Writing a Strong Statement of Purpose in 10 Steps

What's Your Story?

Posted February 18, 2019

If you’re not sure how to start writing your Statement of Purpose, you are not alone! The Statement of Purpose is a specific form of writing unique to American higher education, and it takes time and practice to learn. 

With the application deadline for the MS-ALIS and MS-GMC coming up (not to mention all of our funding packages!), we want to do all we can to give you a head start. We’ve compiled this list of suggestions to help you through the process. These tips certainly apply to the M.S. GMC and M.S. ALIS, but they are also useful when approaching any statement of purpose, be it for a fellowship, summer program, grant proposal, or internship.

The following list is broken down into Pre-writing, Drafting, and Finalizing.  We recommend keeping these things in mind during each step. Good luck!


1. Familiarize yourself with the program and its vision.

This is the first and most important step of the process, because it provides information that you will need to keep in mind throughout your writing. Start by looking at the website, the about page, and the marketing materials. What are the values and goals of the organization? Why does the program to which you are applying exist? The most effective thing you can do in a statement of purpose is to show that you will champion the values of the organization in your own work.

2. Make a list of the aspirations of the program and consider how these aspirations might align with your qualifications and goals.

Find out what the program wants to develop in its participants (e.g. service, leadership, professional success) and consider how you will achieve these in the future. Articulate your goals as they align with these aspirations.

3. Consider which key accomplishments you want to highlight to the committee.

Consider the relevance of your experiences to the program and which of your experiences demonstrate your readiness for this program. For a graduate program, for example, you will want to show that you have experience doing research and advanced level study. You may also want to showcase times when you took initiative to make an impact in your community or department, such as in a student organization or internship.


4. Connect the key features of the program to your goals, and convey the desire to give back.

Explain how your participation in the program will benefit you in your future endeavors. Showing relevance here is key. Try to show how the program fits into your overall life narrative and how your life so far has led up to this moment.   

While you are marketing yourself, it is also important to convey an attitude of giving rather than taking. Emphasize your enthusiasm for contributing to the program. Think of yourself as joining a community or a team. How will you participate?

5. Organize your essay in an extremely obvious way.

Your essay will be read by people who have never met you, who do not know your home department, the companies you've worked for, or the timeline of your story. Make it easy to remember you, or better yet, make it easy to get to know you. Introduce your main points in your introduction, give each paragraph a clear topic and a point, add evidence to support this point, and leave clear signposts along the way. 

6. Include informational details that create a story.

Be specific about the programs, courses, and experiences that you’ve had. Include years and details that will help the committee visualize your story. Acronyms do not always carry over well. To avoid confusion, spell out names the first time and include the acronym in parentheses.

7. Talk about how you’ve learned from past experiences and how that knowledge prepares you for the program in question.

The goal is to connect your past experiences to your development and your future goals. For example, if you traveled to France on a study abroad during the Summer, you might want to explain you developed your French-speaking skills and cross-cultural competence. Include how these experiences prepared you for the program. Make sure your most important accomplishments are highlighted!


8. Write a strong introduction that summarizes all of your main points and emphasizes your fit for the program.

It is a good strategy to have the most important information in this paragraph to make sure it doesn’t get lost. You never know how long readers will spend on your personal statement, so don’t leave anything crucial for the end.

9. Make sure each paragraph has a specific topic and that they come together to create a story or argument.

For example, you might want to take some sentences from one paragraph and add them to another during finalization to create a more logical flow in your storyline and make the statement of purpose easier to read.

10. Conclude with an eye toward the future: Include some "future statements" to convey confidence and enthusiasm.

Future statements gesture toward future communications and/or relationships (e.g. “I look forward to participating in this program” or “I look forward to learning from the other recipients”). They add a form of emotional engagement to your statement of purpose, creating positive emotion in the reader and reflecting confidence in the writer.

Ultimately, the Statement of Purpose is an opportunity to imagine the future you want, so have fun and don't be shy about your accomplishments. We look forward to hearing from you!

Sidebar: Mastering the Word Count

A sentence full of meaning conveys confidence. It is to your advantage to write a longer draft and force yourself to delete 20% of it, as streamlining your words will make your writing stronger. If you're stuck, here are some tricks for cutting words:

  • Eliminate subjunctive and “to be” constructions. Use meaningful verbs instead.
  • Shorten your sentence structures, eliminating conjunctions and boosting your confidence at the same time.
  • Cut adverbs. Think about cutting adjectives, too. Less is more!

Created by the 21st Century Career Design Studioof the School of Modern Languages. For more information about our graduate programs, please visit gmc.iac.gatech.edu.