The statement of purpose is an extremely
important part of the application because it gives the
faculty assessing your application their most significant impression
of you as an individual. What are
your motivations? Do you write clearly? Do your interests really fit
those of the department or
school? Can you communicate your ideas effectively? Are there
special things about you that set
you apart from other applicants and make you particularly desirable
as a student?
You should probably write a general statement
of purpose as the first step in even considering
graduate school. Writing your ideas and goals down on paper should
help you clarify your thinking.
If you can get things down in no more than 3 double-spaced typed
pages, you probably have a good
idea of what you really want to do. The statement should reflect
your own intellectual development.
One way to show that is to discuss the points in your life when you
made decisions and what
influenced them -- the decision on a college major, the decision on
a career goal, the family
members and role models who inspired you.
Once you have a general statement, you can
tailor it to specific programs to which you are applying
by talking about the reasons you chose the program -- how it fits
your background and interests. The
application materials may give you a specific format for the
statement of purpose or ask you to
respond to specific questions, but in all cases, faculty members are
interested in your motivation,
your intellectual skills, and your suitability for their particular
The general statement of purpose is also a good vehicle to use to
approach faculty members for
recommendations. Make an appointment with a faculty member to
discuss your statement and ask
for comments before you put it into final form. Also ask for a
letter of recommendation after you have
had the discussion. You will have valuable feedback on your
statement, and you will be
demonstrating your seriousness and interest in graduate school.