graduate school statement of purpose, how to write a statement of purpose graduate school, graduate school statement of intent, statement of purpose examples, graduate school

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Here’s What We are Going To Show You:

  • The purpose of any grad school statement of purpose or letter of intent.
  • Specific tips on how to write a compelling statement.
  • And lastly we will go over an example of an excellent statement of purpose.
  • So keep reading until the very end…

Why a Statement of Purpose? 

  • The Statement of Purpose is a graduate school’s way of assessing your motivation and capacity to undertake a grueling course of study at their institution.
  • It allows you to paint a picture of you studying at their school.
  • The Statement allows the school to consider how you think about contemporary issues in the field and your relationship to the core problems of interest faced by the field’s community of practice.
  • The Statement also tells the story of how you got to the point of applying for this program at that school.

What should I include?

  • A Statement of Purpose is usually between 500 and 750 words.
  • The Statement of Purpose should have four sections, though they don’t need to be clearly defined as sections in the document and can take on the more natural feel of a letter:
  • Academic and/or professional preparation for a career in public health
  • Your focused interest in the degree program/department or MPH field of study to which you are applying
  • Career plans upon completion of the program
  • Note any relevant strengths or weaknesses in your background or in your ability to carry out your professional responsibilities.  

For top marks:

  • Mention of specific technical skills you bring to the graduate program.
  • Clarify how your focused interest relates to the work already being done by specific faculty members at the school.
  • Cite academic references that help have helped shape your point of view.
  • Note relevant publications, presentations or conferences you’ve led or been part of. 

Academic & Professional Preparation

  • Academic and/or professional preparation for a career in the chosen discipline.
  • Previous relevant degrees, courses, conferences.
  • Research engagement.
  • Previous jobs, internships.
  • Teaching assistantships and Research assistantships
  • BUT it is NOT just a recitation of your CV. It is more than “I did this…then I did this…” It goes beyond just listing accomplishments and into building a narrative of why you took the steps you did and how it brought you to graduate school. 

For example,

“After spending four years as an Arts & Science undergraduate and earning a Minor specialization in Economics, I have developed strong analytical research skills, a capacity for truly critical thought and an appreciation for the universal relevance of economic investigation. My interest in the social determinants of health, and how these interplay with policy and economics, was the impetus for my senior undergraduate research project entitled, “Health and behaviour: Advancing a microeconomic framework for changing decision-making in people with obesity.” I was fortunate to work with economists Drs. Levi and Traut with whom I interrogated the classical and contemporary theories around human behaviour and health. In my role as a research assistant, I conducted three literature reviews, one of which was used to support the work of a senior graduate student and will be published in an upcoming issue of Health Economics and the abstract was accepted for a poster presentation at the Annual Health Economics Conference in Denver CO for Fall 2016.”

Focused Interest in the Field

  • Your focused interest in the degree program/department or MPH field of study to which you are applying
  • Explain the most exciting problems of interest in the field for you.
  • Share your perspectives, and explain your intellectual influences around these perspectives.
  • Articulate an area of interest you would like to explore.
  • BUT this doesn’t need to be a full academic research proposal with methods, etc. It can allude to special interests you may have in some research techniques but this is NOT a technical paper.

 For example,

“My interest in the Health Economics specialization option is a testament to my conviction that health is one of the most interesting and complex determinants of social welfare. In my experiences as a traveler, researcher and student, I understand health policy to be one of the most defining characteristics of a national identity as well as the locus of key clashes between equity and efficiency. Health economic policy is the most interesting because it juxtaposes health care, in which universality and equality are perceived as dominant principles, against the rationality and efficiency considerations of an increasingly liberal global economic reality. Graduate studies in health economic policy is the ideal corollary to my academic, personal and social background. I am most keen to explore the relationship between economic and psychological models of human behavior to hopefully advance a more holistic social sciences perspective on why people act against their own self-interest when it comes to their health.”

