How to Write a Winning Statement of Purpose for Scholarship

The Statement of Purpose (often called “letter of intent” or “application essay” or “graduate statement” by various educational institutions) is one of the most important components of your application process. This document provides the admissions committee with information that allows them to become more acquainted with who you are; what you want to study at graduate school and why; your aptitude and motivation for graduate study in your area of specialization, including your preparation for this field of study, your academic plans or research interests in your chosen area of study, and your future career goals. A thoughtful and well-written statement often makes the difference between admission and denial, irrespective of other qualifications. But applicants frequently fail to do justice to themselves in statements of purpose. In what follows, I offer a few tips to help you to make your best effort. You may also like to read about Writing an Impressive Academic CV for Scholarship.

How to make your Statement of Purpose for Scholarship stand out from others?

Most ‘statements of purpose’ or ‘letters of intent’ are fine. However, unless you have a funded project and a supervisor lined up, or the rest of your application is impeccable and remarkable, then put substantive efforts into this letter. It really is your only chance to present some personal insights and life beyond the dry numbers provided by your transcripts, GREs, and other such documents. Nowhere else can you directly demonstrate personality, motivation, maturity, interest, enthusiasm, diligence, commitment, and so on. The importance of this letter and its personal attributes become amplified in an application that is in any way ‘marginal’, or that has no specific faculty supporting or justifying it. Your letter must then be even more able to stand, and be noticed, on its own. Most reviewers are unfortunately (and perhaps understandably) not going to work hard at finding reasons to accept you.

This letter is also your opportunity to account for anything about your ‘data’ that would benefit from further explanation. You can assist reviewers in their interpretations of your ‘record’ by highlighting your strongest and most relevant points, especially any not well covered elsewhere in your application. Similarly, you can work to prevent reviewers’ misinterpretations or oversimplifications by being candid about any minor shortcomings and by indicating how you are, or will be, addressing those. Basically, be clever in, and work at, presenting yourself favorably, but also always remain honest and never promote yourself beyond reasonable reality. Remember that there is the proverbial fine line between saying too much and not saying enough.

What is the difference between Personal Statement and Statement of Purpose?

One way to think about Personal Statement is that, in general, undergraduate programs are interested in you as a person and what you may offer to enrich their overall university community.

Statement of Purpose describes your “brain,” the scientist you have become and will grow to be. You are now the scientist and any personal information should be related to your scientific approach and how you will enrich the scientific world.

What is the difference between SOP for Doctoral and Master’s Programs?

A statement of purpose for a doctoral program is different than one for a master’s program. A master’s program is not inferior to a doctoral program; it is merely different. Therefore, it would be wrong to infer that standards for a statement of purpose in an application to a doctoral program are higher than the standards applicable to master’s applications. But the standards are certainly different.

For example, in a statement of application to master’s in the Social Sciences, an excellent statement of purpose might or might not indicate any particular research topic that the student wishes to pursue in the program. Being unclear about these matters is not inappropriate when one is applying to a broadly focused master’s program. But being unclear about them would certainly be a liability in a doctoral application. Academic programs are more intensively specialized at the doctoral level, and a corresponding degree of specialization and precision in the way applicants specify their academic purposes is reasonably expected. Evidence of your familiarity with the educational research currently under way at the university is probably a good thing to see in any statement of purpose, even at the master’s level. But in a doctoral application, it is extremely important to show that your interests converge closely with the current research of faculty who work in the program to which you are applying. Therefore the doctoral applicants should certainly do this, and they don’t, they will forfeit an important competitive advantage to those who take care of the above described points.

Tips on Writing an Impressive Statement of Purpose for Scholarship:

(1)  Do your Homework:

  1. Browse through the websites of the schools/departments/programs of interest to you. Obtain brochures and booklets and read through them carefully. Highlight the aspects of the programs that appeal to you.
  2. Read up on the research interests and projects of the faculty in the schools/departments/programs. Read publications from a faculty of interest.
  3. Browse through recent articles from the research field of interest and try to get a general understanding of how the field developed and what are its current problems and challenges.

(2)  Reflect and Brainstorm (on paper):

  1. Reflect on your intellectual development.
    • What and when were the major moments in your life that have led you to your current research interest(s) and school/department/program?
    • What or who influenced your decision or interest (i.e. role models)? What quality about them appealed to you?
    • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  2. What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  3. Why did you choose your research topic(s)/field/school?
  4. Why did you choose your undergraduate major?
  5. What are your career goals?
    • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
    • What do you hope to accomplish?
    • What drives you? What motivates you?

