How to Write a Statement of Purpose

Four Methods:Create an OutlineWrite the Statement of PurposeReview Your StatementSample Statement

If you're applying for a graduate or PhD program, you'll probably have to write a Statement of Purpose. It may be the most difficult—and most important thing you will ever write. Usually two or three pages in length, your Statement of Purpose can make or break your application. We'll show you some tips to write an excellent one!

Method 1
Create an Outline

  1. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 1
    Know yourself. With a well-crafted Statement of Purpose you can persuade an admissions committee to accept you. In order to convince them, you must be convinced yourself. You must be sure of what you want, why you want it, and why that particular program can help you.
    • Why should the school select you over someone else? You must be able to answer that question for yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
    • Before beginning to write, think. Review your intellectual and personal development over your academic career. When you can clearly articulate the history that led you to decide to apply to a particular program, you are ready to begin writing.
  2. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 2
    Write the introduction and thesis statement. Before writing an essay like this, you must have a thesis statement. This is the one sentence that introduces the central idea of the paper. It must be specific. This statement should sum up the basic meaning of the essay, and signal to the reader what to expect.
    • The first sentence is the most important one because it gets the reader's attention. Create a strong opening paragraph of five sentences or less. Briefly explain who you are, where you're from, why you have chosen the particular field to which you're applying, and why the university is among your first choices.
    • Make it count. The first paragraph is very important. It is your introduction, and should hook the reader from the start. You want to make him or her want to continue reading.
  3. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 3
    The body of the paper. Each paragraph should deal with a single central idea. This idea should be introduced early in a topic sentence, telling the reader what to expect in the paragraph.
    • Several ideas in a single paragraph will only confuse the reader. If the central idea has several supporting points, break it into several paragraphs rather than having one very long paragraph.
    • Support your ideas, don't just spit them out without backing—it's like writing a cheque without money in the bank. By giving support to your ideas, you convince readers of their truth and accuracy. If you successfully prove your statements, the reader should agree with your conclusion.
    • Structure the sequence of ideas carefully and logically. Remember, you are mapping a course, leading the reader through the points that support your thesis. You do not want to confuse them, or make them take the long way around. Transition smoothly from paragraph to paragraph to link them together logically. Use connecting sentences to keep the paper flowing smoothly.
  4. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 4
    Conclusion. Restate your thesis and the main points supporting it. In the conclusion, add some new ideas or information to challenge the reader to think further.

Method 2
Write the Statement of Purpose

  1. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 5
    This is the easy part. If you've written a thorough and thoughtful outline, this will just be a process of refining what you've already written. Let's review and expand on the steps here:
  2. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 6
    Introduction: state your goals. The first sentence is the most important one. You want to grab the reader's attention, and not let it go until you are finished.
  3. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 7
    The body of the paper. Flesh out the details of who you are and what you've accomplished.
  4. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 8
    Explain your background. Show that you are academically prepared for your chosen program. Include the following:
    • Where and what you've studied
    • Past research or diploma projects you've participated in.
    • If applying to a program in a different field of study, explain how the skills you learned in earning your degree can be applied to the new field.
  5. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 9
    Describe your professional goals.
    • Why you find your particular field of study interesting. What influenced you to choose that field?
    • Include any related experience or research you've had or been involved in to date.
    • Describe your future plans after receiving your degree. Will you be continuing in your education, or will you be working in your field?
  6. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 10
    Explain your reasoning. Describe what and why have you chosen to study in graduate school.
    • Where your specific interests lie in your field.
    • Why this program is needed for your professional development, and how great is the need.
    • Describe what led you to your choice of university—courses, faculty, research projects, facilities, etc.
  7. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 11
    Write your conclusion. Sum up the main points, and describe what you can contribute to the program.
  8. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 12
    List all the enclosures you will include in your application and give a very brief description of your portfolio.
  9. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 13
    Thank the admissions committee for their time. Chances are they are reviewing hundreds of applications along with yours.
  10. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 14
    Provide your contact information.

