While most students have heard of a personal statement or statement of purpose, not many can accurately describe what a statement of intent is. This grad school admissions requirement is subtly different from the other “statement” essays you may be familiar with. It is most often requested as an application component for research intensive master’s programs. It typically centers around a cohesive narrative of the applicant’s research interests, experiences, long-term goals, and what they intend to study in grad school. You’ll need to tailor your essay to ensure you meet the unique requirements for this application component.
In this blog, our grad school essay tutors reveal what a statement of intent is, how it differs from a statement of purpose for graduate school, and how to write and structure your statement of intent. You can also check out a sample statement of intent for graduate school.
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What is a Statement of Intent?
A statement of intent, sometimes called statement of interest, is one of the many written essay-style components requested during the higher education admissions process to help admissions committees understand the applicant better. Specifically, a statement of intent is something you’ll need to write to get into grad school. Not all master’s programs ask for it. It is typically requested in addition to the statement of purpose or as an alternative to the statement of purpose. Research-intensive programs most often favor this type of statement. In this essay, they are looking for applicants to expand on their research skills, research experience, and specialized interests.
A statement of intent is, at its core, a functional document with an implicit argument. It serves a very specific purpose and has a singular theme: explaining how your research or career interests align with the features of the program you’re applying to.
Statement of Intent vs Statement of Purpose
It’s important to understand the difference between a statement of purpose and a statement of intent, especially if you need to submit both during a single application cycle. It’s easy to mix up these two essay components! They have a lot of overlap in terms of their content, presentation, and format. Both ask applicants to focus on their research interests, describe why they are interested in a specific field, expand on relevant past academic/professional experiences, and explain their long-term career goals. Admissions committees evaluate both of these statements to assess specific skills and qualities: communication skills, research skills, scientific literacy, problem solving, intellectual curiosity, teamwork, and leadership potential.
Despite these similarities, there are certain factors that differentiate a statement of intent and statement of purpose. The key difference is the scope. A statement of purpose is more general, focused on your overall suitability for the program. A statement of intent is more specific and detailed, focused on your intention to make use of actual features of the program. Statement of intent prompts often ask you to talk about which faculty members you want to work with, what program faculties you wish to use, etc.
The way you discuss your experiences is also different in each of these essays. In a statement of purpose, you can discuss your overall research vision, and connect your past experiences to your long-term career goals. While you can certainly do this in a statement of intent as well, you need to take it one step further. Programs actually expect you to use this essay to expand on the specific skills you gained through past research experiences and connect them with program details like curriculum, preferred departments or modules, faculty members, on-going projects, etc.
The statement of intent actually works as a base template for your research proposal. Many students opt to use their statement of intent to develop their research proposals later in their career. As it’s extremely detailed, some programs even opt to use it in lieu of an interview. On the other hand, some programs refer to your statement of intent as a kind of blueprint to structure your graduate school interview questions. You can expect questions that directly reference the ideas and experiences you’ve discussed in your statement of intent. That’s why it’s so important to be confident about and committed to the ideas you discuss in your statement of intent.
Are you working on your statement of purpose and looking for tips? Check this out:
How to Structure Your Statement of Intent
The structure of your statement of intent is very important as it serves to build a coherent progression of experiences. In this type of essay, you need to provide specific, technical details related to your research interests and experiences, while also telling an engaging narrative that logically builds to the conclusion of you applying to grad school. The key to achieving this balance is creating an effective essay structure.
Start by creating an outline of your essay that is centered around your basic thesis or main point. Return to this thesis periodically to ensure you’re not straying from it as you structure your essay.
Add the following paragraphs:
The first paragraph should immediately grab the reader’s attention and set up a clear framework for the rest of the statement. Unlike, say, a medical school personal statement, or college essays, we don’t recommend starting with an “anchor” story or incident. Since this is a more functional document, including dramatic personal details or childhood memories would only end up clouding the key message of your statement. It’s better to go with a more straightforward introduction that succinctly sets up the main thesis. You can opt to make your introduction more engaging by adding a quote or referencing a specific book or mentor who inspired you; having said that, make sure any external references are always relevant to your actual research interest and further your central argument. Critically, make sure you don’t forget to introduce your research topic, the name of the school you’re applying to, as well as the name of the specific program/department in the very first paragraph.
