Statement of Purpose

What’s a statement of purpose?

A statement of purpose is a kind of professional essay. Over roughly 2-3 pages you will cover your background, your previous research experience, your career goals, and your desire to study at a particular program and/or with a particular supervisor. Where your CV/résumé is a short summary of your achievements, the statement of purpose gives you an opportunity to tie those achievements together into some narrative. You want the reader to have a strong sense of your skills, personal qualities, and research interests.

How is it different to a personal statement?

They can be functionally identical, or completely unique documents. The confusion here is that, in my experience, many programs will request one or the other while expecting something that is a blend of both.

A personal statement (PS) should be more personal than a statement of purpose (SOP). Where the SOP is largely a discription of your qualifications and achievements, a PS might focus more on personal challenges you’ve overcome or extracurricular work which you think exemplifies some of your good qualities. But, again, everyone seems to have a different working definition of Personal Statement and Statement of Purpose, and so you should follow whatever the prompt asks for, regardless of what the document is called.

What are the do’s and don’ts?

DO

✅ Start early!
✅ Identify what qualities you want convey and focus on showing them
✅ Be specific with achievements
✅ Cover all points requested by the program
✅ Keep to the page limit
✅ Give examples of where you have displayed skills/personal qualities
✅ Keep a logical flow
✅ Check grammar and punctuation
✅ Spell out all acronyms in full
✅ Revise drafts and seek feedback

DON’T

❌ Leave it till the last moment
❌ Get someone else to write it
❌ Talk about your early childhood
❌ Start the essay with a quote or dictionary definition
❌ Overuse vague terms like “challenging” or “rewarding”
❌ Give excessive details about your health, marital status, or other private information
❌ Try to game the font size or page margins to fit the page limit
❌ Use coloured paper or “fun” fonts
❌ Crack jokes
❌ Bad-talk another university, your professors, your family, etc
❌ Reference the wrong university!
❌ Be too wordy or use too much jargon

Got any examples?

You can find examples online for any field, but be careful not to plagiarise. Even the simple act of reading someone else’s statement can put ideas and sentences in your head that are not originally yours. Ideally, you should do a first draft before reading any examples.

You can find the statement I wrote for the University of Oxford here.

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