Tips on Writing the Statement of Purpose

Your statement of purpose is the single most important piece of the application.

  1. Things to Keep in Mind
    • Remember that you are writing for an audience who cares about one thing and one thing only: they want to recruit graduate students with a great deal of intellectual promise.

    • Remember that your statement has to stand out among countless others.

    • Don't tell it, show it. That is, don't say how dedicated or committed you are; show it by describing your accomplishments. Use positive language and avoid the passive voice.

    • Be sure that your thoughts flow from one paragraph to the next.

    • Stay focused on your research: past, present, and future.

    • If there is an aberration in your record, explain in positive terms what happened with that particular course or semester.

    • Be sure to find a critical reader who will look over the statement for you.

  2. Writing the Statement of Purpose

    Part 1: Introduction

    Write two sentences or so on how [sociology, history, anthropology, or political science, etc.] first grabbed you. (The History Department is particularly fond of lyrical writers.) In good writing, God is in the details. Stay away from saying the predictable. Use colorful language. Let your personality come through in your writing. And briefly introduce what it is you want to pursue in graduate school.

    Part 2: Academic Biography 

    • What classes have you taken to prepare yourself for graduate school?
    • What classes/mentors were particularly influential in shaping your academic pursuit?
    • What tutorials, research experience, or field work have you done in the field of your interest?
    • What insights and methods did you gain?
    • If there was anything unusual in your academic journey, such as transfers, a hiatus, jobs, etc., explain in positive terms how that came about and what you gained from it.

    Part 3: Graduate Research Project

    Speak about a specific project you want to pursue in graduate school. In some ways everything you've written thus far should lead up to the point you make here. Even if you are not sure, it is important that you choose something concrete to speak of. The committee needs to see how you think through a specific research project. Intellectual clarity and zip: that's what the committee is looking for.

    Part 4: Why UC Berkeley?

    Why did you choose Berkeley? With whom would you work and why? What do you like about the department? What is its distinguishing mark? (Don't waste your time with empty accolades in this section.) Ultimately, why would it make a good match for you and your future career goals?

Exude confidence, poise, and commitment!