Body Paragraph 1/2/3/4/5
Next, you can add 1 to 5 main body paragraphs (depending on your word count) where you build a foundation of your research work, interests, experiences, and goals. Each paragraph should be clear, concise and informative. There are certain critical content targets you should keep in mind as you write these paragraphs:
Your conclusion should include a concise statement of your key qualifications and unique suitability for the program. Touch upon how you’ll make use of your time at this school, and how that will help you in your long-term career goals. Reiterate your interest in their specific program.
The word count for a statement of intent can vary from school to school, but it generally ranges between 250 to 1000 words. You should tailor your statement as per your specific word count requirements.
Top Tips for Writing Your Statement of Intent
Keep these tips in mind to write an outstanding statement of intent that effectively communicates your research strengths.
Develop your central research thesis
If you’re applying to grad school, then you probably already have some idea about the kind of research you want to specialize in. If you’re having trouble formulating this idea or condensing it down for your statement of intent, try using the following strategy to structure your thinking and organize your thoughts in a more logical flow. Break down your research interest into three levels, as follows:
Try and fill out the following sentence structure to further clarify your thoughts: I am studying _____ to find out _____ in order to help my audience understand ____.
Once you have a clearer idea about your specific research topic, focus on figuring out what makes it unique. Does it help the larger community? Does it address a long-standing research question? Are you hoping to use new tools, latest research, or innovative technologies to further established research in a specific area? These questions should help you narrow down the unique selling points of your research interests and communicate them effectively in your statement of intent.
You can also reach out to your academic mentors, such as research supervisors and professors, to trigger a discussion about your research interests and brainstorm potential research ideas.
Tailor your content for each program
As we mentioned above, your statement of intent needs to be very specific and must reference the programs you’re applying to. Some schools even provide a specific prompt asking you to talk about which faculty members you want to work with, what sub-department you want to study under, and so on. Make sure you do the required research about what the school and the program have to offer so you can accurately reference this information in your statement. To begin with, you should check the program websites. If they don’t provide enough information, we recommend you reach out to alumni, professors, and current students to learn more.
Find out about the credentials of faculty members, their previous published work, their on-going projects, etc. Check the range of facilities that the school is offering, such as equipment, labs, and academic resources, as well as unique research or clinical experience opportunities. Don’t neglect the extracurriculars such as student support groups, prestigious clubs, and other opportunities that you won’t get on any other campus.
While you’re doing this research, make notes about how your own strengths connect to the unique features of the program. Do you have skills that could be particularly useful for an on-going research project? Do you have past research experience in the same topics that a faculty member is an expert in? When you’re actually writing the statement, these notes will help you to explain not only what you have to offer to the program, but also how you can use this program to further your long-term professional or academic goals.
Looking for a summary of our top tips for writing an effective statement of intent? Check out this infographic:
Follow the guidelines
As you begin your writing, ensure that you review all the guidelines that the school has provided and are closely adhering to then. For example, if there’s a prompt, go through it a few times, and make sure you are responding to the spirit as well as the letter of the prompt. Other considerations you should keep in mind include the maximum and minimum word count, the specific format, and “recommended” stylistic guidelines. For example, some schools ask you to write a formal statement that includes academic citations of works to support each of your research arguments along with references to works that have inspired you. You’ll have to customize the presentation, format, and content of each statement of intent to meet these kinds of specific requirements.
Tell a story with your experiences
It’s very important to remember that your statement of intent, though it is a more technical and functional essay, should not be merely a dry summary of facts, similar to a CV for grad school. Instead, you should write a logical and engaging narrative of the achievements and experiences that led you to your research goals, and how they connect to the program you’re applying to. Add details of your skills and commendable qualities backed up by actual experiences that demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for the subject. Admissions committees are always more impressed by “proof” of abilities i.e., they want applicants to show them their journey, not merely tell them about it. For example, instead of merely saying that you have an extensive knowledge of bio-chemical reactions in banana enzymes, identify the specific research experience where you honed this knowledge, and explain the circumstances in your essay. If it was a research project, then provide details about the project name and supervisor, as well as your own role in the project and the daily tasks you performed.
