Personal Statements | Statements of Purpose
Personal statements or statements of purpose: What's the difference?
First and foremost, let's consider the differences between a SOP and a personal statement. These terms/genres are often used interchangeably, yet it can still be helpful to think about the unique goals for each essay type whether your applications asks for an SOP, a personal statement, OR a combination of both.
Overall, a personal statement is about who you are as a person/applicant (i.e., looking backward at your life, relevant experiences, etc.); whereas an SOP is about what you want to do in the future (i.e., looking forward at your career goals). Despite the potential overlap in your application essay prompts, we think it can be helpful to consult resources for both the SOP and the personal statement!
Our Writing Center is part of the International Writing Centers Association; we are happy to share resources that other Writing Centers have developed in addition to creating our own. Found a resource that you'd like to recommend to others? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Think of your SOP as an argument in which:
- Your claims about your background experiences and/or accomplishments are supported with evidence.
- Example: Instead of, "During my senior year, I expanded my research skills significantly in Dr. Smith's lab," try: "I joined a qualitative coding team in Dr. Smith's laboratory during my senior year, which allowed me to develop skills in grounded theory methodology and the manuscript preparation process."
Consider using a 'hook' as your introductory sentence to spark your reader's interest:
- A good hook will: a) be relatively short, clear, and snappy; b) be relevant to some overall theme or idea that you develop; and c) offer something relatively specific and unique
- Avoid cliches like: "From a young age..."; and "I have always been interested in..."
- Examples: “Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs science.” OR "In sociology, it’s the small picture that matters."
Think of your personal statement as a glimpse of you in the world:
- Let your readers see you as a real person in a real place at a real time, not just as words on a page.
- Relay an anecdote
- Focus on a particular moment
- Consider starting in media res
- Name names!
- The most specific can be the most universal
Aim for depth and evaluation:
- Depth, not breadth.....and evaluation, not description.
- In other words:
- Say more about less.
- Make sure that each difference experience you share highlights a different value or characteristic
- Push past "resume sentences"
- Example: Instead of, "I assisted a professor in submitting four professional publications;" try this: "Assisting a professor in submitting four publications showed me the complexity of representing research to professional audiences."
Vary your sentence structure to avoid the trap of beginning every sentence with "I..."
- Focus on the work you’ve done and not your self as the subject of sentences helps to create texture and variety, which gives readers a better reading experience.