13. Graduate School
By: Steve Krenzel
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How to Write a Statement of Purpose

This post is about applying to graduate school, specifically writing the statement of purpose. I was recently accepted to Cornell and thought my experience could be helpful to others.

The statement of purpose is the single most important part of your application. The GREs, letters of recommendation, and undergrad transcripts are important, but the statement of purpose is the one document that you have complete control of from start to finish. It is what convinces them to look over that one really bad semester in your undergrad or accept that maybe you had a bad day when you took the GREs. If you don't look that great on paper, your statement of purpose is where you set things straight. If you do look great on paper, the statement of purpose seals the deal.

Fortunately, once you know what to write it's easy. When I was figuring this stuff out all I really wanted was a clear and concise "What the hell is supposed to be in this thing?". So here is a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of what was in mine (here is my actual statement of purpose) :

Paragraph 1

An opening that was personal, to distinguish myself from the rest of the world, interesting, to convince the reader to keep reading, and most importantly pertinent, because your future graduate school doesn't care how you met your girlfriend.

Paragraph 2 & Paragraph 3

Two paragraphs explaining a life-long interest in learning for the sake of learning, excelling at challenges, and the very important attribute of self-motivation. Graduate school is hard. They know this and they assume that you'll underestimate how hard it is. Show them that you're coming because of passion, because you want to be challenged, and because you know you can handle it.

Paragraph 4

Why do you want to go to graduate school? And don't say because you want to get paid more.

Paragraph 5

Modest bragging (no boasting... be humble about it) and continue the theme of self-motivated learning. I spoke about my work experiences during college and mentioned Princeton, Stanford, and Google, all of which stand out and tend to grab the reader's attention. I also continued driving home the point that I love learning, and am self-motivated to do so.

Paragraph 6

Why do you want to focus in the particular area that you're applying to? You've already explained why you want to get into graduate school, now explain why this specific program.

Paragraph 7

Why do you want to go to this specific graduate school? You've already explained why you want to get into graduate school, and why you want to focus in this area, by why do want this school? You could apply to hundreds of schools, why is this the best one for you?

Paragraph 8

Why are you the best choice for them? They've got a lot of choices.

Don't write more than one page of content and keep your paragraphs short. Follow this advice and you'll be fine.

About the author
I'm Steve Krenzel, a software engineer and co-founder of Thinkfuse. Contact me at steve@thinkfuse.com.
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