Two Tips for Writing Your Statement of Purpose

So you’re applying to grad school- you’ve got your test scores sent out, transcripts requested, and recommendation letters solidified.  Typically, the final piece to the puzzle that is a complete graduate school application is the Statement of Purpose.  While the prompts for said essay can vary, they usually have the applicants describe the reasons for applying to the program and their desired benefits from obtaining a degree.  Here a just a couple of things to consider while you put together your SOP.

Watch the wordplay.

You likely have just taken the GRE or a similar exam to get in to grad school.  Your mind is swimming with all those new words you painstakingly memorized one flashcard at a time.  It is tempting to pepper an SOP with all this vocab, but be careful.  Overuse of big or flashy words can muddle sentences and become distracting.  Concentrate on clearly stating your points.  There is nothing wrong with using simpler language in order to form crisp and direct sentences.  Example:

“One cannot marginalize the myriad channels through which one may ascertain knowledge within the Master’s Program at Harvard University.”


“The Master’s Program at Harvard University would provide me with a variety of opportunities to acquire the knowledge I need to be successful in the field of Public Health.”

Remember, the admissions personnel reading your essay will likely be reading hundreds of others.  You have one chance to communicate your message to them, so make it as smooth of a read as possible.

Address the given prompt. 

This may seem a bit obvious, I get it, but it can be tough when writing your SOP.  One of your goals, obviously, is to try to stand out to the reader.  To do that, writers may tell a story or anecdote that has a lot of meaning to them.  While an effective way to stand out, it may not be your best move if the story does not address the prompt.  For example, let’s say the SOP for your application must state how earning a degree from the program will help you reach your career goals.  If you decide to write about a trip you took abroad, or a relationship with a family member, but it has nothing to do with the prompt, it will be a relatively useless strategy.  Do not get lost in a personal story.  Make sure you first and foremost provide an answer to all parts of the prompt.  If you have a story or experience which can directly relate to or support your points, then by all means add it in.

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Ryan Kelly

Ryan Kelly is a Health Science major in his fourth year at Northeastern University. His internship experience includes settings in academic research as well as a contract research organization.

  • Barry

    This made me laugh so hard – “One cannot marginalize the myriad channels through which one may ascertain knowledge within the Master’s Program at Harvard University.”
    Great post, thanks! Also, the last few sentences were exactly what I needed to know. I wanted to tell about some of my family issues but didn’t know exactly how to address them. I’ve found some great tips on other website – But wasn’t really sure.
    Thanks for your hard work!