Applying Insight: Sample Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement with Feedback

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When applying to graduate school, the statement–whether statement of purpose or personal statement–is one of the most daunting tasks. Hard questions can add to your stress: What are the key elements of a successful statement of purpose? How do you ensure your personal statement is authentic? Making sure what you write in your application will be compelling enough for admission can be overwhelming and intimidating. For that reasons we’ve offered some great advice about how to write your own statement of purpose as well as multiple posts about grad school application essays.

The truth, however, is that advice alone isn’t enough to make your statement for grad school stand out. Even the best advice can feel very abstract once you sit at the keyboard and start typing–there is still no guarantee that your statement is saying both what you want it to say and what it needs to say to be effective. You may find yourself wondering where to start, or feeling stressed about whether you’re writing an effective and persuasive essay that also reflects your experiences and goals. That is where seeing statements of purpose from successful applicants can provide invaluable help in crafting your own. On this page we offer a couple examples from our extensive (and growing) library of statements that worked. These statements from our library have gotten students into graduate university programs of all sorts. They aren’t always perfect, but they are always useful. In fact, we include insightful commentary from Magoosh Experts on important elements of the statement that suggest ways to make it work better, and point out what could be done differently. We do this with the goal of helping you create an impactful statement of purpose which you can be confident in including with your materials.

STEM or Humanities

When applying to graduate school, it is important to understand the differences between programs in STEM and those in the humanities. While both types of programs require a statement of purpose, there are key differences that should be taken into account when crafting your application materials. STEM programs typically place greater emphasis on research experience and technical skills. On the other hand, applications for humanities programs may focus more on your familiarity with the key authors and concepts that define you research interests. Understanding these nuances of self-presentation can help ensure that you create an effective application package tailored specifically to your desired program!

Statement of Purpose Example: An Essay from a STEM PhD application

This STEM applicant scored a 155 Verbal & 167 Quant on the GRE. The Statement of Purpose was part of an PhD application in Finance accepted at SUNY Buffalo, Oklahoma State, and the University of Kentucky.

The rapid development of financial technologies has sparked a substantial and rapidly growing corpus of research in this field. Still, these have primarily been examined using empirical research methods; theoretical contributions are limited. Notably, further research on financial resource reallocation can address climate change, aid in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, and assist the global economy in recovering more quickly from shocks, e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the emergence of artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and text mining can be significant, and it thus lies in my research interest

Really great example of using the introduction to establish knowledge of the field with an emphasis on what the author sees as a gap that should be filled, which seamlessly transitions to setting up the author’s research interests.

My first step into the financial world was

A significant topic shift should be organized into a separate paragraph. Having done so would have improved the organizational structure and flow here.

I coded a dynamic website and an android app to open an online retailer’s network of sports goods (STARTUP NAME), eventually leading me to sell more than 1 million products online in the coming years. The start-up generated enough income to support my education and living, helping me overcome the critical economic challenges faced by my family. As the project grew, I had extra money that I started investing in the stock market. I began with swing trading and slowly expanded to intraday and later derivatives, which earned a cumulative 16% YoY capital growth for three years. However, during the pandemic, I was hit hard as my start-up collapsed and my portfolio dropped. I made bad buy-and-sell decisions and suffered a huge loss. This setback, though, helped me realize that I needed to improve my financial literacy. I read books like “Principles by Ray Dalio,” “An Engine, Not a Camera,” and “Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance,” which inspired me and sparked my curiosity in finance. Hence, later, I conducted research for my Master’s thesis in financial econometrics, and I decided to

Really great job of succinctly providing a detailed background. The author accomplishes this through avoiding extraneous details and adeptly using transitions that guide the reader through the various stages of the historical part of the narrative.

Getting ranked among the top 1 percentile of the country, I received the prestigious INSPIRE Fellowship by the Govt. of India to complete my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the coveted research institute of the country, (Undergrad College). Owing to my institute’s interdisciplinary courses, I’ve taken statistics, mathematics, and computer science classes along with my Earth Sciences major’s climate modelling, sustainability, and geophysics classes. Math models to describe physical occurrences intrigued me in earthquake and climate modelling classes. The economics courses further inspired me to apply my quantitative skills to social science problems. Having thoroughly enjoyed it, I did my MS thesis in financial econometrics under Dr. Nandi, where I used statistical (ARIMA, GARCH, etc.) and machine learning (KNN, NNETAR, Prophet, etc.) approaches on 20 years of stock return time series datasets and inferred the effect of temperature on daily stock price volatility. Gradually, I got interested in quant finance and read the work on econophysics by Dr. Gopikrishnan and Dr. HE Stanley. Explaining financial markets through physics felt quite challenging and exciting, and thus I worked on a collaborative project with Dr. Panigrahi, a physicist at my institute. As a part of the project, I worked on modeling the stock market crash with the phase transition phenomenon of physics. Similarly, I replicated some papers in this domain using Indian stock market data. In one of my works, I checked that the cumulative distribution of returns, including both positive and negative tails, follows an “inverse cubic law” with a power law decay exponent close to 3. Previously as a trader and now doing quantitative analysis of financial markets sparked the interest in me towards it to carry my research interest towards financial markets. Later, delving deep into finance by reading papers on JF, JFE, RFS, and JFQA, I realized I needed to improve my economic intuitions and understandings more to find fundamental research questions. Thus,

