Standing face to face with a Statement of Purpose for a post-graduate program, your hands are shivering and your forehead's covered in sweat. Get ready for the stare down; you’re playing with the big boys now.
Purpose Statement vs. College Admissions Essay
The prompt for the statement of purpose seems to snicker and say, "I am no admissions essay." Fair enough. The transition from undergraduate to postgraduate education crosses an important line between learning for the sake of knowing and learning for the sake of doing. From now on, the major objective switches from proving that you can learn to proving that you can practice what you have learned.
College Admissions Essay
Ranging from as little as 100 to sometimes as many as 1000 words, college admissions essays are personal mission statements with crutches. The crutches are specific questions and prompts that the college admissions office uses to help applicants along in demonstrating their ability to think ahead past their dinner plans that day.
Statement of Purpose
In sharp-as-spurs contrast, statements of purpose do not typically settle for less than 500 word count but often bid for more than a 1000 and usually do not include specific prompts. If the program you're applying to doesn't give a specific length recommendation, around 600 words is a good bet. As the name suggests, this type of essay is future-oriented and focuses on your purpose as a professional or as a researcher, but you better be prepared to show that you already have what it takes to accomplish your purpose. Unlike college admissions essays, statements of purpose should only include personal details that related to your research or desired profession. College admissions committees are interested in what kind of person you are; grad school admissions committees are interested in what kind of professional you are.
Statement of Purpose vs. Applicant
Be sure that you've done some thinking and pre-writing before tackling Statement of Purpose, as a poorly-organized or less-than-comprehensive statement of purpose can be the different between grad school acceptance and rejection. Here are some questions you should consider:
Why are you a good candidate for this particular program?
What are your short-term and long-term objectives?
What are you currently doing?
Which educational and work experiences are most relevant to your stated objectives?
How have you already demonstrated your commitment to your research/professional objectives?
What courses/programs are you planning to enroll in?
What are your reasons for choosing this university/program/course?
Which professors in the program might serve as an adviser or help further your research goals?
Do write a killer opener that expresses, for the admissions committee member in a time crunch, why you'd be an awesome addition to their program and how their program fits into your future goals. Do be truthful and honest in all the information you provide. Do not brag excessively, but avoid false humility. This balance is difficult to achieve when talking about yourself, so have someone who knows your abilities and accomplishments read through what you've got. Do make good use of relevant professional and academic experience. Evaluate your experiences and accomplishments instead of just stating them. Show the admissions committees how qualified you are for their specific program through carefully chosen examples; don't just tell them that you're awesome. Do keep the writing simple and to-the-point. This isn't the time to get bogged down in technical jargon; remember that not everyone on the admissions committee will be familiar with your super specific field of interest. Do emphasize the future, but make sure your goals and objectives do not come across as vague. Do make logical connections between individual segments of your essay and create smoothly flowing text with good transitions. Do have your work proof-read by a professor or boss in a related field or by an academic counselor.
Don't get carried away by autobiographical tendencies, and do not spend too much time in the past. Statements of Purpose are meant to discuss the future. Use experiences and accomplishments from your past as examples to illustrate how qualified you are to achieve your future goals. Don't use overly elaborate and overly informal language, but give your essay a unique and interesting voice. Don't include negative emotions and complaints. The people in the program you're applying to are going to be working closely with you; you should emphasize collegiality and avoid speaking negatively of people you have worked with in the past.
Hopefully we don't have to say this, but don't go looking for trouble by attempting to plagiarize your Statement of Purpose or by hiring a professional to write it. There will be lots of details in the essay that can tattle on you; and before you know it, your Statement of Purpose will find itself misplaced in a trashcan.
Dare to show that you mean what you say. Use wording that accentuates your readiness to accomplish the goals mentioned. So instead of timid phrases such as I hope to or I would like to, slam your fist down with I am planning to or I will do. Good luck!