Glenn M. Callaghan
Department of Psychology
San Jose State Univsersity
WRITING A WINNING STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
I. Determine your purpose in writing the statement
Usually the purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you
are an applicant they should choose. You may want to show that you have
the ability and motivation to succeed in your field, or you may want to
show the committee that, on the basis of your experience, you are the kind
of candidate who will do well in the field. Whatever the purpose, it must
be explicit to give coherence to the whole statement.
Before you start, check out the tips below on "Getting Started"
2. Pay attention to the audience (committee)
throughout the statement. Remember, your audience is made up of faculty
members who are
Pay attention to the purpose throughout the statement so that extraneous
material is left out.
experts in their
field. They want to know that you can think as much as what
II. Determine the content of your statement
Be sure to answer any direct questions fully. Analyze the questions
or guidance statements for the essay completely and answer all parts.
For example: "What are the strengths and weaknesses in setting and achieving
goals and working through people?" In this question there are actually
six parts to be answered 1) strengths in setting goals, 2) strengths in
achieving goals, 3) strengths in working through people, 4) weaknesses
in setting goals, 5) weaknesses in achieving goals and 6) weaknesses in
working through people. Pay attention to small words. Notice: This example
question says through people not with people, if it says
with people, answer that way.
Usually graduate and professional schools are interested in the following:
1. Your purpose in graduate study. This means you must have thought
this through before you try to answer the question.
2. The area of study in which you wish to specialize. This requires
that you know the field well enough to make such decision.
3. Your future use of your graduate study. This will include
your career goals and plans for your future.
4. Your special preparation and fitness for study in the field.
This is the opportunity to relate your academic background with your extracurricular
experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.
5. Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores
such as a bad semester. Be sure to explain in a positive manner and justify
the explanation. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed
by a positive statement of your abilities.
6. Any special conditions that are not revealed elsewhere in
the application such as a large (35 hour a week) work load outside of school.
This too should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and
7. You may be asked, "Why do you wish to attend this school?" This requires
that you have done your research about the school and know what its special
appeal is to you.
8. Above all this, the statement is to contain information about you
as a person. They know nothing about you that you donít tell them. You
are the subject of the statement.
There is no such thing as "the perfect way to write a statement."
There is only the one that is best for you and fits your circumstances.
1. There are some things the statement should not be:
Determine your approach and the style of the statement
Avoid the "what I did with my life" approach. This was fine for grade school
essays on "what I did last summer." It is not good for a personal statement.
Equally elementary is the approach "Iíve always wanted to be a __________."
This is only appropriate if it also reflects your current career goals.
Also avoid a statement that indicates your interest in psychology is because
of your own personal psychotherapy or a family memberís psychological disturbance.
While this may have motivated many of us to go on to graduate study in
psychology, this is not what your audience is necessarily looking for in
These are some things the statement should do:
CONSIDERTIONS ABOUT FORM:
It should be objective yet self-revelatory. Write directly and in a straightforward
manner that tells about your experience and what it means to you. Do not
use "academese" or jargon.
It should form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experiences
such as: (1) what you learned about yourself; (2) about your field; (3)
about your future goals; and (4) about your career concerns.
It should be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances
or draw your conclusions as the result of individual experience. See the
list of general Words to Avoid Using without Explanation listed below.
It should be an example of careful persuasive writing.
WORDS TO AVOID USING WITHOUT EXPLANATION
Keep to the Page Limit Number!!! Reviewers have to read hundreds of these
applications, donít overburden them with extra pages.
Do not leave in typographical errors. You donít want to be taken less seriously
due to a typo, rite? (laugh)
appealing to me
I like it
I can contribute
meant a lot to me
I like to help
A. Recalling and analyzing experience - write short paragraphs on the
1. Pick a memorable accomplishment in your life. What did you do?
How did you accomplish it?
2. What sort of important activities have you engaged in? With whom?
what role did you play?
3. What work experiences have you had? What was your job? responsibility?
How did you carry it out?
Now look over your paragraphs. What skills and qualities do you see that
you possess? For example, consider working with others. Were you a leader?
important "team" player?
Looking at what you have found, you can now look for skills and qualities
that will help you in graduate school. What factors stand out?
B. Your career goals - write two short paragraphs:
1. What career have you chosen? What factors formed this decision?
NOTE: You will undoubtedly have more material than you can use. This is
good, but you need to make strategic choices.
2. What evidence shows that this is a correct choice? That is, how can
you show that this choice is realistic? (Personal experience in the field
is a good place to begin.)