Again, a great job of not only transitioning to the academic details of the author’s background but also maintaining the supportive organization and structural elements noted in the last paragraph.

The initial years of my undergrad were challenging as I had to manage academic responsibility and the fear of losing my mother, who had been battling cancer since I was 12. Unfortunately, in my third year, my mother passed away after fighting cancer for ten years. My grades dropped and staying away from family was no longer an option. I took an academic leave to support my father and to recover my mental strength. During this time, I overcame my emotional breakdown by focusing on my hobbies, nurtured my passion for coding, worked on several freelance projects, and started my venture (TTKHELO). When I returned to college, I stayed active and worked harder. I strengthened my quantitative skills while assisting professors with their research. I was eventually able to raise my grade and obtain a 9/10 GPA and focused on

This paragraph is a good example of how to address the circumstances around a decline in academic performance. The author does not spend too much time elaborating on the situation that led to the decline, providing just enough detail for readers to understand and empathize with one of the ways in which life can be unpredictable, forcing a change in priorities. What’s done really well is the quick pivot from situation to the actions the author took to heal and get back on track.

Solid shift back to an exploration of experiences and interest-led research. Something interesting to note is the way this author has left placeholders, flagged by parentheses, throughout the essay. This is a great way to maintain the “flow” of developing the more salient points of the narrative. Rather than stop the writing process to look up a forgotten name or title, an author can do something to make a note to return to provide the finer points after the bulk of the writing is complete.

along with research duties, I focused on strengthening my fundamentals through reading and auditing courses. The first book I picked was “Principles of Corporate Finance by Brealey, Myers, and Allen” and understood the concepts of Risk, CAPM, Portfolio Theory, etc. Further, I read a review paper about “High-Frequency Trading.” I learned that HFTs have taken the role of de facto market makers with no fiduciary responsibility in modern-day electronic markets. Intrigued by this knowledge, I worked on a project with (Prof1) to examine the impact of a regulation in NSE that penalized HFTs for having a high order-to-trade ratio (OTR). The cleaning, structuring, and constructing a limit-order book from order-level data and matching it with respective executed trade data was challenging, but this gave me intense training to handle market-microstructure datasets and drove me to pursue empirical research in finance. The frequent meetings with (Prof1) and the hands-on training were my first exposure to the academic literature on finance that strengthened my basics. Eventually, my work in HFT resulted in a co-authored paper that was selected for the Indian Finance Conference 2022. Having an interest in asset pricing, I took up another project with (Prof2). The project involved constructing the betting-against-beta factor for the Indian market to check the effects of leverage constraints over BAB factor returns. Though it was based on an old idea of Fischer Black’s beta arbitrage, the contradictory 2014 and 2022 papers sparked my interest to check this for the Indian market. In addition, I worked with (Prof 3) (Information Systems) as a research assistant in a project which involved computing sentiments around corporate earnings announcements and performing an event study. Working under a professor of Information Systems added some new technical skills to my arsenal, such as data mining, textual analysis, web scrapping, etc. This experience incited me to develop a research project to check stock returns performance around cyber-breach/data-breach events and the inferences that can be drawn about them from the social media chatter of the stock around the same time. Currently, I am co-authoring this work with (Prof 3).

I believe in the mantra “Jack of All Trades, Master of One.” Being a good public speaker and organizer has honed leadership qualities within me. I have won multiple accolades in painting and table tennis (gold medal in national event). Inevitably, my immense love for overall excellence across different fields has resulted in faltering my academics at times, but that, in turn, has taught me

These details don’t connect well with the rest of the paragraph. To strengthen this paragraph, the author should have focused this entire section on love of teaching. When an essay is complete, as part of a final read for organization, it’s important to look at each paragraph individually. If a paragraph strays from the development of a main idea, it’s important to edit out the extraneous details, cutting, adding, or moving sentences to improve cohesion.

