How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

What exactly is a statement of purpose and why do I need one?

An SOP or statement of purpose is often called a personal statement. This is an essential component of your application for graduate school. It describes who you are to admissions committees and what your professional and academic interests are. It showcases how you will bring value to the grad program you are applying to enter. 

A vibrant statement of purpose that is strongly written can be a determining factor for a person to be admitted to grad school.

Your SOP describes who you are and tells your personal story. It relates to why you deserve to attend this university and immerse yourself within the community. Your SOP allows the admissions committee to see who you are and decide what value you will bring to the class and the campus.

How long should my statement of purpose be?

Keep your SOP between 500 to 1000 words and on one page if possible. Students should rely on a traditional font that is readable in an 11-point or 12-point font. Make sure your margins have enough whitespace to be tidy and keep your text clear and simple. Find out ahead of time if the university prefers the document to be double spaced as some do.

Once you comprehend how to format your SOP, it will be much easier to dive in and start your draft. It may feel overwhelming to get started; however, if you break the process down into 4 simple steps, it will be much easier to tackle. 

Check out the following guide to ensure your SOP is properly laid out.

1. Get Brainstorming

This is an excellent opportunity to get out some paper or use your notes app on your phone. Look at the opportunity you have to write directly to the committee. This is a unique chance to address the committee and speak to them through your SOP. 

You can utilize an interesting story, volunteer experience, undergraduate studies, or previous jobs. Consider the special features that make you who you are and get your story outline started. 

Keep these essential questions in mind when you are writing your SOP. Jot your initial answers down to give you a starting point for establishing your first draft or outline.

  • What do I expect to attain from this degree?
  • How will my personal and professional experiences bring value to the program?
  • Why do I want to earn this degree?
  • Where do I see this degree taking me personally and professionally?
  • What program features and courses do I enjoy the most?

2. Create your outline

Now you can take your brainstorming session to the next level. Look at those ideas and develop an outline that will be your writing guide. Use the following example of what an effective SOP outline might look like:


Open with some interesting and unique lines that grab the reader's attention. Next, add a brief introduction about your background and yourself and why you are motivated to apply to grad school. 


These paragraphs and sentences describe your accomplishments and relevant experience that is related to the field. Break things down into three specific examples. Next, add your professional goals as they coincide with the program you are applying to. Lastly, mention what elements you can offer by joining the school and why you wish to attend this particular campus. 


Offer a summary of the information you stated in the body of your SOP. Emphasize how compatible you are with the school and what qualifications you bring. Using an outline like this will offer a map to follow to ensure that your SOP stays concise and is organized well. 

Make the initial draft

Your SOP is supposed to communicate why you are interested in a specific program and describe who you are. However, it needs to help you stand out from the other students who are applying. 

Remember, the admissions staff has your resume, your transcripts, and your test scores on file already. Your statement of purpose allows you an opportunity to share your story in your own words. Be sure to include the following in your draft:

  • Give insight into the things that drive you regarding personal growth and professional advancement.
  • Be true to yourself by imagining an audience when you are writing. Allow your unique personality to be expressed along the way. Remain authentic with your statement of purpose to allow the admissions committee to understand who you are and why your perspective will bring value to the program. 
  • Showcase your interest in the school by highlighting some of the specific program features that excite you the most. Maybe there are certain faculty who are experts in the field that you are looking forward to learning from. Perhaps, it is being able to enjoy working on real-world projects and experiential learning. 

Refine & Edit

There are some key things to make time for prior to submitting your SOP:

  • Triple-check that you have followed all of the formatting directions regarding spacing, margins, font size, etc.
  • Check your word count to see that your statement of purpose falls between 500 to 1000 words. If you have exceeded this word count, edit and delete excess words to ensure conciseness and clarity. Remove extra words and keep your work focused and on point.
  • Carefully proofread for punctuation, spelling and grammar. Have another person read it and use Grammarly for some thorough help.
  • Take a break and walk away for a while. Revisit your SOP with a fresh pair of eyes.

Creating a Lasting Impression

When executed properly, your SOP should leave a positive and lasting impression. It allows you to share your unique skills and background with the admissions professionals. This will help outline why you are an ideal candidate for the program you are applying to. Stay focused on what makes you stand out above the competition and what benefits you will bring to the classroom, the program and the campus.