The 5-step guide to writing a killer statement of purpose for grad school

Statement of purpose example for grad school
Your statement of purpose should be purposeful to indicate motivation, methodology, and how your future studies will help you achieve your research outcomes. Source: Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Are you thinking of furthering your studies? Whether you’re a recent graduate or a mature student looking to build on the skills acquired from the workforce, applying to graduate schools is no easy feat. If you’re scrambling to find the perfect statement of purpose examples to guide you through the writing process, we’ve demystified this seemingly daunting task so you can nail your essay. 

Why is a statement of purpose important? 

Your qualifications and past employment tell others about what you do, but the statement of purpose reveals who you are and your motivations for choosing a certain university or programme. It’s a crucial part of your application package that can be the deciding factor between a firm “yes” or a rejection by the admissions committee. 

A statement of purpose may sometimes be referred to as a personal statement. In truth, the latter is often used in the context of undergraduate applications, and has less emphasis on the research proposal component showcasing your academic strengths. 

When it comes down to it, the aim of a statement of purpose boils down to three things: it tells the admissions committee why your ideas are worth pursuing, how it will advance scholarship in your field, and how the university can be the bridge connecting your research to your professional goals.

Statement of purpose example for graduate school

The statement of purpose tells the university why you’re the perfect candidate to join the graduate student cohort, so do your research on whether you’ll fit in beforehand. Source: Philippe Lopez/AFP

Statement of purpose example: The five-step guide to a foolproof application essay

Step 1: Know what you want 

Most students think they know what they want to pursue in graduate school until they have to write about it. Graduate programmes are specialised studies that may be coursework or research-based. The latter involves fieldwork and primary research, culminating in a lengthy dissertation.  

To that end, you must thoroughly research the school you’re applying to. Although rankings and reputation can be useful, they’re not always a good indicator that the school will be a good fit for you. 

Instead, ask yourself if the university’s culture and campus life will suit your learning needs. Is there a professor you’re interested in working with? Does the faculty have the tools and expertise to guide you in your research? Knowing your subject matter and the faculty’s strengths will help you craft a compelling statement of purpose demonstrating that you’ve done your work. 


“My interest in 18th century English stage plays stems from a course I took one summer.”


“In the past, I’ve explored the relationship between the Enlightenment and 18th century English plays. My proposed research will look into the theatre as a space of democratisation during an era of contested hierarchies in Britain.” 

Step 2: Read all the questions 

Cookie-cutter templates won’t cut it if you want to stand out from the competition. It might be tempting and seemingly efficient to send in multiple applications to different universities with the same statement of purpose, but doing so might just cut your graduate school dreams short. 

Check the programme website to see if there are specific questions that you need to address in your statement of purpose. Use obvious sentence markers at the beginning to indicate you’re answering a particular question required by the university. 

Unless specified, you should aim for not more than 1,500 words for your statement of purpose. Make every word count, and cut out all redundant information that won’t help your case. 

Step 3: Structure your answers and write 

There are thousands of applicants vying for the same spot as you, but only a small number of admission committee members sifting through the pile. Put yourself in their shoes — it’ll likely feel tedious reading the same thing over and over again. The trick is to hook the reader from the very first sentence to keep them asking for more. 

Coherence and logical progression of ideas help maintain flow in your writing. Not only are you expected to demonstrate your academic abilities, you need to structure your learning curve chronologically from past to present to your future. The statement of purpose is where you showcase your critical thinking skills to prove that you can analyse complex scholarship at the graduate level. 

So, avoid providing a laundry list of achievements. Instead, engage with your research proposal by connecting the dots between your acquired learning over the years with what you’ll learn at the university to achieve your professional goals. 

Step 4: Be specific in your approach 

Google “statement of purpose examples” and you’ll likely find generalised versions that do little to tell the admissions committee about your motivations and academic capabilities. The challenge lies in reeling them in.

So, are you reading the latest studies or listening to podcasts about current debates in your field of study? Mentioning them isn’t enough.

Provide your own views and how you’ll address them in your graduate research, using the resources available at the university. Is there a manuscript, a rare journal or a collection at the library that can advance your understanding on your topic of interest? 

Don’t be shy in dropping names of people you’d like to work with from the faculty  — doing so tacitly implies motivation and tells the university why you belong.


“I believe the university’s reputation in advancing natural sciences will provide a great platform for me to conduct my research in primate ethology.”


“The university houses rare collections and extensive notes from renowned primatologist Jane Goodall spanning 50 years of her career. I’m particularly interested in closely examining how the use of longhand narratives in her early fieldwork shapes our modern understanding of primatology.”

Statement of purpose example for graduate school

Being specific about who you hope to work with in your intended programme of study conveys genuine intentions about pursuing your research. Source: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

Step 5: Proofread and edit — relentlessly 

Writing your graduate application essay is a delicate process requiring multiple revisions. Once you’ve completed your first draft, let it “stew” — for a few hours or a day or two — so you can return to it with a fresh set of eyes to spot grammatical mistakes and missing points. 

One way to acquire a good statement of purpose example is through friends or former university classmates that have successfully entered graduate studies. You can ask for useful pointers on how to nail your statement, or request a copy so you have an idea of what the overall structure looks like. 

You could also ask them to review your statement of purpose, or get a professor you were close with to read it as they may know parts that need refinement.

Remember, universities are eager to accept qualified candidates. Your job is to make the admissions process easier by giving the committee exactly what they want.