Grad School: Go for the Goals in Your Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose is one of the best ways that you can 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 have the commitment to survive 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 likely have little firsthand experience to draw upon, but you almost certainly do have a broad range of other relevant experiences that you can share as you work to show the admissions committee that you've done your research and know what you're going to do with your degree.
You know you want a graduate degree, but do you know what you want to do with it? What is your purpose? The guidelines for your Statement of Purpose ask you to share your background, interests, and future goals: but are you sure exactly where you want this degree to take you?
- Consider why you feel so passionate about your subject area.
In your personal statement, you will need to show the admissions committee that you have enough interest in and commitment to your field to slog through years of study, weekends when your friends are going camping but you have to finish a paper, and long nights wading through dense tomes so you'll have something to say in the next day's seminar. So, spend some time considering the experiences that sparked and fuelled your interest in your field!
- Do you have a specific memory of 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 makes sense.
- 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?
Now that you have clarified for yourself why you want to attend graduate school in your particular field, it's time 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 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 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?
- 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?
- Keep your goals statement focused.
Remember that graduate school is just one step in an ongoing and flexible process, not the "magic button" that will make all your dreams come true. 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!
Copyright Accepted.com 2003