Writing a Purpose Statement: 5 Tips to Stand Out in Your Graduate School Application

by Heather Nelson

Writing a purpose statement is one small yet vitally important part of the graduate school application process. As a prospective graduate student, this is your chance to prove you’re capable and ready to work at a high academic level.

Your purpose statement—also called a letter of intent—should not only demonstrate your writing abilities. It should also highlight the accomplishments that set you apart. In your mind, you’re ready to jump into the program, so writing a purpose statement that confirms this is one of the best ways to prove you’re a great candidate. Here are five tips for making your graduate school application stand out.

1. Do Your Homework

When writing a purpose statement, it should be obvious that you’re well-informed about the school, the specific program to which you’re applying, and even the professors you’ll work alongside. Is there a specific professor or researcher you’re eager to work with? Talk about how learning from this person will help prepare you for your career.

Knowing as much as possible about your prospective program (and the opportunities it provides) shows the faculty and admissions decision-makers that you’re serious not just about graduate school, but about becoming a part of this particular program and campus community.

2. Tell a Story

While each program has its own specific requirements, in every arena of study, the people reviewing your application materials want to get a clear picture of you through your writing. Weaving the necessary details into an easy-to-read narrative can help bring you into focus.

America Wheelock, assistant director of recruitment for the Office of Graduate and Professional Admissions at Azusa Pacific University, explained why bringing your experiences and quantitative data about your academic background to life can make a big difference. “You want to make sure to answer the ‘whys,’ give plenty of details about yourself and your experience, and write about how this program is going to change your life,” she said. “Embedding that in the statement is important for the department to know and realize why you’re a great candidate.”

3. Keep It Concise

When it comes to writing a purpose statement, short and sweet is the way to go. Most programs provide a word count, so make sure to stay at or below that number. The longer the statement, the more likely you’ll have admissions officers skimming your writing rather than reading the whole piece. Grab their attention with a concise but compelling narrative that provides details about who you are, the experience you bring to the table, and the passion you have for the program’s subject matter.

4. Proofread Your Writing

“Grammar is a big consideration,” emphasized Wheelock. “We’ve seen some essays that are grammatically incorrect. It may seem like a minor detail, but what a student is trying to prove is that they’re capable of writing at a graduate level.”

To ensure your purpose statement is mistake-free, ask another person to read it for you. Having a fresh set of eyes review your writing can help you see things you may have missed or discover ways to improve the content. “Be open to feedback,” advised Wheelock. “Some students get defensive about their writing, but be open to getting that feedback and be flexible. Your statement will be better for it.”

5. Stay Encouraged

So, what if you put all of these tips to use and still aren’t accepted to your top program? “Stay encouraged,” Wheelock said. “That’s so important. Sometimes students don’t get in to a competitive program, but please continue trying to get to that end goal.”

Your passion for this field of study won’t have waned at all, so stay committed. “A specific program and university might not work, but the best thing you can do is be open to others you weren’t expecting,” Wheelock noted. “Another program opportunity is out there, and they may be looking for a candidate like you.”

Interested in working toward a graduate degree in Southern California? Learn more about the graduate programs at Azusa Pacific University.