statement of purpose graduate school

60 Super Tips to Write a Powerful Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

Statement of Purpose (SOP) is the MOST important part of your Graduate School Application.

As a prospective Graduate School student, you should be able to write a unique story describing your accomplishments, future goals, career aspirations, research interests, how a specific program you are applying will help you reach your goals.

When my wife, Madhura was applying for her Master’s Degree at Duke University and NC State University, can you guess how long it took for her to write her Statement of Purpose?

Over 3 months. Yes, you read it right. Little over three months. As you read the following tips, you will understand why it can take several months to craft an essay that will make you stand out.

The Impact of Statement of Purpose

A typical international student would apply for universities that fall into three buckets

  1. Safe
  2. Target
  3. Ambitious

Statement of Purpose is the MAJOR factor in helping you get admission in your choice of universities, especially in Ambitious school.

Difference between getting admission in Ambitious university vs Safe or Target depends on impression crreated by your Statement of Purpose.


Your test scores, recommendation letters, Academics will remain constant. The only variable factor that you have control would be your statement of purpose for the Graduate School admission.

  • Poor SOP = Admission in Safe (or no admission )
  • Average SOP = Admission in Safe and/or Target Universities
  • Best SOP = Admission in Safe,  Target and Ambitious Universities

So, how do you write the best college essay for your college admission?

Here are some 60 plus tips for writing a great statement of purpose as described by various professors and university websites.

General Tips – Statement of Purpose

  1. Avoid childhood, Kindergarten  and High School stories (Focus more on Under-Graduation)
  2. Every Paragraph somehow relates to your research area, interests and future
  3. What to include: weak vs strong if weak (keep it minimal as possible => Ways you are trying to overcome your weakness (absolutely necessary)
  4. Avoid Excuses (Excuses is for losers) unless it is medical illness etc. You don’t want to make excuses, but you have to talk about the mistakes you’ve made as a learning experience
  5. Including Faculty with whom you want to work with. This demonstrates that you have done your homework
  6. Write specifically for a department ; not an overly general statement
  7. Emphasize on a positive perspective.
  8. Use ACTIVE VOICE not PASSIVE voice while writing
  9. Demonstrate everything by example; don’t say directly, for example, that you’re a persistent person, instead, you must demonstrate it.
  10. Make sure everything is linked with continuity and focus
  11. If you graduated and worked for a while and are returning to grad school, indicate what you’ve been doing while working and why you want to go to grad school.
  12. Give concise examples
  13. Refrain from repeating yourself
  14. Have a strong opening and closing paragraph.
  15. Thank the admissions committee for their time at the end of your statement of purpose.
  16. Length: General (1- 2 Pages standard font 12 pt, 1″ margins)
  17. Personal information should be minimized, if needed eliminated if not relevant to research
  18. Don’t compare your SOP with other SOP since it’s you, you are unique so will be your SOP
  19. Don’t tell you are passionate about it. Instead, show how passionate you are and what you accomplished.
  20. Do not exceed the word limit (if mentioned). This shows you can follow instructions.
  21. Don’t overuse “I”. They already know it is your SOP
  22. Try to keep out of Platitudes, Clichés, Quotes & passages, Contractions (Informal writing => Don’t, Can’t, Won’t)
  23. Don’t assume that everyone knows the Acronyms (NYU, NCSU, ASU, Gatech, UCLA)
  24. Refrain from starting neighboring paragraphs the same way.
  25. Avoid using vocabulary that you do not know or learned for GRE.
  26. Do not make things up!
  27. Don’t copy and paste from Sample Statement of Purpose from online sources.
  28. If possible don’t even search for a sample. It hinders your creativity.
  29. Get your college admission essay reviewed
  30. Again – Be Original, Be Unique and Be Yourself.

In your Statement of Purpose try to answer most/all of these questions listed below to the admissions committee.

Interests and Goals

There are some questions related to your inspirations, Interests and Goals

  1. What inspired you?
  2. How did you get interested in your field?
  3. What drives you?
  4. What motivates you?
  5. What is the career you want to choose for yourself in the future and why?
  6. What are your future goals for graduate school (i.e. M.S.)?
  7. What are your career goals (i.e. professorship)?
  8. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  9. What do you hope to accomplish?
  10. How can this university help you accomplish your goals?
  11. How will you contribute back to the university after graduation?


Questions related to academics that can be answered in your college admission essay.

  1. What are your areas of interest?
  2. Why did you choose your research topic, field or a school?
  3. What is the important class or classes you took which stimulated your desire for graduate study, or a specific project for a class?
  4. What is it about your field of study that motivates you to pursue a graduate degree?
  5. How did you prepare or are preparing to address the issues in this research area/topic?
  6. Who did you work with, what did you do: Internships, projects, employment, research and publications?
  7. What skills do you have? ( Related to technical, Problem-solving skills)
  8. The objective of your work => what are you adding to your current work? Explain why your work is important? (In Projects/Internships)?
  9. Briefly talk about the method. Tell what you found and recommend?
  10. What is the tie-in between your inspiration and your current research work?

Admission Committee

Questions to be answered for the admissions committee

  1. Why did you choose your undergraduate major?
  2. What is the purpose of your graduate study? Or Why the Masters is your next and only logical step?
  3. What aspects of the school, department, program appeals to you?
  4. What characteristics of the school, department, program can help you accomplish your goals?
  5. How will taking up this course of study help you achieve your long-term career goals that you described above?
  6. What do you intend to study in graduate school and why?
  7. What makes you uniquely suited for a particular department, this specific institution?
  8. What positive aspects do you bring to the school/department/program? Or what makes you different/special/ interesting?
  9. Statement of the relation of your experience and skills to your current research and scholarly objectives?
  10. What makes you a good FIT for this particular program?

Click Here, Here and Here for additional resources to improve your Statement of Purpose.

Next: How College Admission Decision Are Made – Video

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