Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement 101

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readMar 28, 2023

Are you planning to make a stellar impression on your grad school application? Whether you’re applying for business, law, or some other program, the admissions form most likely requires two essays: the statement of purpose or the personal statement.

Don’t fret — we’re here to give you the lowdown about these tricky elements and help ensure that whatever piece your dream school needs, it will be ready for them relatively stress-free!

Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement: What’s the deal?

To put it briefly, your statement of purpose outlines what you want to do while a personal statement delves into who you are. Each essay serves its distinct purpose in communicating with the program and demonstrating how well-suited you are for its requirements.

Unlike the statement of purpose, which exhibits your educational qualifications and professional aspirations, as well as how you match up to the program requirements, the personal statement emphasizes your motivations for enrolling in this particular program. Furthermore, it serves to illustrate any major successes or hardships that have taken place throughout your journey.

Despite the clear distinctions between these two statements, they share a fundamental objective: to demonstrate your suitability for the program and convince admissions that you will excel in it.

Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement: How to know which one to write

It all depends on what documents the institution requires and how each is defined. Knowing this difference can make or break an application, so it’s essential to research thoroughly before getting started.

Many graduate programs don’t make any distinction between the personal statement and the statement of purpose, utilizing the terms interchangeably. On the other hand, some universities specifically differentiate between these two essays for admission requirements. Some grad schools, however, have crafted a single statement that encompasses the best elements of both.

As a rule of thumb, most graduate programs require at least one essay. For research-based programs, it is typically the more formal statement of purpose that must be submitted.

If you need more info on the essay, head to the official website. All information about which essays are necessary will be listed either in their application or on the program’s application requirements page.

If you’re unsure what topic to focus your grad school admissions essay on or which type of essay is required, take a look at the FAQ page first. Otherwise, feel free to get in touch with the program directly by email or phone for further clarification.

Key elements to consider when writing the statement of purpose vs personal statement

With such significant disparities between the personal statement and statement of purpose, it’s key to recognize how best to craft each essay. In this section, we will provide you with a few useful tips for creating an eye-catching and engaging personal statement or statement of purpose for your grad school application. We also offer some common advice that works well when writing either type of document.

Statement of Purpose

When writing a statement of purpose, it’s essential to outline your academic and/or professional goals and how the program you are applying to will help you achieve those objectives. Make sure that your essay communicates your professional ambitions while connecting them to the program.

Undoubtedly, you must have already done some background research on the program to apply-but you must delve even deeper by exploring its intricacies and writing about the facets of the program that resonate most with your interests.

Writing about your target program can be a great way to engage readers. Consider discussing the professors you wish to learn from, classes that excite and challenge you, any research opportunities or internships available, networking events that give students an edge in their field of study, or even a certain skill set emphasized by the program. You might also want to mention smaller class sizes that offer more personalized instruction or contests/competitions open for participation — all unique attributes offered by the specific school! Avoid talking about the program’s selectivity or acceptance rate, along with its ranking in your essay — it’s best to leave these topics out.

Graduate programs should carefully consider the applicants they admit to ensure that those students are well-equipped to learn and explore their desired areas of research, while also fitting with the program’s specialization and faculty expertise.

If you’re applying for a doctoral program, it is especially essential to remember this point- since the majority of your time will be spent collaborating with a small group of professors in a long-term research project or dissertation. To demonstrate your compatibility with the program, consider explaining how a professor’s research interests, background, and abilities meet yours and showcasing how the academic or professional focus of the program aligns with your future aspirations.

Personal Statement 101

Crafting an engaging and captivating personal statement is critical for success. You have the liberty to be more creative with your story because it’s less formal in comparison to a traditional statement of purpose.

When writing your grad school personal statement, you have a great opportunity to demonstrate your creative abilities. Don’t be afraid to venture out of the typical chronological format if that’s what suits you best.

Showcase your professional demeanor carefully, and always ensure you are displaying yourself as a suitable candidate for the program. Do not overdo the informalities; instead, emphasize that you take this opportunity seriously.

Personal Motivations

The personal statement offers an opportunity to share more of yourself than a statement of purpose does. Make the most out of it by focusing on your own distinct motivations for pursuing this field and applying to this graduate program in particular.

Take a few moments to reflect on why you’re applying for grad school and this specific program. Think about what made you choose this particular field, how it resonated with your ambitions, as well as the special qualities of the graduate program that piqued your interest. Why do these things attract you now?

Focus on Challenges You’ve Overcome

Your grad school personal statement can be used to emphasize any areas of weakness in your application as well as display how you overcame any difficulties, such as career issues, health concerns and financial hardships.

When narrating your struggles, always showcase the positive outcome. Doing so will demonstrate to admissions committees that you are capable of conquering obstacles and can continue to be triumphant in the future.

Applicable Tips for the Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement

Complying with the graduate school essay’s guidelines is essential if you wish to make a strong impression. To reap the benefits, it’s important to answer most, if not all of the questions asked in your prompt. Strictly adhere to the length requirements specified — most graduate school essays will either have a word limit (e.g., 500 words) or page count (e.g., two to three double-spaced pages). Do not exceed this maximum! Finally, make sure to include every essential detail that the program demands on each page of your essay. This could entail anything from your full name and document type, to a page number for tracking.

Be Specific

Crafting an essay for any purpose requires specific detail. When writing a grad school personal statement or statement of purpose, it is essential to incorporate the names of individuals and places as well as vivid depictions of ideas, people, emotions, and events. This will not only make your narrative more realistic but also more accessible to the admissions committee.

Additionally, dive deep into your graduate program by addressing particular facets such as your research interests and what motivated you to pursue this field of study.

Don’t be phony!

A statement of purpose is more formal than a personal essay, but it still needs to be written in your own authentic voice. Don’t feel the need to impress with fancy words; admissions committees can easily tell when someone is just trying too hard! Instead, strive for sophistication and naturalness that demonstrate both your personality and intellect.

Proofread the essay to death

Make sure to give yourself sufficient time to review and refine your essays for grad school applications. Demonstrating superior, graduate-level writing abilities is an integral aspect of both the personal statement and statement of purpose, so take due care in constructing a captivating (and grammatically impeccable!) piece.

Once you’ve composed a working draft, scan it for any typos, grammatical errors, and areas that may need to be adjusted. After your own review process, seek out the opinion of other people; they might offer helpful advice on how to improve or modify specific aspects.

Conclusion

Graduating from college and pursuing a graduate degree is a giant step forward toward achieving your professional dreams. Though the statement of purpose vs personal statement have distinctions, both have to be crafted with care for you to excel in your application process. It takes time, knowledge, and guidance to write outstanding documents that can truly show who you are as an aspiring graduate student.

If you still feel like you need help writing either essay, don’t fret. Our experienced essay services are here to support you and provide exactly what you need no matter where your academic path may lead. A polished personal statement or statement of purpose could be the difference between admittance or rejection at any school, so don’t neglect it. The chances of landing in your dream school will skyrocket if you take full advantage of this great resource today. Don’t wait another minute — check out our graduate school application services now. Got questions? Sign up for a consultation, or send us your draft for an estimate. It’s FREE!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on March 28, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/