Note: This article uses the terms “statement of goals,” “goal statement,” and “statement of purpose” interchangeably, to reflect the variable language used in graduate application prompts.
Your statement of purpose is one of the best ways you can sell the admissions committee on you as a well-qualified, purposeful candidate. A strong goal statement will demonstrate your knowledge of your chosen field, your suitability for it, as well as your intellectual development, maturity, and ability to write and think clearly. Further, it will prove that you understand what you’re getting into and that you are committed to attending and completing a demanding academic program. This is important, because graduate admissions committees want to know that you understand and are realistic about your academic and professional goals, and how your chosen program will serve you in reaching these goals.
As a first step in planning the content of your essay, think about your motivations for your career choice. What first got you interested in this course of study? What experiences have confirmed that this academic focus is ideal for you? When did you realize that this wasn’t just a casual interest but a serious and sustained interest that has become the basis of a career? Additionally, identify specialty areas that interest you most. If you are applying for an art history MA, for example, name artistic traditions, historical time periods, admired artists, and methods of analysis that appeal to you. Refer to particular scholars who have shaped the field, and professors, especially those at your target school, who will play critical roles in your academic training.
Share some “snapshots” of the experiences that made you want to enter this field. As you consider which anecdotes to share, include those that will reveal your career motivations behind the financial. Additionally, write about elements of your background that make you stand out from the crowd of other applicants who want to achieve much the same thing.
Show your prep work
Your undergraduate major may be a starting point to reveal the foundation you’ve already laid, but you may have also taken post-graduate courses, earned a certification, or worked in the field for a period of time. These activities provide a track record of your commitment to this career or field of study. Explain not only what you know about your field, but also what you don’t know. Openly conveying this awareness shows you’ve done your homework about why you need this program and how you will apply the knowledge afterward.
Being well suited to a career involves much more than academic talent alone. Your personality, aptitudes, and interests also play a role. For example, some people enter the academic world because they have a burning desire to teach; others are born researchers whose dream job would involve spending all day in a lab. If you are going for a social work degree, can you see yourself handling the constant flow of listening to people’s serious, often heart-breaking problems? Do you have the balance of empathy and boundaries so that this is suitable for you? Think about your personality profile and how you have discovered in what field, and in what role, you will fit.
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Consider your “fit” with your target school
You may have always dreamed of getting your degree from an Ivy League school, but remember: The best school for you is the one that fits YOUR needs, and the school where you also fulfill the needs of the program.
How do you assess whether there is mutual “fit”? Read the program’s website closely; read student profiles and blogs, read up on faculty profiles and identify who has done work in your field of interest, written books or taught courses that appeal to you. If you plan to apply for teaching or research assistantships, have you contacted faculty members with experience or publications in your area of interest who could sit on your committee? Have you come up with a “short list” of courses that will bring you closer to your career goals?
What sorts of departmental opportunities exist, such as special labs, study-abroad programs, internships, or clubs or monthly workshops? How does the location of the program suit your academic, professional, and personal goals? Make sure it is clear to both you and to your target school why you are a perfect match.
What’s your post-graduate plan?
How well versed are you in the career options available to you after earning your degree? Be prepared to identify the potential places of employment and/or job functions you hope to get after completing the program. Your research can include internet and library searches, talking to people already in your field of choice, and reading articles on industry websites.
If you are headed into academia, do you envision yourself on the “tenure track,” teaching and researching at a large university? Or teaching at a community college where you may have a private practice on the side? Will you be able to achieve your career goals with your master’s degree, or will a Ph.D. be the natural next step? Be clear in your statement about where you hope to land professionally or academically at the end of the program.
Remember that graduate school is one step in an ongoing and flexible process. No school requires that you “promise” them you’ll assume a certain career post-graduation. Still, even if you anticipate that your career could take you in several different directions, try to commit to a single clear career path in your application. You can always change your mind!
If you would like the guidance and support of experienced admissions consultants as you work on your statement of purpose or other parts of your grad school application, Accepted is here to help. We offer a range of services that can be tailored exactly to your needs.
For 25 years, Accepted has helped applicants gain acceptance to top undergraduate and graduate programs. Our expert team of admissions consultants features former admissions directors, PhDs, and professional writers who have advised clients to acceptance at top programs worldwide including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge, INSEAD, MIT, Caltech, UC Berkeley, and Northwestern. Want an admissions expert to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!