Check out this video for tips on writing your CV for Grad School:
Don’t clutter your statement of intent with too many experiences and achievements. Always keep referencing your central thesis and evaluating if a specific experience will add to your overall narrative or not. After you’ve worked out your central thesis, spend some time analyzing all your academic, research, volunteer, extracurricular, employment, and life experiences. Select 2 to 5 of the most suitable experiences that align with both your research interests and the program admissions criteria and add only those. If you have numerous such experiences to choose from, we suggest prioritizing current or recent experiences.
As you’re discussing each experience or achievement, be specific and detailed, and provide all the relevant information including the names of supervisors, a detailed list of your duties, and so on. You can also make your statement of intent more robust by referring to a wide variety of sources as your research “inspiration”, including classes, academic conversations, workshops, lectures, seminars, books, as well as the more typical experiences of volunteering, work, or research.
A useful tip: make sure you’re adding transitory statements at the end and beginning of each paragraph, to build that logical flow and connect one experience or idea to the next. If you think your essay is looking too dry or CV-like, this is one quick fix you can try in order to narrativize your experiences.
Since a statement of intent is a more formal document written for a very specific purpose, ensure you are using professional/academic and formal language and, if required, you can use technical terms to explain your research ideas. Your evaluators will most likely be professionals from the same field, and they actually expect you to show your expertise in that specific area.
At the same time, avoid using long, complicated sentences. Make sure you use your authentic voice and keep your tone as natural as possible. Thoroughly check your essays for grammar, spelling, clarity of thought, logical flow, and coherence.
Don’t get too personal
Remember that your statement of intent is very different from a personal statement. As we mentioned previously, it’s more formal and has a very specific focus. The admissions committee is expecting to see a coherent autobiography of your academic or professional interests and experiences. That should be your focus – you should only refer to personal information as it relates to the larger context of your academic experiences. For example, avoid telling stories from your childhood about your early interests or including details about life events that shaped you, unless they are strictly relevant to your research journey.
This isn’t the right platform to expand upon excessively personal issues such as an illness or major life changes. You can briefly touch upon these topics or weave them into your professional narrative, if it makes sense. For example, if your grades took a serious dip in a specific period due to personal circumstances, you could choose to briefly address that. But don’t make such incidents the central thesis of your statement of intent. Focus on skills, abilities and contributions, and your inspiration and motivation to pursue research. Rather than expanding on irrelevant childhood details, expand on your professional, academic, and personal connections to the program and school you’re applying to.
Avoid cliches and focus on facts
You don’t need a high-level research “break-through” or nationally recognized academic or research award to make your statement of intent stand out. Many students turn to cliches such as “I want to make the world a better place” or “I just want to help people” to hide what they perceive as insufficiently impressive experiences. In fact, no matter what your past experiences, it’s much better to focus on covering the facts, rather than evoking sentimental cliches to make your experiences seem grander than they actually are. Admissions committees aren’t expecting you to have advanced achievements beyond your level – the whole point of applying to grad school is to get the opportunity to do that level of work.
So instead of worrying about the “quality” of your experiences, focus on ensuring that your essay effectively discussed your best skills and true capabilities. Spend some time self-reflecting about what you learned from your academic, professional, and extracurricular experiences, how they contributed to your journey to grad school, what new skills you developed, what obstacles you overcame, and so on.
Write multiple drafts and seek feedback from experts
A statement of intent requires a little more intensive writing and editing than your typical admissions essays and statements. We suggest sharing your essay with subject matter experts such as research supervisors, faculty members, and other academic mentors who can give you their detailed feedback about the technical aspects of your statement. Their suggestions can help you refine your essay and identify ways to differentiate your thesis from others.
If you’re sure about the technical content of your essay, but need help with the writing, flow, coherence, grammar, and other such stylistic elements, consider getting expert help from a graduate school admissions consultant. These consultants have worked with numerous other students and can help you improve your written communication skills with proven strategies that work.
Whether or not you engage the help of experts, make sure you ask at least 1 other person to review your statement of intent once, even if they’re just a friend or family member. Remember, after going over the same content over and over again for days and weeks, visual fatigue sets in. A fresh pair of eyes can spot small errors and mistakes that you might have missed.
