Statement of Purpose

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Please note: this is not an official document of the English department at the University of Northern Iowa. These are my own opinions about applying to grad school. Your professors may disagree with me; you may want to check with them before you take my advice. — VG You are allowed to download and print this document under the following conditions: (1) you may not modify any part of the document, (2) my name, institutional affiliation, and the date must be left as is, and (3) you may not charge anyone for copies of the document. — VG

How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose

Vince Gotera
English Language and Literature
University of Northern Iowa

January 2006

The Statement of Purpose required by grad schools is probably the hardest thing you will ever write. (Incidentally, the statement of purpose may also be called an Application Essay, Objectives for Graduate Study, Personal Background, Cover Letter, or some comparable title.)

I would guess virtually all grad-school applicants, when they write their first draft of the statement of purpose, will get it wrong. Much of what you have learned about writing and also about how to present yourself will lead you astray. For example, here's an opening to a typical first draft:

I am applying to the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of Okoboji because I believe my writing will blossom at your program since it is a place where I will be challenged and I can hone my writing skills.

How's that? It's clear, it's direct, and it "strokes" the MFA program, right? Wrong. All of it is obvious and extraneous.

The admissions committee knows you are applying to their MFA program because everyone in the stacks of applications they are reading is applying for the same thing. The admissions committee will also know that your writing will "blossom" there since they feel they have a strong program. Of course you will be challenged — all undergrads going on to

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