Many professors, department websites, applications, and current graduate students will tell you that the statement of purpose is the most important part of the application. While the statement of purpose is the best way for the admissions committee to gauge your writing skills, it is quite different from the college admissions essay, or the law school personal statement. Admissions committees will not be looking for the most well-written essay with the catchiest introduction. What they really mean when they talk about the statement of purpose is that the research interest match between you and the program is the most important factor for admission, and your interests are revealed in the statement of purpose. In addition to making sure your interests and experiences are aligned with the program's offerings, the statement of purpose is a way for the admissions officers to see how you think, either by your evaluation of your prior research experiences and coursework, and/or by your presentations of new ideas that you wish to pursue in graduate school and beyond.
In bullet point form, here are some tips for the personal statement.
Leave roughly 1/3 of the essay to talk about the future
In this section you can describe your interests, goals, career plans after graduate school, and why the school you are applying to is a good choice to pursue these interests. If there is a stringent word limit, make sure you include this part, even at the expense of leaving out some of your past. Your history should be reflected elsewhere in the applications, through your recommendations, cv, etc.
Don't list experiences and awards
If awards are listed elsewhere in the application (which they are according to nearly all forms), don't put them here again! Not only is it a waste of space but it also makes you sound arrogant. If there is something listed on your c.v. that deserves explanation, you can put it in here, but even then it could be better to have a... [continues]
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