Tips on Writing Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement Essays for Graduate School and Fellowship Applications

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Tips on Writing Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement Essays for Graduate School and Fellowship Applications
Examine samples written by other students. The Undergraduate Research Programs office on the 4th floor of Sweet Hall has a binder with sample statements of purpose for a wide variety of fields. You cannot take the binder out of the office, but there are comfortable chairs and you can read through the binder there. One thing you will notice: every student has a different history, different strengths and weaknesses, so there is no one way to write this type of essay. Arrange for individual editorial consultation. After you have absorbed the tips suggested here and you have developed some kind of draft, send an email to Renee Courey at rcourey@stanford.edu with a Word attachment of your draft (with your name on it) along with days and times that you’re available, and either she or another associate will set up an appointment. Avoid doing this at the last minute. The schedule may be booked, and very often essays need to be re-conceived or there are other major revisions. So, when you make an appointment, allow for plenty of time for follow-up meetings. You can also set up an appointment at the Stanford Writing Center – check with SWC on how to do this. Personal statements and statements of purpose are perhaps the most important parts of applications. There is little you can do to change your GPA or your curriculum vitae (the academic version of a resume), but these statements can be written in many different ways, emphasizing different aspects of your interests, goals, personality, and style. They present the unique qualities that make you the candidate that a committee wants to select, and a good statement of purpose can also affect those professors who will write letters of recommendation for you. Consequently, you need to pay particular attention to their composition. Admissions and approval committees have been known to accept candidates with uneven academic records or reject otherwise excellent candidates on the basis of these statements. Essays for law school and medical school applications have their own unique characteristics. While many of the tips outlined here are useful for these essays, the demands of graduate school and fellowship essays are different. Law school and medical school essays are closer to the type of essay you wrote for undergraduate admissions. Admissions committees are not that interested in how much you know about law or medicine, since they don’t expect you to know very much, and research, while important to write about, is not as crucial as for graduate programs. For law, you are expected to demonstrate that you can reason and write, and that you have some kind of intellectual capacity and drive and a sense of human connections, and that you are motivated to become a lawyer. For medicine, you are expected to recount any experience with medicine (such as shadowing doctors), that you have compassion, in addition to demonstrating that you can reason and write. Again, the tips here are primarily directed at graduate school and fellowship essays, and if you are interested in these professional schools you can extrapolate from these suggestions – and consult with the appropriate staff at UAP. Read the description of the essay carefully, and make sure that you answer the question in the way that it is worded. Pay attention to the word length indicated in the instruction and do not exceed it. These essays are usually very short, and you need to be concise and strategic about which interests or goals you decide to highlight. Do not try to “fudge” the prompt: answer the question as stated (although most will simply say something like “Write a short statement of purpose”).

Some fellowship applications may require a personal statement that addresses concerns of the fellowship. For example, the Udall asks for an essay responding to Sen. Udall's speeches and writings concerning the environment,...
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