Writing a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement for U.S. Universities

A personal statement or a statement of purpose is a key part of your application to a university in the United States. Your statement helps distinguish you from other candidates and paints a portrait of you as a person. Most U.S. universities evaluate candidates as a whole. They ask not only for test scores and grades, but also for information about you. They want your statement to reflect your academic career, your personal experiences, and your motivation for studying the major you are applying for.

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose

Saman Damanhoori

There is a difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. For undergraduate applicants, universities usually ask for a personal statement where you can write about individual experiences, such as the influence that a relative or a mentor had on you, or a particular set of events that shaped you. A personal statement can be highly individual, and it can be an opportunity to think about and discuss the surroundings and circumstances that formed your interests. You can talk about challenges you have faced, how you were able to overcome them, and what you have learned from them.

The statement of purpose is common for graduate programs, where reviewers aren’t as concerned about personal matters. They are more interested in your reasons for choosing the major you are applying for and your experience in that field. In a statement of purpose, you should avoid mentioning experiences that are not related to your choice of major. You can also discuss the reasons you want to get a degree in higher education and what motivates you. Also, you should include information about why you are applying to this particular university and program and which professors you would like to study with and why.

A key question for a statement of purpose is: Why do you want to study in the program you applied to? You need to have a clear answer to this and to be confident about your response.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose

Do

  • Be yourself. Don’t exaggerate.
  • Apply for the major that you really want.
  • Be honest; tell the truth about your interests.
  • Make a case for yourself. Why should this university should pick you?
  • Highlight what is unique about you.
  • Read your statement out loud. It will help you find grammatical mistakes and errors in logic.
  • Have a second reader. Ask your teacher at school or someone who is familiar with these types of essays to read it.

Don’t

  • Make up information—stick to the facts
  • Copy anyone else’s personal statement. Plagiarism detection software is commonly in use.
  • List your scores or your grades already covered elsewhere on the application
  • Be overdramatic in order to be remembered. Universities are interested in your academics skills and what you have done to acquire those skills.
  • Write your personal statement or statement of purpose as if you’re thinking on paper–your statement should have coherent thoughts and ideas.
  • Copy and paste the same personal statement to all the universities you are applying for. Each university has its own questions, prompts, or requirements.

Case Study of a Personal Statement

Female applicant from Saudi Arabia
Successful applicant for a master’s degree program in economics

“Writing a personal statement did not come easy to me. The very idea of it scared me. I went to an English-language school in my country to talk to a teacher and asked if she would read my draft and give me feedback. Before I wrote the first draft my statement, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and read several articles on the subject.

“The most difficult part for me was to show the ways in which I am unique. I wasn’t sure whether my accomplishments were important or impressive enough to be distinctive. But I knew that I had worked hard to prepare for this program, and that gave me the confidence to write the statement.

“First I composed a collection of paragraphs. Then I took what I had written to the teacher and asked her to point out sentences that were either not as well written or didn’t fit the topic.

“If I had to do it over, I would start writing earlier. I would have done better and I would have had time to do more revisions. I would suggest seeking help from classmates and instructors who can give you feedback on how to edit your drafts.”

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is also an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.

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