Career Plans

For example,

"It is the responsibility of economics researchers to offer sustainable and feasible alternatives and recommendations to experts in all other fields regarding their most pressing challenges such as climate change and regulation of illegal trade. Further, the intermediary between economics research and the implementation of its corresponding results is the policy process. Because analytical research and writing are my most well-developed academic strengths, as evidenced by my GPA, undergraduate thesis, reference letters and writing samples, the MA Economic Policy (Health Specialization) program is an ideal launch point for a research career academia with branch points into policy work in the social determinants of health. Eventually, I want to complete a PhD. I want to build a focused academic practice at McMaster where I can help civil society, government and social enterprises understand and address ‘wicked problems’ at the intersection of economics and public health. The skills I aim to acquire through this graduate training are crucial to the evolution of my practice." 

Strengths & Weaknesses

  • Note any relevant strengths or weaknesses in your background or in your ability to carry out your professional responsibilities.
  • Strength statements include ones like, “Because analytical research and writing are my most well-developed academic strengths, as evidenced by my GPA, undergraduate thesis, reference letters and writing samples, …”
  • This is where you would talk about special circumstances and situations that may have compromised your academic performance or led to delays. 
Before we jump into some sample statements below, here are some more tips and strategies for you:  our top 12 tips, deciding between PhD vs. Master's, will a graduate degree help you if you are applying to med school. If you want us to help make your application stand out, click here

 Here's a graduate school statement of purpose example:

"During the first year of my undergraduate degree, I took a small course entitled “Third World Development” taught by three rather radical and lively professors from Trinidad, Chile and Lebanon, respectively. This course, despite its passé title, existed to deconstruct our notions of ‘otherness’ by illustrating the deep connectedness of issues, people and nations. This theme of ‘connectedness’ is threaded through my research and work history under various labels and theories. My undergraduate research was dedicated to understanding the ways and means of political participation for women in remote Northeast India. I became curious about the role of women as informal politicians within their small collectives where survival literally hinges on connectivity. My time in observation of these women opened me to the idea that health and wellness can emerge from places faced serious food insecurity, poor shelter, corruption and long distances from the centre of national power. The extent to which women could draw upon their collective power and roles as givers of care in order to lobby local governments and participate legitimately in the polity was the very definition of their empowerment.  

During my graduate work at [x] University, public health approaches to vulnerable populations were of particular interest to me. It became clear, during my field work with care providers for women who sell sex and do high risk drugs in downtown eastside, that vulnerable populations around the world often have more in common with each other than with the ‘dominant’ or non-excluded populations. My research led to me questions about the role of social capital, defined in this case as a public good comprised of relationships and networks, in leading to better health outcomes amongst highly-marginalized urban women. The mechanisms through which both groups of women, in Northeast India and downtown Vancouver, became able to rely on or reject peers, givers of aid or care and the social and political systems in which they were enmeshed, are very similar. I have witnessed how health outcomes can be a partial function of connectedness for women on the periphery.

Public health has proven the best venue through which I can search for explicit, concrete evidence that individual and population welfare can be socially determined, by access to and power to make choices regarding housing, education, employment, income, political participation, nutrition and transportation. I see the centrality of connectedness, to institutions and peers, to the processes that enable an individual to access, choose and influence. My current work as a policy analyst with the Public Health Agency within the Strategic Initiatives and Innovations Directorate is focused largely on reducing health inequalities by mobilizing action on particular social determinants of health. While this work is important and generally on point, I suspect that the United States and Canada may benefit from exploring the micro-level ‘enablers’ of change with respect to the social determinants of health. These enablers, including social networks as a form of social capital, are sometimes lumped, and incorrectly so, with the more tangible determinants, such as housing and nutrition. I see these enablers as characteristics of favourable environments in which health can be positively affected: in families, neighbourhoods, schools, communities, etc.