Apart from doing research, my love for teaching kept me involved with an NGO, Ek-Pahel. I had committed myself to Ek-Pahel, where I taught mathematics and looked at the overall academic development of the students. While working as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate economics course at IISER Kolkata, I received the highest TA rating across all departments, which strengthened my desire to become a professor. Thus, with a strong passion for teaching and the perseverance and creativity to do research, I aspire to become a tenured professor at a BSchool in the future.

My journey into management research has been enthralling. A wide variety of research projects and literature studies have shown me the breadth of empirical research and trained me for it. Ten years from now, I see myself as an independent researcher investigating and exploring solutions for real-world finance problems. My interdisciplinary background and varied extracurriculars have prepared me to look at multiple aspects of a problem before solving it. My Master’s thesis experience has taught me to develop a project from scratch, understand the importance of data cleaning and structuring, and has prepared me to face challenges as a part of the research. My experience as a research associate at (Pre-Doc Research Institute) has further strengthened my skills. The process of writing a paper has taught me how to convey research outputs and ideas. Working at a start-up has also allowed me to interact with people from various spheres, made me an independent thinker, and

Although these sentences do a nice job of summarizing and signaling to the reader that the the essay is concluding, there is an opportunity to to narrow this down a bit. Does an author need to recap every aspect of history shared throughout the essay? Likely not.

This program will help me follow my passion for teaching in parallel with conducting research to solve finance problems. I want to explore the various areas of the business world through the designed coursework and active research at (university name). Training at the university is essential for my future goal to become a professor in a business school. So, I believe that the graduate program at (Name) College of Business would be a perfect place for me to earn credentials and

This works as a paragraph (and it really should be its own paragraph) that can be copy/pasted into essays for various universities. To strengthen each individual application; it would be a good idea to elaborate on the general claims made about the program with specific examples of program elements, professors and research opportunities, etc. that the author is motivated by or sees as instrumental in future growth.

Feedback Summary

In terms of high-level concerns, the organization, structure and development are fairly solid in this essay, but there are a few places that require attention. For the most part, this is a well-crafted narrative that clearly demonstrates the motivation and desire to pursue a PhD in Finance, with relevant and well-detailed examples.

This essay is ready for polishing. Here’s how to approach that final, or close to final, step in the drafting process:

  • To begin, read through each paragraph and write down its topic and purpose. Once you’ve captured those, look at the details you’re sharing to develop the topic and purpose. Look for places where you might be adding too much or nonessential information. If you find irrelevant or redundant details, consider cutting them. Also look for places where you might be “telling” when you could be showing, or places where you tell and then show. You don’t need to do both, and the telling should likely be cut. This is also a good opportunity to look at how the transitions are functioning between paragraphs. Do they move the reader seamlessly from paragraph to paragraph? Finally, this process is also good for checking whether one paragraph is doing too much and would be better served split into two.

  • Once the paragraph-level polishing is complete, you’ve likely addressed all or most of the big picture concerns, and now it’s time to read through the essay on a sentence-by-sentence level to sharpen the language. Read the essay aloud. Are there any sentences that sound clunky or off? Do you find yourself repeating certain words or having sentence structures that feel repetitive? Are there sentences that are doing too much and could be made more impactful by making them clearer, shorter, and more direct. These are good questions to ask as you do line edits!

  • Of course, getting another person to read through your work at this stage is an excellent idea since we often miss the little things in our own writing because our eyes are more focused on whether we’ve delivered on the bigger ideas.

Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

Philo Essay border

We’ve written on the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose, so check there for an in depth examination. Still, it is important to note there is a difference between a statement of purpose and a personal essay. A personal statement may focus more on your experiences and experiences. Your goal in a personal statement is an authentic narrative of who you are and why that matters to your goals in graduate school. Meanwhile the statement of purpose explains what your academic passions are and why they are good basis for graduate level research interests. While both can be strong elements in your application portfolio, make sure that you identify what you’re being asked to provide so that you present yourself and your goals clearly and effectively – remember, authenticity is key!

Personal Statement Example: A Real Essay from a humanities MA application.

This applicant had an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Augustana University, and the Personal Statement was part of an MA application in Environmental Philosophy accepted at the University of Montana.