(3)  Outline your Statement of Purpose:

  1. From the results of Stage II, determine a central theme/topic that stands out or dominates your reflections and brainstorm.
  2. Using bullet points and brief comments/statements, organize your reflections and brainstorm ideas that strengthen the central theme/topic of your statement of purpose.
    • Concentrate on your life experiences and give specific examples.
    • Put down only those things that excite you
    • Do not make things up!
  3. Your outline should cover these areas and, preferably, in this order:
    • What aspects of the school/department/program appeals to you?
    • What are your research interest(s)?
    • How did you become interested in your current research topic/area?
    • How did you prepare or are preparing to address the issues in this research area/topic (i.e. research experiences, courses, etc.)?
    • What are your future goals for graduate school (i.e. Ph.D.)?
    • What are your career goals (i.e. professorship)?
    • What characteristics of the school/department/program can help you accomplish your goals?
    • What positive aspects do you bring to the school/department/program?

(4)  Write Draft of Statement of Purpose:

When writing your statement of purpose:

  1. Be Yourself. Be mindful that you are seeking a program that is a good match for you. Do not disguise who you are or second-guess what the committee is looking for. Always use positive language when referring to yourself. What the admissions committee will read between the lines: self-motivation, competence, potential as a graduate student.
  2. Write a Strong Opening and closing paragraph. You want to stand out from the multitude of other applicants. Write an opening that grabs the reader’s attention.
  3. Use transition words, sentences and paragraphs. Your statement must read smoothly.
  4. Frame the points you wish to make in a positive light. You do not want to reveal weaknesses in your personality.
  5. Describe an important experience that is relevant to the program of interest. It is usually good to place this portion of the essay towards the opening. This experience may have contributed to the person that you are today. Make a point to note that in your writing.
  6. Demonstrate everything by example; don’t say directly that you’re a persistent person, show it.
  7. Be Specific, Concise, Honest and Unique.
  8. Describe why you are a good match for their program. Tell the committee about your skills and interest in that particular program. Be specific and thoughtful.
  9. Talk about your goals. Explain how a graduate degree will help you accomplish those goals.
  10. Explain any shortcomings in your background. (i.e. You had a poor GPA during your freshman year in college. Put a positive spin on this explanation and illuminate how your GPA has improved as you matured.)
  11. Thank the admissions committee for their time at the end of your statement of purpose.
  12. Unless the specific program says otherwise, be concise; an ideal essay should say everything it needs to with brevity. Approximately 500 to 1000 well-selected words (1-2 single space pages in 12 point font) is better than more words with less clarity and poor organization.

(5)  Do not Stress:

If you find that you are still having difficulties completing your Statement of Purpose, do not stress. Take a few days and put this task aside. You will find that other activities will jog your mind and creativity, providing you with ideas and content to incorporate into your paper. A Statement of Purpose requires time and thoughtfulness. You want to sell yourself to the committee and in order to do that you need to put your best foot forward. Be honest. Most importantly, be yourself. Keep working on the statement of purpose, even after you have already sent it to school(s) with earlier deadline(s).

(6)  Ask for Critique, Revise and Edit:

  1. When you are finished with your draft statement of purpose, read it out loud to yourself and make corrections.
  2. Ask friends, colleagues and professors to read your edited draft. Taking their comments into consideration, revise and edit your draft.

Things to Avoid When Writing a Statement of Purpose for Scholarship:

  1. Errors, misspellings, poor English.
  2. Submit a handwritten essay (unless requested).
  3. “Talk down” to your audience. Your audience does not need to have basic terminology defined for them. Be mindful that they are already experts in the program that you are applying for.
  4. Be too personal in your essay. Do not focus on deep personal problems or excuses for past performances or experiences.
  5. Be repetitive or too general in your statements.
  6. Criticize other school programs.
  7. Use uncommon words that look like they came from a thesaurus.
  8. Write an autobiography. You want to give the committee a sense of who you are but they do not want to hear about your entire life story. Be specific and mindful of your personal details.
  9. Submit untruthful or irrelevant information in your essay.
  10. You do not want to copy and submit another student’s letter of intent.
  11. Be overly informal.

How to organize Statement of Purpose for Scholarship?

  1. A “hook” that demonstrates your passion for the field
  2. Segue to your background in the field
  3. Description of your academic background in the field
    • Specific classes you have taken, given by name
    • Specific professors you have had, especially if well-known in that field
  4. Extracurricular activities in the field
  5. Publications or other professional accomplishments in the field (perhaps conference presentations or public readings)
  6. Explanations about problems in background (if needed)
  7. Explanation of why you have chosen the specific grad school
    • Mention one or two professors in that school and what you know of and appreciate about their work.
    • Specific features of the grad program which attract you.

Now Start Writing Your Statement of Purpose for Scholarship:

Now its your turn to start writing your impressive statement of purpose by following the tips and strategies explained above. If you follow all the steps and strategies, you will definitely ace the admission process and will be studying in the university of your dreams just like me and my friends. Do you have any tips and strategies that worked for you in winning an admission? Please let us know in the comment section to help others. Happy Writing!

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