Sample Statement of Intent
Here’s a sample statement of intent for your reference:
Program/School: Clinical Psychology Masters at Ryerson University
Prompt: Describe your reasons for pursuing graduate study in the Psychology program, your research interests, how your previous studies and experiences have prepared you for the program, as well as your career objectives and how the graduate degree will advance them. (500-1000 words)
Statement of Intent:
“What is the ticking mechanism of the human mind? How can we truly know it?”
Professor Donaldson’s words from my very first Intro to Psychology class sparked my interest in the world of clinical psychology. Following my curiosity rewarded me with the discovery of my central academic passion in life – developmental psychology and its applications for adolescent females. Today, I hope to enroll in Ryerson University’s Clinical Psychology program so I can further explore my research interests and channel them towards my long-term goals of becoming a research-psychologist, combining clinical psychology practice with research experience to make new discoveries in this area. I believe my undergraduate education has prepared me to undertake advanced research projects and I would be an excellent candidate for your program.
My initial interest in psychology at the beginning of my freshman year soon led me to take on advanced psychology coursework, targeted personal reading, and extra credit projects. I soon built up a strong foundational base in the concepts of General Psychology, Behavioral Psychology, Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Psychology of Gender Roles. When completing the last course during my sophomore year, I found that I had a strong academic interest in the intersections of gender theory and clinical psychology. I was simultaneously completing a Psychological Assessment Tools course to hone my clinical lab skills. The confluence of these two courses helped me synthesize my special interest in understanding and addressing the biases in classic psychological assessment tools and analyzing their impact on incorrect diagnosis, failed treatments, and rate of relapse in impacted patients, especially women. That was when I decided that I wanted to improve my research skills so I could eventually complete advanced studies in this area.
With this goal in mind, I enrolled in many challenging research-oriented courses in my junior year, including Applied Statistical Inference for the Behavioral Sciences, Principles of Measurement, and so on. I also signed up for an intensive summer workshop “Research Skills for Undergraduates”, which helped me further build my research skills and knowledge. As part of this workshop, I got the chance to work on an independent research study under the mentorship of the Psychology department faculty members. I gathered peer-reviewed sources, analyzed my findings, extrapolated data and statistics to draw fresh conclusions, and suggested new hypothesis for future research. This research-heavy course load helped me cultivate crucial skills required for advanced research such as critical analysis, and time and resource management. I think these research skills have equipped me to take on the challenging coursework at Ryerson’s Clinical Psychology Master’s program.
Thanks to my research skills, I was able to get one of the highly sought-after research assistant spots in the affiliated North American Psychological Research Association (NAPRA) Lab and Clinic near my campus. This experience allowed me to test my nascent interest in the area of gender bias and clinical assessments through actual, real world clinical experience and research activities. I assisted Dr. Mary Brown in her long-term study on the effectiveness of clinical tools in diagnosing adult women with mental disorders including depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, PTSD, etc. My main duties included data collection from long-term subjects in a controlled environment. Specifically, I administered clinical and neuropsychological scales to assess the long-term validity of diagnosis and effectiveness of treatment plans. This experience helped me learn how to analyze data, prepare reports, and create data summaries for on-going long-term projects. I also learned how to interact with clinical subjects and maintain productive relationships with long-term patients. Besides these critical research skills, I also gained first-hand knowledge of the limitations of clinical tools with respect to diagnosing mental illness in adult women. My interest in this area was cemented and I was particularly interested in further pursuing a clinical study of the differentiated PTSD symptoms in adult women and tracking the effectiveness of traditional diagnostic manuals in assessing these symptoms.
For my senior thesis, I chose to write a paper on the long-term effects of misdiagnosis in female patients with PTSD, under the guidance of Dr. Mary Brown. My research proposal aimed to synthesize data about suicide rates and drug abuse in women who did not receive an initial PTSD diagnosis due to their unconventional symptoms. I used a correlational design to explore the relationship between different data sets. I found that domestic abuse survivors were twice as likely to be misdiagnosed, and over 50% of women who were initially denied a PTSD diagnosis and later received it suffered serious long-term health deterioration as a consequence of the period of misdiagnosis. I presented my findings at my university’s Annual Psychology Conference. The experience of working on this thesis was truly enjoyable, and once it was over, I found myself eager to expand the scope of my research and test more high-level hypotheses.
