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Statement of Purpose FAQ

How To Write a Winning Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement

Research the schools.
Before writing comes research - even for your statements. Each school is different, and each difference in the profile of the school may give you a reason to change some aspect of your statement. Reading a brochure is not research. If you're not sure of how to find more information about the schools you are interested in, try visiting a good research library - maybe one at a nearby university.

Research yourself.
You may think you know yourself, but it's easy to forget the details you will need to make a complete statement. Assemble everything you have about your school life, personal acomplishments, and work history, if any. You may be reminded of an award you won, a project you completed, or a special person who inspired you to change your life - all of these may help you to write an interesting and persuasive statement.

Why are you doing this? Why go to school in the U.S.? Why go to school at all? What do you really want from life? Do you want to help others? Make a name for yourself? Support your family? If you have anything interesting and honest to say about these issues, it might make a great addition to your statement. But to get these answers out, you will have to reflect, and search yourself - and know yourself.

Think of it from the reader's point-of-view.
Imagine the terrible job your reader faces. They are getting hundreds of applications - all fairly similar - from many, many well-meaning people, all containing testimony to their authors' sterling characters, vast accomplishments, burning ambition, high ideals, and other such things Your assignment, should you choose to complete it, is to do better than that - or, at the very least, no worse.

Sell yourself.
Who do you think you are, anyway? You need to convince the admission committee that you can bring something to the university that no one else in the world can bring - yourself - and that this is a Good Thing. What abilites and other special traits do you possess? Now is the time to stand out, and to explain the unique contribution that you can make to the schools to which you are applying. Your statement of purpose or personal statement is the one aspect of your application that is completely under your control - this means that you have a great opportunity to make a difference in how the admission committee views you and your prospects with them. Don't blow it.

Don't be boring.
Unless everything else about your application is stellar, you can't afford to bore them. (But don't try too hard to be "interesting.") Above all else, avoid writing "the generic essay." You know the one - "I am Joe Student. I studied at Boring High School, where I earned a 3.(something) GPA, and worked very hard. I want to attend your fine university in order to become a (whatever)..."

What have you done?
Concrete examples will prove that you have the traits you claim to have. Did you call yourself hard-working? Then what have you worked hard on? A job? A science fair project? Your parents' business? A sports team? Or do you claim that you are a problem-solver? What problems have you solved? Describe an actual incident, involving a real problem, or you might as well claim to be an astronaut.

What do you want to do?
If you don't know, or don't tell them, then they won't know, either. And you will have missed a chance to show them why you need an education. If you are an undergraduate, you may not need to be as specific - you can talk about general goals such as "finding constructive ways of helping the poor" or "using my analytical skills to solve problems" as career goals (depending on the school and major to which you are applying) - but if you are applying to a graduate or profesional program, you must have well-defined goals and a specific agenda, and you should probably also express a principled interest in your field of study for its own sake, even apart from your carer goals. Undergraduates may sometimes be able to make a good impression on the basis of general character and ability, but, as an applicant, you need to remember that you're asking the school to use some of its limited resources to help you accomplish something in your life - so what is it and why should they help?

Why should they care?
They are getting more applications than they know what to do with, so you'd better stand out, and offer some reason for them to care about you. In addition to stating your goals, you may want to explain how going to school fits into those goals - especially if you are applying to graduate or professional school. You will want to make your desires into their desires, so that they will want to help you achieve your ambitions by admitting you to their school.

Why is their school in particular a good match for you?
...and vice-versa?

Even if you convince your readers that you are college material, you will still need to convince them that their school will work for you. If you write a gripping statement about your dream of teaching grade school, it may move the readers at an engineering school, but it won't move them to admit you. So, pitch your application to emphasize how your ambitions and talents match the profile of the school to which you are applying. Also show that you will bring to the school those traits that they want from you - the admission committee is trying to build a student body that will support their own vision of what they want their school to be. Show them how you fit into that vision.

Why should they believe that you will succeed?
Make it clear to your readers, not only that you want to go to their school, but that you will be able to handle going to their school. Demonstrate your ability to meet the particular challenges that you will face in their program - and afterward. Your readers are very concerned about your ability to complete their program succesfully, and to make something of yourself once you're done.

Write in clear and correct English.
Write in an organized manner. Don't ramble. Avoid jargon and unnecessary decoration. An admissions essay follows the same general principles as any other essay. One of the most important of these is that writing is trivial - but re-writing is crucial. If you re-write your statment once, you might as well not have written it at all. Revise repeatedly, taking particular care to cut out everything irrelevant.
Tone is difficult to control, but it's fair to say this: your statement shouldn't read like corporation's annual review to its shareholders, nor should it read like a comedy routine. It definitely shouldn't read like an advertisement for a fast-food joint. And finally, don't get too "cute." If your statement includes such gems as "Wow! Are you lucky to be reading this!" It will be seen as a cheap attempt to grab the reader's attention without offering any substance - which it is.

No crayons, please!
Your statement should look good, carefully prepared and clean - don't use a worn-out printer cartrige, for example. The care with which you present your application materials is an expression of your respect for the schools to which you are applying.

Keep it short.
Follow any length guidelines suggested by the school. If they have no suggestions, a page and a half is probably reasonable. Your ability to express yourself concisely makes you look better, so remember that less can be more.

Write for your readers
Tailor your statement for each school to which you apply. Read each school's application carefully; each school will probably ask for a slightly different type of statement or essay, but some may want a wildly different type. Combine this in each case with what you know about that university (you did do your resaearch, right?) in order to make a statement that addresses that school's special needs and character. Some things to think about here are: what does this school pride itself on? How does it represent itself to itself? What haven't you been able to tell them in the rest of your application? What have you already told them? This takes a lot more work than just writing one statement and sending it to everyone - and it's a lot more effective.

Explain anything that might be working against you, but be careful.
If you have weaknesses in other parts of your application - say, a low GPA in your junior year - and you have a real, legitimate explanation of what went wrong, and you can avoid making this explanation look like whining or excuse-making, you may consider including it in your statement. Be careful! No-one wants to hear you make lame excuses, and to do so will not only weaken your application, but may backfire by drawing the reader's attention to weaknesses in your record that they might not have paid much attention to otherwise. However, if you, e.g., had leukemia in your junior year, this might be relevant - it may even make your record more impressive than a year of good grades obtained under easy circumstances would have.

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