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.
Go for the goals in your statement of purpose
The statement of purpose is one of the best ways for you to demonstrate your intellectual development, ability to write and think clearly, and knowledge of your field. Graduate admissions committees want to know that you understand what you’re getting into, and that you are committed to attending, and completing, a demanding academic program.
So how can you prove that you know what graduate school is all about? If you aren’t already a graduate student, you probably have little firsthand experience to draw upon. However, you most certainly have internal and professional motivations – goals – pushing you to obtain your graduate degree. Demonstrating that you have a clear idea of your academic and professional goals, and of the ways in which a particular program will serve you in reaching these goals, is crucial for proving to the adcom that you’re a reliable – and ambitious! – applicant. How do you do this?
- Think about where you want to be after completing your graduate degree
Do you envision yourself on the “tenure track,” teaching and researching at a large university? Teaching at a community college in a smaller urban area? Moving from academic life into industry or consulting? If you’re applying to Master’s-level programs, will you be able to achieve what you want to achieve with your Master’s degree, or will a Ph.D. be the natural next step? Make sure you include at least a line at the end of your goal statement discussing where you aspire to be professionally and academically at the end of the program.
- Consider Your Target School’s “Fit” with your post-graduation goals
Perhaps you always dreamed of getting your degree from an Ivy League school, perhaps Yale, or from a top-notch state university, like University of Michigan. But remember: You need to apply to a program that fits YOUR needs, and a program where you’ll fit ITS needs. How do you assess whether there is mutual “fit”? Read the program’s website closely; look through all the faculty profiles and see what work the professors have done in your field. Are you interested in working with them? Which books that they’ve written or courses they’ve taught appeal to you? What sorts of departmental opportunities exist- special labs, study-abroad programs, clubs or monthly workshops? How does the location of the university suit your academic and professional goals? Make sure it is clear to both you and to your target school why you are a perfect match.
Identify your intellectual goals
You know you want a graduate degree, but do you know exactly what you want to do with it? What is your educational purpose?
- Consider what you are interested in.
This means thinking deeply, and specifically, about your specialty in grad school. If applying for an art history MA, for example, name painters, artistic traditions, historical time periods, 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.
- Consider why you feel so passionate about your subject area.
Questions to spark ideas include:
– What first got you interested in your subject?
– What experiences confirmed that this is what you really want to study?
– When did you realize that this wasn’t just a casual interest, but what you actually wanted to do with your life?
- Evaluate your personality, aptitudes, and interests.
An “academic career” can mean many things, depending on the discipline and on the individual. Some people enter the academic world because they have a burning desire to teach; others are born researchers who would enjoy nothing more than spending all day in a lab; still others (perhaps most!) fall somewhere in the middle. Which type of person are you, and how did you originally discover where you “fit in”?
- Explore different career paths.
Research the various employment options available to graduates from your department. Visit university career centers, do some Internet and library research, and interview people who have jobs that appeal to you. What do people DO with a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering? A Ph.D. in Art History? An M.F.A. in Creative Writing? Are most of the opportunities in academia or industry? Once you know where the opportunities are, it will be much easier for you to discuss your goals in a way that is specific, realistic, and convincing.
Write about your goals
Now that you have clarified for yourself exactly why you want to attend graduate school in your particular field, it’s time to articulate it to the admissions committee!
- Explain your motivations.
Share your specific memories of how you decided that teaching is the ideal career path for you, how you realized that a graduate degree or Ph.D. will help you break into a non-profit career, or why you are certain that a terminal master’s degree in financial engineering will help you become a financial analyst. Beyond the financial rewards of your desired career path, what motivates you?
– Share some “snapshots” of the experiences that made you want to enter this field!
– Explain how your specific experiences have helped you to fine-tune your goals.
– Show the admissions committee what steps you have already taken towards these goals.
- Tailor your graduate school experience to your goals.
Will you be applying for Teaching or Research Assistantships? Have you contacted particular faculty members with experience or publications in your area of interest who could sit on your committee? Have you considered the various course offerings and come up with a “short list” of courses that will bring you closer to your career goals?
- Tailor your past experiences to your goals.
Explain not only what you know about your field, but also what you don’t know-where is your knowledge particularly strong, and what areas do you still need to learn more about in order to reach your goals? What particular experiences or elements of your background make you stand out from the crowd of other applicants who want to achieve much the same thing?
- Keep your goals statement focused.
Remember that graduate school is just one step in an ongoing and flexible process, and that no school requires that you “promise” them you’ll assume a certain career post-graduation e. Even if you think your career could take you in three or four very different directions, try to commit to a single clear career path in your application. You can always change your mind!
Finally, remember that 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!