My proposed dissertation research would fall into the broader goals of studying the social mechanisms by which parental social connections impact the eating behaviour of their children as well as the way in which these mechanisms may vary across Montreal neighbourhoods. My particular interest is the potentially causal nexus between maternal social networks, neighbourhood environments, and the transmission of eating behaviours to children. In effect, my role would be to help operationalize maternal adversity and identify potential moderators on the effects of maternal adversity on obesity and eating behaviours of children.

I am drawn to [x] University School of Kinesiology and Health Studies specifically due to Dr. Spencer Moore’s background in medical anthropology and current work with social network analytic techniques. The application of network theory analytical techniques will be a new endeavour for me, but I am attracted to the study of populations that are not necessarily bounded by their geography but by common circumstances, such as maternal adversity, and, potentially, common health effects related to obesity and food behaviours. I want to understand the links between the nature and degree of ties between the low-income women and how these ties affect norms related to obesity and food.

School of Kinesiology and Health Studies is an excellent institution that is well-equipped to support new graduate students interested in innovative ways to explore social challenges. It is here that Dr. Moore is developing an important critical mass surrounding this particular way of examining social networks as enablers of obesity and food behaviour outcomes among marginalized women and their young children.

My prior individual research experiences were qualitative in nature, relying on grounded theory and warranted assertion analysis techniques common to sociological research. I have experience as a research assistant on a larger project studying large, linked quantitative databases of provincial health and corrections data in my home state. Also, I have a sufficient course work history in statistics and epidemiology to be able to make the leap to more advanced quantitative techniques, given access to graduate courses on the subject. Social network analysis is a fascinating way of quantifying social capital and social networks and I am very enthusiastic about the opportunity to study these methods and methodologies under Dr. Moore."

Here's another example:

Note how this personal statement is truly personal and after reading this statement you feel like you know this applicant already. They also leave you feeling a lot of emotions. Both warm and sad. And that's good. You want to create some sort of emotion in the admissions committee members that read your personal statement.

"As an applicant to _________, I am one among many candidates who acknowledges the highly diverse and appealing culture of the campus. As an immigrant candidate, I am among those individuals who acknowledges their gratitude for a country that has enabled them to explore endless opportunities and to write this very statement. I have been given an opportunity, one which lets me offer a glimpse of my individuality, the story behind my journey, my capabilities and future possibilities for _________. In recognizing my ethnicity, my academic progression, continuous community involvement, work experiences, and strong regard for _________, I have been equipped with the passion, knowledge and determination to pursue __________.

My journey was challenging, but has characterized the woman I've become, and solidified the mark I want to leave in this world. In addressing my ethnicity as an Assyrian, I was born in Iraq. At the tender age of 4, my family and I fled to Turkey as refugees in hopes of safety, and were eventually granted acceptance to_________. My parents' relentless will to leave all they had known to offer my siblings and I a safer environment, one which would enable us to flourish with opportunities, was inspiring and admirable. Assimilating into another culture was seemingly difficult. However, leaving Iraq was necessary to ensure I had a future, one that would allow me to learn, experience, and eventually become a_______.

“Why have you decided to pursue____?”. A question that seems direct, however can be daunting to simplify in two pages. Coming from an oppressed war nation of extremists, justice is buried among the remnants of homes. My early exposure to a war-stricken environment led to a realization and eventually a passion; my relentless pursue for social justice. My culture has also enabled me to express patience and understanding to individuals of all backgrounds. Openness is the very ingredient, which echoes within _____and, is expected of ______students attending _________. I offer a distinct diversity in representing a small and underrepresented group of individuals; I speak Assyrian, an ancient language of Aramaic, spoken during the early times of Mesopotamia. With a passion for linguistics, I have also become advanced in speaking Arabic and French. Diversifying my communication is a trait I can bring forward to _________ as the backbone of the school thrives in multiculturalism and offers multiple global/international opportunities. Moving forward I want to continue utilizing my personal experience and platform to advocate for families displaced, as I strive to be at the forefront of international affairs.

