anything scholarly beyond your curricular requirements.

  • Relevant work or internship experience as related to the field you are applying to

Part 3: Discuss relevance of your recent and current activities

  • If you graduated and worked prior to returning to grad school, indicate what you’ve been doing, what you learned and how this helped you prepare for and focus your graduate studies.

Part 4: Elaborate on your academic interests

  • Indicate what you would like to study in graduate school in enough detail to convince the faculty that you understand the scope of research in their discipline, and are engaged with current research themes.
  • Pose a question, define a problem, or indicate a theme that you would like to address, and questions that arise from contemporary research.  

Statement of Purpose Graduate School: Introductions

The introduction is the most important part of a statement of purpose for graduate school. The function of the introduction is to capture the reader’s interest, encouraging him to continue reading. If an introduction is hackneyed, boring, repetitive or poorly written, the reader will not be motivated to continue reading. Therefore, a statement of purpose graduate school should include an appealing, captivating or intriguing anecdote for the opening paragraph, in order to encourage the reader to continue.

Introductions for statements of purpose for graduate school can be unique, compelling, or instructive in style. A humorous introduction or a very sad one may intrigue the reader’s interest as well. There are as many “correct” introductions for statements of purpose for graduate school as there are applicants submitting them. The introduction works best at convincing the reader to keep reading if it is a personal story. A shared experience is an excellent way to open the statement of purpose for graduate school.

The writer of a veterinary school personal statement may offer a story from childhood which illustrates her early love for science and animals. Or the young man from a foreign country may hope to study medicine here, in order to return home after completing medical school and residency to help his country raise their healthcare standards.

Stories from natural disasters and subsequent relief efforts are popular themes for introductions for a graduate school statement of purpose. Serious issues, such as homelessness and environmental concerns, also provide excellent topics for introductions to a relevant statement of purpose for graduate school.

Start with a Bang in Your Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

The entire essay does not have to follow the storyline of the introduction to be effective. It is possible to establish a theme with the introduction and then weave the statement of purpose for graduate school around and through the essay’s topic. Variety of wording and sentence structure is key to maintaining the reader’s attention.

The statement of purpose for graduate school is important because it establishes the tone of the personal statement. A humorous introduction is not often seen, because many applicants probably thinks it is necessary to be serious. However, a very entertaining introduction can include an amusing story, and stand out because of its uniqueness. Humor should be carefully measured and handled with an eye to the final topic of the statement of purpose graduate school. The introduction may be the most difficult paragraph to write in the statement of purpose for graduate school.

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