Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tips for students writing statements of purpose for M.A. and Ph.D. programs

It is that time of year again when students are beginning to collect application materials for M.A. and Ph.D. programs. So I am re-posting an earlier blog entry with tips for writing successful statements of purpose.

As a professor who reviews graduate applications, I have discovered that the weakest part of the application is usually the statement of purpose because students don't seem to know what to include or how to write this genre. So, for what it is worth, here are my suggestions for writing more successful personal statements.

The statement of purpose is NOT

  • an autobiography about how you became interested in religious studies or biblical studies
  • a lengthy rehearsal of everything you have done in college (or: everything you have done out of college)
  • a vague discussion about what you think you are interested in studying further
The statement of purpose should
  • begin with a strong paragraph of specifics introducing yourself and your professional goals (i.e. to become a professor, minister, editor, so on)
  • move on to state what program you are applying to and why you want to be admitted to that particular program (i.e. program's resources, specific professors you'd like to study with, areas of study available in the program, and so on)
  • go on to explain specifically what you intend to study and what research area(s) you wish to pursue for your thesis work (do not be vague; you can always shift topics later if you change your mind)
  • include a short paragraph about the qualifications you bring to the program (i.e., languages, fellowships, publications, previous study) and why you should be admitted
  • this should all be accomplished in under two organized pages


g. wesley said...

thanks. this is timely.

Jared Calaway said...

This is very good. I lead a workshop every year for MA students applying to Ph.D. programs, in which I invite senior faculty members to discuss what they look for, and the statement of purpose is ALWAYS at the top of the list in importance. If you don't mind, I might snatch this succinct list for that discussion.