In This Section
The Statement of Purpose (SOP) is crucial to your application. Some in the arts & humanities consider the SOP the most important component of your admission application.
Points to Consider
- The audience is department faculty who make admission decisions about each student who applies. Faculty desire to admit bright, intellectually promising students who are a good fit for the department.
- Begin writing your SOP many months before the deadline. In doing so, you can start over or put it down for days. In other words, give yourself time to be very thoughtful about what you write.
- Your SOP must stand out among others. For some departments, your application is one of hundreds.
- At UC Berkeley, the SOP should focus on your academic record and future. Unless personal issues are directly and significantly related to your academics, they should not be included in the SOP. Rather, that information possibly belongs in your Personal Statement, in Form C.
- Keep in mind that the SOP is one of few opportunities to qualitatively express who you are and your academic goals. Take advantage of this opportunity and put a considerable effort into it. A too brief and general SOP is all too telling!
- Explain any irregularity in your academic record, for example, low grades in a course or semester.
- Convey your personality and intellectual abilities in your SOP through careful and creative writing. Keep in mind that in most humanities disciplines scholars communicate their ideas through writing, rather than objects or calculations. Thus, humanities faculty tend to be wordsmiths and talented writers. They desire their graduate students also to show promise in their writing.
- Steer clear of the passive voice. Be sure that your thoughts flow smoothly from one paragraph to another.
- For Berkeley, do not exceed two single-spaced pages for the SOP.
- Line up one or two people to critically read your SOP before it is finalized.
Writing the Statement of Purpose
The SOP has been described as an intellectual résumé and is one of the most, if not the most, important component of your application in the majority of the arts and humanities programs. In addition to the nuts and bolts of the information provided in the SOP, faculty members look for intellectual vitality and promise in the SOP that indicate one's preparedness for the highest level graduate work.
Basically, in the SOP faculty want to learn the highlights of your academic preparation for their program, your research or creative future interests, and why Berkeley is a good fit for you. However, do not only cover these points. Related personal stories, intellectual musings, or significant events bring you and your background to life. Following, I discuss three items specifically that you cover in your SOP.
- Academic preparation
- Indicate what classes have best prepared you for graduate study and your specific interests.
- Are there specific courses/mentors that have greatly influenced or shaped your academic pursuit?
- What research experience or creative output have you accomplished in your field of interest?
- What is your current command of language(s) as required by the program?
- Address experiences that have significantly enriched, informed, or influenced your graduate study choices (for example, study abroad, international language study, unique work opportunities).
- Research or creative endeavors
- Address significant research papers/projects or creative endeavors that are strong examples of in-depth study or effort. This is an opportunity to talk about independent projects, senior theses, or musical compositions that you are particularly proud of.
- Depending on your discipline, you will need to discuss your research interests or creative direction in graduate school. Even if you are not sure in what direction you are specifically interested, you must address something concrete here. For example, why do you desire to pursue Iberian literature or a Master's degree that focuses on painting? You can also discuss the professors in your proposed department whose research interests parallel your own interests. It is not name dropping if you are thoughtful about referencing these individuals.
- Why UC Berkeley?
- Why did you choose to apply to Berkeley? With whom would you like to work and why? What is significant about the department, program, or group? Ultimately, why would Berkeley be such a good match for you and your future career goals?
- In other words, sell us on why Berkeley is a good match for you.