My university career, employment and volunteer experiences have further fueled my passion for _______. Additionally, they have enhanced my academic thought, cultural awareness and critical approach in _________. The education I gained at________, with a major in Criminology and minor in Political Science provided me with an advanced knowledge of political relations. As a student, I gained the research skills to analyze individual behaviour and public policies. I analyzed criminal patterns, from a theoretical and statistical standpoint. The analytical framework and organizational skills I gained are notable qualities that I can apply to my studies. During my entire university career, I remained employed and at times held two occupations. Additionally, I held an internship, played soccer, and remained active within the community in partaking in numerous charity events, and associations, such as Transition 2 Betterness, Heart & Stroke, and Social Science Society. My internship at Border Services Agency strengthened my regard for national security, while sports taught me discipline, effective communication, and team collaboration. Furthermore, my passion in music, has led me to explore creativity with artists of all backgrounds. Having written multiple songs, and recorded with a variety of artists, I have challenged my writing abilities, and allowed myself to be vulnerable and ready to grow. My ability to balance employment, volunteer, academics and music has characterized my motivation to improve myself as a student, and as a________. Alternatively, my career experiences have tested my creativity in utilizing various resources to achieve my end goal. In the 3 years I spent within recruitment/consulting industry, I gained a professional outlook, and got an insight into the competitive market. As a Scientific Recruiter, I worked alongside scientists/chemists and medical doctors, to ensure they found a suitable opportunity. Through technical screenings, and developmental feedback, I was able to strategize and prepare the candidates for client interviews. As an Account Manager, I led the first Scientific Division for my company. I worked 60 hour weeks for two years to build a pipeline and plant the seeds for new business relationships. I partnered up with clients across the Greater Toronto Area within various industries; pharmaceuticals, consumers and hospitals. Through extensive business development, I assisted clients by finding candidates that were technically and culturally a fit. My experience within sales was challenging, and at times exhausting, but taught me patience. I was able to gain a multitude of survival skills that can certainly be applied to _________. I learned to self-start, self-motivate, and lastly I learned that at times you will fail, but that does not mean you have failed. As an Academic Consultant at ________, I assist graduate students with their application and interview process to Medical and Dentistry School. We examine problematic scenarios, address pressing issues and explore multiple strategies. Evidently, I am apt to apply similar critical perspective to further my research by exploring multiple measures to gain a diversified analysis.

Through my non-profit partnerships; my role as a War Child Catalyst for War Child and Journalist for Observatory Media, I have gained cultural awareness in international relations, and advanced my researching and writing abilities. As a War Child Catalyst I created my own committee, One Army, which raises funds for families and precisely children affected by war. As a journalist, I have furthered my knowledge in current Canadian policies, and generated awareness for displaced individuals.

Upon my acceptance to _______in the _______ program I hope to advance my critical thought and awareness in international affairs and national security, through a calculated evaluation. I will also advance my focus through a _______ Diploma that is offered. With a variety of courses, such as ____________, __________, and __________, I will adapt a dynamic perspective to direct my thesis. In addition, I hope to collaborate with ________ and ____________, notable professors with substantive work regarding national security. With respect to campus involvement, I will see that my experiences will be utilized as I plan to join the _________, ensuring I will be at the forefront of political and social justice issues.

As examined, my work experience, passionate community involvement, and academics will enable me to not only apply, but also excel at ___________. How will we ensure national security when our nationalism is questionably crippled by our democratic stance towards multiculturalism? An ironic question which I intend to explore, and one which I have prepared for my entire life."

As Usual:

  • Do not plagiarize.
  • Do not rely on clichés and tired phrasing.
  • Do not speak in the third person.
  • Do not use overly fancy language when clear, simple language works just as well.
  • Do not use excessive technical jargon that is unique to a small sub-specialized field, unless its appropriate and well-explained.
  • Do not submit your first draft. You need to write, write again and rewrite. 


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