That is what inspired me to apply to Ryerson’s Clinical Psychology Master’s program. This program provides an ideal opportunity for me to independently explore this interest, further hone my research skills, and work towards establishing my own clinical/research practice. Specifically, during my graduate studies, I would like to focus on assessing the rates of misdiagnosis for ADHD and depression among adult women and evaluating the effectiveness of assessment tools based on my findings. I think my research interests are closely aligned with the work of the Psychology Department faculty members, Drs. Miriam Lane and Robert Stark. I think with my research specialization and advanced skills, I would be an ideal candidate to assist them in their on-going projects on clinical experiments with innovative diagnostic methods. Ryerson’s focus on providing graduate students with both research and clinical experiences aligns with my long-term career goal of becoming a researcher/psychologist.
My academic proficiency, advanced research skills, and passion for clinical research make me the ideal candidate for Ryerson’s Clinical Psychology Master’s program. I think I am ready to handle graduate level research work, and I believe Ryerson’s curriculum, faculty, and facilities make it the perfect fit for my long-term career goals and research commitments.
Want some more tips for applying to graduate school? Check out our blog here.
1. What is a statement of intent?
A statement of intent is an autobiographical summary of your research interests and experiences, with an emphasis on how the program you’re applying to can help you achieve your goals. Some schools provide specific prompts for their statement of intent, asking students to describe aspects of their program they would most benefit from. A statement of intent is a more formal and functional document than your typical admissions essays, and usually only research-intensive master’s courses request this type of essay in your application.
2. How is a statement of intent different from a statement of purpose?
While these two admissions essays have a lot in common – for example, they are both research-focused and help admissions committees evaluate your academic and professional credentials for their program. However, a key difference between them is the scope. A statement of purpose is more general, focused on your overall academic, professional and/or extracurricular experiences and your long-term career goals. A statement of intent is more targeted and detailed, with a clear focus on your specific research interests. In your statement of intent, you must reference the programs you’re applying to, and explain at length how you can contribute to them and which of their offerings most attract you.
3. What long should my statement of intent be?
This depends on the specific requirements of the program you’re applying to. Generally, a statement of intent has a prescribed word count ranging from 250 to 1000 words. Even if there’s no maximum word count provided, we recommend not exceeding 900 words. While you need to explain your research interests in detail, remember that this essay is not a research thesis and doesn’t need that level of scientific enquiry.
4. How should I structure my statement of intent?
Your statement of intent should have the following structure:
- Introduction: This should clearly set out your central thesis and reference your research interests and the name of the program/school you’re applying to.
- Main body paragraphs: You can add 1 to 5 body paragraphs to discuss the details of relevant experiences and achievements, key skills and qualities, and your specific interest in the program you’re applying to.
- Conclusion: Here, make sure you reiterate your research thesis, and call back to the program/college name. Provide a clear statement of why you think you are a uniquely well-suited candidate for their program.
5. How can I write an impressive statement of intent?
To write an impressive statement of intent, you’ll have to spend sufficient time researching the facilities and features of the program and school you’re applying to, analyzing your own research interests and skills, and coming up with a central “thesis” that aligns the two. Include details of multiple experiences, achievements, awards, and activities to support your claims and prove your passion and suitability for a specific research area. Avoid including irrelevant personal details or cliches, and instead focus on creating a logical flow of experiences leading to your current application.
6. Can I write the same statement of intent for different programs?
No, your statement of intent must be tailored for each program you’re applying to. That’s the whole point of a statement of intent – it explains why you’re well-suited to a particular program, and how you intend to use their resources to further your research interests. If you don’t refer to their unique offerings and instead just provide a general summary of your research interests, admissions committees will not be able to gauge why you’re a good fit for their program.
7. Do all graduate programs ask for a statement of intent?
No, not all graduate programs ask for a statement of intent. Some ask for an additional statement of intent along with a personal statement and/or statement of purpose, while others only require the statement of intent. You should check the admissions websites of the schools you’re applying to learn more.
8. How much time should I spend writing my statement of intent?
We recommend that you spend at least 6 weeks writing your statement of intent. This will give you sufficient time to refine your central “research thesis”, analyze your history of experiences to identify the most suitable ones, write and edit multiple drafts, and seek out feedback from expert reviewers.
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