Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose – What’s the Difference? Is there one? 14

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.


  1. Thank you so much for explaining the difference between the essays. It’s not that easy to figure that out, especially for international students.

  2. Thank you for writing such an informative article. One of universities I’m applying to request statement of purpose while others are asking for personal statements. And I was almost sure, that in the first one you might need to make an accent on a purpose of applying to school. A lot of other articles are really blurred around the edges about the difference while yours finally describes it perfectly well.
    But I still have one question. After reading in the article on this website – – about statement of purpose I don’t know whether I should tell in SOP about my other interests in a brief way or should I not mention them at all. Some of them are not relevant to my field of study but I think they can tell about how determine I am. 
    Please, clarify.
    And thank you for your hard work! 

  3. Thank you for the clarification, was really confused since the school I am applying to asked for a statement of purpose and an essay.

  4. Pingback: Personal Statement and Statement of Purpose – 4am. 3 cups of coffee. 2 more papers. 1 degree.

  5. Great article! Finally, I understood what is the difference between these two pieces of writing. Anyway, they have a lot in common. The goal of every student is to impress the admission committee and stand out from the crowd. You can easily do it by submitting a powerful SOP or personal statement. Writing on your own or using professional writing help – you need to make a difference. However, I have a question for the author. How long a perfect statement of purpose should be? I read some information that it should take only 1 page. But how is it possible to put all your achievements, strengths, experience on a single page of the paper? Please, clarify.
    Thanks for great article!

  6. Great info! So, the main difference between these two pieces of writing is that statement of purpose is more focused on the program the student is applying for: reasons why he chose it, whether he’s prepared to all academic challenges, what benefits grad school will get if he’ll be accepted. So like in a sample statement of purpose graduate school, your goal is to persuade the selection committee you’re the greatest fit for the program. Based on my experience, an applicant must be confident and show off a bit because the competition is always tough. Best of luck to all future students!

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