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8 Tips for Writing a Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is an essential part of a PhD application. Think of it like a cover letter: it should convince the reader (in this case the selection committee) that you have the right qualifications, motivation and professional goals to pursue graduate studies in their program. Use the tips below to write a standout statement of purpose.

Customize

This first tip is the most important. It is essential that you customize your statement of purpose to each school, program, or project that you apply to. Your statement of purpose should tell the committee why you chose to apply to their school by referencing their professors, resources, or approaches that will help you achieve your academic goals.

Show Your Qualifications

Explain why you are qualified for this PhD program. Include a brief summary of your undergraduate and previous graduate career (if applicable). Talk about the research projects you conducted and your thesis or any resulting publications. Mention any relevant scholarly extracurricular activities you were involved in. If there are special requirements for the program, such as foreign language proficiency or prerequisite courses, you should explain how you fulfilled them in your statement of purpose.

Explain Your Interests

Your research interests should be a major part of your statement of purpose. Set up the topic you want to research by indicating a theme, defining a problem, or posing a question. Talk about what inspired your interest in this topic and how it will contribute to the field and the current state of scholarship.

Show Them You Belong

Your statement of purpose should connect your research interests to the school you are applying to. You should name professors with parallel interests who you would like to work with and use specific examples of their work to explain why. Be explicit about how the school will help you succeed in your research goals. Is the department known for taking a unique approach or having a strong focus in a particular area? Do they have special access to resources that will help you research? This paragraph will have to be tailored to each school you apply to.

Be Concise

Unless a specific word count is mentioned in the application, the statement of purpose should not be longer than one to two pages. Delete any filler sentences or phrases.

Don’t Tell Your Life Story

On a similar note, avoid excess storytelling in your statement of purpose. Don’t waste your limited space telling the committee how you’ve always wanted to be a physicist or about the moment that sparked your passion for history. They already know you’re passionate about the subject—you wouldn’t be applying for a PhD if you weren’t! While your past achievement have prepared for this PhD program, the statement of purpose should focus on your future as a scholar.

Ask For Feedback

When you have written a draft you are satisfied with, ask one of a professor in your field who knows you and your interests to read it over. They can help you see your statement of purpose from the perspective of someone with experience on admissions committees.  

Proofread

This is the crucial last step for any application. Read your statement of purpose over several times to make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. It can be hard to spot errors on the screen, so print out your statement and read it over. Double check that you have spelled the professors’ names and titles of their work correctly. If grammar isn’t your strong suit (or even if it is) it’s a good idea to ask someone else to proofread your statement of purpose as well.

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