3 Tips on Creating a Fascinating Statement of Purpose

Congrats! You’ve decided to pursue a post-graduate degree!

I can tell you that it’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done and that as long as you enjoy ramen noodles, the next five years of your life will be an awesome scholarly and self-reflective journey!

Now that you’ve decided to go down this path, there are a few pesky details you’ll need to take care of. One of those things is a daunting piece of writing called a “statement of purpose.”

I’ll be honest, this thing is not especially easy. While most search committees claim that they’re just looking for “acceptable” candidates for their post-grad programs, what they really want are rockstar academics who can boost their department stats, win grants, and successfully complete a degree in the minimum amount of time required.

I don’t know about you, but I’m no Foucault so I found it helpful to keep a few things in mind while writing the SOP that eventually got me into the Doctoral program I attend now!

  • Think Ahead: Use your superb writing skills to make yourself sound super proactive by creating action phrases rather than passive ones. For instance, while you may not have actually started writing a grant to travel to such-and-such place, do your research on grants and locations and then phrase your SOP in such a way that it sounds like you’ve already begun the writing process. This will show initiative and drive – two things search committees love to see in new candidates. Of course, keep in mind that if – when – you’re accepted that those profs in your subject area might ask you about the interests you mentioned in your SOP.
  • Name Drop: Always, always, always do research on the school you’re applying to. Which profs would you like to work with and why? What types of materials or resources do you plan to utilize once you’re accepted? How do you see your research interests enhancing both your specific department and your field at large? Search committees want to see that you’re hardworking and professional, which requires you laying out exactly why they absolutely must have you at their university.
  • Show and Tell: One of the most common critiques I received on early drafts of my SOP was that I wasn’t demonstrating my worth to the department; rather, I was simply telling them what I thought they wanted to hear in the hopes that they would accept me. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it should be that you have to show search committees how important you are to their program by using examples, incorporating your unique voice, and highlighting all the reasons you are a true competitor (awards, teaching reviews, grants, conferences, publications, etc.) This is your one chance to explain how you *above all others* were given a prestigious award in *something that sounds super fancy and desirable*.

Of course, all this can be done without looking like a pompous know-it-all. And, if you want an acceptance letter, then you should absolutely maintain a fine balance between sounding humble and confident.

I promise by your 500th draft it’ll be perfect 😉

Have any tips of your own on writing SOPs?


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  • Reply Justine August 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Awesome tips! I think they’ll be of great use to me when I start my independent research class this summer! This article will keep me going back to my original purpose for the project and not get carried away. Great read!

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda August 25, 2015 at 2:54 am

      Hi, Justine! I’m glad the tips were helpful! With the way you write on your blog, you already have the grammatical, syntactical, and stylistic skills to nail the statement of purpose genre! Feel free to send any additional questions my way or send me a draft via my ‘contact me’ form if you’d like me to proofread it before sending it to a post-grad program! 🙂

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