By Reece Gibb
Penning statements of purpose can be a soul-sucking ordeal—such writing is daunting, but for the reason that it requires of applicants feats of embellishment and ingratiation to which they may not be accustomed. However, such processes need not be a trite display, without vigor. Instead, one need only embrace the mindset that statement writing is something of an academic assessment. They are meant as a litmus test of a candidate’s personal investment in the field they wish to pursue. For the better part of a decade, scholars have scrutinized the requisite properties of such statements, concluding what committees desire most are a candidate’s involvement in the field and how the accrued knowledge can be supplemented in the years to come.
Barring any sappy personal stories, the introductory statement should be something of an academic amuse bouche. Berkley graduate specialists put it best in advising applicants to delve into “what sparked your desire for graduate study.” Humanizing oneself in a singular, contrasted way is imperative, especially in devising a ‘hook.’ This “hook” mustn’t necessarily be a story or narrative piece but an accounting of an applicant’s early beginnings within his or her discipline. If an application is applying for an English graduate program, it would not be advisable for a prospective candidate to devolve music preference. Instead, the applicant should answer what work, what person, what circumstances possessed them to pursue “the discipline(s) we inhabit.”
Thereafter, candidates would do well to take a cursory glance back at their academic history. What classes, if any, most piqued their interest? What internships did the candidate partake in, as an undergraduate? Were they or are they conducting research? What accounts for discrepancies in performance on transcripts, between freshman and senior years? How representative are “standardized test scores” to “professional interests and abilities”? Put best by the Princeton Review, the purpose of such writing is to discuss “briefly, an idea in your field that turns you on intellectually,” to provide an estimation of academic character for a committee to scrutinize.
A candidate’s summation of their academic record should then be followed by what elements of that program would be beneficial to their scholastic betterment. Upon perusing the graduate program’s faculty list, which professors do they most aspire to work with? If accepted, what “specific areas or some feature of the program” whet their intellectual pallette? Candidates oughtn’t decide from the outset of their application process the scope or specificity of their work—only establish for the committee what could be. Finally, to what end does a candidate seek admittance to such a program? Plot the future’s course: what do “you plan to do with your degree once you have it?”
Mechanically speaking, limit the usage of quotations, passive voice, adages, idioms, “platitudes and clichés.” Keep a watchful eye on the word limit, be sure to single space, and write no more than two pages. Recruit faculty whom you admire to edit. The objective of such an exercise is not for a candidate to glad-hand themselves, but confirm their competency, to elaborate on the collision of the vagaries and indignities of their life with the discipline in which they are immersed.