As you start preparing your graduate school applications, you’ll notice that they often require two very similar-sounding essays: the Personal Statement and the Statement of Purpose. What’s the difference between them?
Broadly defined, the Personal Statement is, well, personal: it’s about you as a person. The Statement of Purpose is about—you guessed it—your purpose, which is to say your goals in the program and beyond.
Consider the Personal Statement a more advanced version of the essays you wrote for your college applications. This piece should be autobiographical and retrospective, and should take the shape of a story. You might discuss how your life experiences have impacted your personal character, values, and chosen field, and/or delve into educational, familial, cultural, socioeconomic, or personal experiences or challenges. Your Personal Statement can include a general description of your academic interests and career goals, but you can also discuss unrelated extracurricular activities that help explain who you are. Basically, your goal in the Personal Statement is to present yourself as a well-rounded human being—and an impressive one who happens to write beautifully, at that.
Statement of Purpose
In your Statement of Purpose, meanwhile, you’ll drill down into your academic interests and future plans. This essay should be more specific, technical, research based, and goals-focused; here, you’re looking forward rather than backward. Explain why you are applying to grad school and be explicit about your qualifications for acceptance. Lay out your research interests and how they’ve developed through your academic and work experience; if you’ve had formative experiences with mentors, this is the place to mention them. State your career goals as specifically as possible. And finally, discuss your fit with this particular program: which specific professors do you hope to work with? What resources would you hope to make use of? Which classes, research opportunities, and internships excite you most?
Comparison of the Essays
In your Personal Statement, for example, you might focus on your history with concussions, writing about how transformative it was to work with a caring neurologist, and how you hope to provide the same level of care to fearful patients of your own. Your Statement of Purpose, meanwhile, would detail your training and qualifications to date, the reasons the graduate program to which you’re applying would be the ideal fit for a neurosurgeon-in-training, and the specific shape of the career you hope will follow.
If the Personal Statement is a full plate—envision a piece of chicken with a side of roast potatoes and string beans—the Statement of Purpose is just the meat, trimmed of any excess fat. Whereas the Personal Statement aims to give a holistic view of who you are, in the Statement of Purpose, you should refrain from discussing anything extraneous, like extracurricular activities that don’t directly relate to your academic or career interests. In the Personal Statement, you can weave a captivating yarn; in the Statement of Purpose, you should stay on the ball.
There’s a reason why many grad school applications require both: taken together, they should give a full picture of who you’ve been, who you are now, and who, professionally, you hope to become.
The process of applying to grad school is complex. At Collegiate Gateway, we are experienced in the nuances of the grad school admissions process. If you would like additional guidance, feel free to contact us and register for a free consultation – as always we’re happy to help!