Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose – What’s the Difference? Is there one? Reply

As you work to complete your graduate school applications, your program will likely ask for a personal statement, a statement of purpose, or even both. The program might give you detailed instructions on what should be included in the statement or leave you to figure it out on your own with an enigmatic ‘Include a Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose’.

If you are applying to multiple graduate programs, you might be wondering if you can use the same general content regardless of whether the program asks for a ‘personal statement’ or a ‘statement of purpose’. The good news is there is significant crossover between to the two, but there are subtle differences. Shaping the essay the right way can greatly enhance the essay’s effectiveness by providing the admissions officers with the information that they want to know about you.

Here are some hints on how to submit the right essay to your graduate program:

1. Program only asks for a personal statement.

A personal statement gives you more leeway than a statement of purpose. However, this can also be more challenging in that you need to show your readiness for a graduate program both in terms of skills and character. The majority of the essay needs to be about your passion for your chosen field and why you have chosen to apply to a particular program. If you have space left over in the essay, you may want to write about an experience not directly related to your field, such as volunteer service. Even so, end the passage with a clear statement about how that experience has better prepared you for graduate studies.

2. Program only asks for a statement of purpose.

A statement of purpose should have a sharper focus than a personal statement. It should show that you have a strong sense of, well, purpose in applying to the program. In your statement of purpose, place the emphasis on all of the reasons that you are applying to graduate school. You may want to write about experiences directly related to the graduate program and go into detail about why you are choosing a specific program. Information about particular classes, professors whose work you admire or whose work aligns with your own research goals, and other factors like location of the school or internship opportunities should be included. Avoid writing about anything not directly related to the program. For example, if you are applying to a program in Materials Science, don’t start the essay with an anecdote about running a marathon or spend a paragraph writing about your experience volunteering at a homeless shelter.

3. Program asks for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose.

Seeing the request for both a ‘personal statement’ and a ‘statement of purpose’ can instill dread in the hearts of applicants. If this is the case, write your statement of purpose first to write about your research skills and experience, internships, and reasons for choosing the program. In your personal statement, you can go more into detail about the path you took to choosing your field, significant experiences not directly related to your field, and other aspects of your life that demonstrate your character and potential.

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