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If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to submit a statement of purpose. While you may be familiar with a personal statement from your undergraduate application, know that a statement of purpose shares qualities with a personal statement but there are key differences as well.

A statement of purpose focuses on your specific goals in the field you are pursuing, whereas a personal statement asks you to reflect back on experiences that have shaped who you are today. Even though your statement of purpose might draw from past experiences in your chosen field, you’ll want to take the direction forward, not backward. Describe why you chose this path, and why you feel you’ll be a good fit at this specific school.

What to include in your statement of purpose

  1. Why you want to enroll in this program
  2. Your specific short-term and long-term goals
  3. How this school or program will help you reach your goals
  4. Details about faculty and courses at this school that can help you achieve your goals
  5. Any past experiences that help explain why you chose this field (although this should not be the main focus)

What not to include in your statement of purpose

  1. Information that is clearly outlined in other materials, like your resume
  2. Cliches, such as “Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of becoming a doctor.”
  3. Too much focus on the past. Remember, this is about where you’re headed, not where you’ve been
  4. Jargon that is intended to show competence in the field, but in reality may highlight a lack of knowledge and make it difficult for the reader to hear your unique voice
  5. Anecdotes you think the admissions officer wants to hear, but has probably heard hundreds of times over the years

Above all, be yourself when you write your statement of purpose essay. Admissions officers use this document to get a sense of who you are as a person, your goals, and what you’ll bring to their school.