The challenge of writing a compelling statement of purpose or personal statement for a graduate school application cannot be overstated. It is the cornerstone of your application and gives the admissions committee a glimpse into who you are, your academic/professional interests, and why you are uniquely suited for the program. We give advice about what to include in statements of purpose regularly. One highly effective technique to get started on your statement is to employ a ‘through line’ – a central theme or idea that runs throughout your statement essay. This post is a step-by-step guide for this strategy, starting with an “interview question” exercise designed to identify your unique through line.
- The Interview Question Exercise:
- What experiences – traveling, learning, volunteering – have been most impactful in forming who you are?
- What do you dream of doing beyond graduate school?
- What papers or projects excited you in undergrad?
- What achievements or accomplishments do you treasure most?
- Describe your personality to someone you’ve just met.
- Identifying Your Through Line:
- Structuring Your Statement:
- Writing and Revising:
Begin by envisioning an interview with a graduate school admissions committee. Consider some of the most significant questions they may ask you to understand your motivation, interests, and goals. For example:
Spend some time answering these questions, noting 2-3 major themes or points that emerge. These will serve as the potential through lines for your statement.
Your through line should drive the core of your statement – it could be a question you want to answer, a challenge you want to overcome, or a change you wish to bring about in your field. Look at the themes you identified in step one and consider which is most central to your academic journey and future goals. This becomes your through line.
Once you’ve identified your through line, it’s time to structure your statement. The through line is the backbone of your statement. Begin by providing a background, perhaps a story or experience that ignited your interest in your field (relating to your through line). Next, discuss the evolution of your interest and support it with academic, professional, or personal experiences. This serves to demonstrate your commitment and understanding of the field.
Finally, discuss your future goals, tying them back to the through line. Explain how graduate study in general–and that chosen graduate program in particular–will help you advance these goals. Ensure that your goals are both ambitious and realistic, demonstrating that you are motivated but also understand the path you are embarking on.
As you write, continually refer back to your through line. Every point you make should in some way tie back to it, demonstrating a clear focus and direction in your statement. Keep your language professional yet personal – the admissions committee is interested in you as an individual as well as an academic.
Revise your statement for clarity, coherence, and impact. Seek feedback from professors, colleagues, or mentors who can provide constructive criticism. This stage is crucial as it not only helps in eliminating errors but also in ensuring your through line remains strong and clear.
Crafting a strong statement of purpose or personal statement is a process that requires introspection, clarity, and a great deal of revision. The through line technique serves as an effective strategy to create a coherent and compelling narrative that will make you stand out in the pool of applicants. Remember, your statement is your story, and with a clear through line, you are better equipped to tell it compellingly.
This exercise is just a guide; feel free to modify it according to your needs and preferences. The goal is to create a powerful narrative that highlights your unique journey and aspirations, bound together by a compelling through line. Good luck!