Method 3
Review Your Statement

  1. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 15
    Go back and revise, edit and rewrite. Remember to include everything above while aiming for 2-3 pages maximum. This is where being very concise and to the point is important.
    • If possible, let the letter sit for a few days after you've finished writing it. Come back with a fresh pair of eyes and start revising.
    • Perhaps ask someone else edit your letter. Ask for honest and constructive criticism, and be prepared to accept it gracefully.
    • Cut the chaff. Is there anything in your letter that is not absolutely necessary, or doesn't tie well to the other parts? If you can't revise it so that it fits, cut it. Remember that whoever reads your letter has a lot of SoPs to get through, and only has time for the information that matters.
  2. Image titled Write a Statement of Purpose Step 16
    Print your letter, sign it, and include it as the first item of your application portfolio. Be aware that some schools may ask you to submit your letter electronically. If that's the case, convert your letter to a PDF before sending.

Sample Statement

Sample Statement of Purpose

Sample Program Objectives


  • Don't be too technical, i.e., using words or jargon-style expressions within your field that are unfamiliar to you or that you have picked up while skimming literature relevant to your studies; if you use a term blatantly incorrectly it may deter your acceptance.
  • Avoid being too poetic in applying for creative writing graduate programs. Address the questions without too much extraneous material. Your writing portfolio is more than enough writing to show your talent.
  • Focus on your previous and future research experiences. Many students make the mistake of summarizing their CVs. Committees that bother to read your application know already that you're a good student; they now want to see whether you'll make the transition to a more unstructured and self-directed form of learning in graduate school. They look for evidence of this by seeing how you describe your past research experiences and your future plans. The key is not particularly the topic you propose--the committee will expect that to change, as your awareness of graduate school increases. Instead, they will look to see whether you have a realistic and well-informed sense of what a graduate student would expect to do in a degree.
  • Remember that your first paragraph should be no longer than four or five sentences, but it should give a summary of the entire Statement of Purpose. Many graduate committees will read your first paragraph to decide if the rest of your application is worth reading as well.
  • Presentation is very important. Use a legible font (such as Times New Roman) and respect term paper-style margin standards (1" - 1.25") and font sizes (11-12 pt). If you cite sources, be consistent with your style sheet (Chicago, APA, etc.). Do not mail in an SoP with wrinkles and/or coffee stains or it might end up in the trash where it belongs.
  • Don't be overly specific about your research goals if you are actually somewhat flexible. If there are no faculty in a particular department working in your described area who are taking students in a given year, you might be rejected even though you are considered "above bar". At the same time, there's no point pretending to be interested in a broader range of topics than you are.
  • Avoid sending the exact same Statement of Purpose to all the universities to which you're applying. The admissions committee will easily spot a cookie-cutter essay and more than likely reject you. Admissions committees also notice whether or not you include specific references to people, labs,groups etc., within their departments.
  • Don't tell the admissions committee how amazing you are. Avoid empty phrases like "I'm talented", "I'm very intelligent," "I'm a great writer/engineer/artist" or "I had the highest GPA in my department as an undergrad." Show them through your professional Statement of Purpose and application portfolio and let them decide if you are amazing enough to attend their institution.
  • Should you attempt to explain how "amazing" you are, make sure that you justify it. Yet, you must remain humble. For example: "I believe that I have the confidence in myself to strive for the furthest goal."
  • Keep it clear and concise, yet detailed and specific when it comes to faculty and areas of potential research.
  • Apply to as many schools as you can afford to pay their application fees. Four distinct Statements of Purpose for four different universities should be your minimum.
  • Use short anecdotes to highlight your strengths. After committee members have read a few dozen statements, they all start looking alike; some specific and interesting details can help a candidate to stick out. Of course, it helps if these anecdotes are related to the broad point you're making in your statement.
  • Remember that a Statement of Purpose is only one, albeit an extremely important, part of your graduate school admission portfolio. Carefully examine all the requirements on the university's admissions Web page before you submit an application.
  • Don't use superfluous descriptions or poetic phrases. The best SOP is well-organized, but also concise. Get to the point as you would in a cover letter for employment.

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Applying for Tertiary Education