One way to establish a through-line is through repetition. Notice that “honest” and “honesty” are referenced multiple times in this introductory paragraph, which tells the reader that honesty will be a main thread throughout the essay. But! Aren’t we encouraged to avoid repetition? Yes and no. If used with finesse to emphasize a point, repetition can be an effective rhetorical device. However, repetition that simply repeats or rephrases an insight or detail should be edited out.

in this statement. The work I intend to undertake demands total honesty, and honest words rarely require much embellishment. In my recent years, I have fallen in love with a place in a way I did not expect. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, I found a face to put on the abstract concept of “environment,” and it is a face I will never forget. My time in the Hills made me stronger, more patient, and above all instilled in me a reverence for nature and its enduring wonderment. I am applying for induction in the Master of Arts in Environmental Philosophy program at the University of Montana because I feel confident in my ability and desire to do the honest work necessary to protect this modern American wild that I love dearly. I believe I can do my part in this honest work with a career as an environmental educator and campus sustainability director.

When I use the term “American wild,”

Good example of defining what could be an ambiguous term for the audience. American wild might mean very different things for different people, so it’s a smart move to clarify that phrase. It’s typically a good idea for writers to provide enough context to ensure that the audience is seeing the details through the intended lens.

It was among the swaying ponderosas and towering granite spires that I found not only abundant beauty and serenity but also a lasting sense of belonging in the natural world. I felt called to the Hills. I was drawn out among the rocks and streams, beckoned with every step to their patient summits, and compelled hand-over-hand up their ancient granite spires. In no other place or time in my life have I felt so completely alive and so utterly myself. It seems strange now that the simple act of climbing rocks could change me so profoundly, but it was through learning to rock climb that my cumulative experience as a student of philosophy, a lover of poetry, and a spiritual adventurer found real traction in my life. I have come to understand that climbing in the Black Hills placed me at the epicenter of the relationship between the “self” and the great American wild.

Great example of descriptive imagery and using that imagery to develop the writer’s journey to a pivotal moment in the writer’s life.

It is the relationship between citizen and community that I seek to nurture and strengthen in my continued education in Environmental Philosophy at the University of Montana.

My experience at Augustana University as a student of philosophy and a member of campus organizations had profound effect on the shaping of my values. The opportunity provided by my alma mater to engage in the earnest pursuit of values in the classroom, on our campus, in our community and in the Dakotan wilderness frankly continues to astonish and inform me. This experience revealed to me the natural marriage between stewardship and education and its ability to strengthen and deepen an individual’s relationship between self and place.

Since the topic sentence and the details up to this point are all about shaping values, and what follows this point is a shift to educational aspirations, a paragraph break would make sense here.

as a result of my continued education in your Environmental Philosophy program are the skills and experiences necessary to become a skilled educator and administrator in the field of environmental sustainability. In placing myself at the intersection between campus culture, academia, and outdoor adventure, I can provide for others an opportunity to find the same honest love and respect I harbor for the American wilderness and higher education. A Masters of Arts degree in this field would be a valuable first step towards this vocation.

Check out how the writers’s diction is able to maintain the thread of honesty in this topic sentence, which also serves as the transition to the “Why This School” paragraph.

. The Environmental Philosophy program projects an atmosphere of authentic engagement between a student’s understanding of values and concepts in the classroom and real-world environmental issues in his or her backyard. I am greatly intrigued by the field course model exhibited by the Wild Rockies Field Institute associated with the University of Montana given its use of the American wilderness as a pedagogical medium for exploring pertinent environmental issues. Similarly, the crossover experience made available by means of working with the College of Forestry and Conservation serves to diversify and deepen one’s understanding of environmentalism in its many forms. Lastly, I appreciate the program’s emphasis on advocacy experience via local non-profit groups that engages the individual in relationship to his or her

An effective “Why This School” paragraph shows that writers have done the research and can relate the specific parts of the program that they are excited to take advantage of. That’s exactly what the writer has done here.

Even here, at the transition signaling that the essay is coming to a close, the writer maintains the theme of honesty.

I succeed as a student because I am willing to ask the hardest and most uncomfortable questions of myself, my peers and my mentors to get at the heart of the matter. I succeed as a climber because I am willing to test my limits, rain or shine, and respect the results. I will succeed as an educator because I can speak to the power of education and its ability to change and galvanize the human spirit. It is my hope that every person has in his or her life a place like my Black Hills – a place that offers adventure, mystique, and spiritual remediation. Such places are deserving of reverence and protection, and I believe education to be the ideal vehicle of such values. I hope you will grant me the privilege and opportunity to participate in the honest work being done by the University of Montana to protect the places we love and respect.

Feedback Summary

This is a well-developed, deeply personal narrative that does an excellent job of adhering to a unifying theme while also using incredibly descriptive imagery and relevant examples to communicate the author’s journey.


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