There are few consistent practices when applying to universities. Although most schools maintain a basic set of requirements, individual institutions also set their own standards. Some universities, for example, require prospective students to write a statement of purpose, whereas others require a personal statement.
Applicants write both personal statements and statements of purpose to provide admissions officers with relevant individualized information about their background, goals, and competencies. These statements should not look like a list of activities or a résumé. They should showcase an applicant’s voice in describing his or her candidacy—it is where applicants can speak for themselves and elaborate upon accomplishments that other parts of the application do not showcase.
Both statement types should have a clear, direct, and concise writing style. They should also focus on the candidate’s preparation for the program and what he or she plans to do with the education at the school to which he or she is applying. The two have similar functions, but there are differences as well.
Universities typically request personal statements for undergraduate or scholarship applications. Statements usually have a 250–350-word limit. They require applicants to describe how their personal and academic backgrounds render them strong candidates for a particular school or program; they also require applicants to provide information about their academic and career goals. Personal statements often have a generalized format. Applicants have freedom in what they write about—and how they write it—as long as they follow application instructions.
Statement of Purpose
Statements of purpose typically require a length of one to two pages. Universities usually request them for graduate school applications and professional programs. Therefore, they often focus on the applicant’s workforce or research-oriented experiences. The application instructions may also provide a few guiding questions for applicants to answer. Additionally, statements of purpose require more detailed information about an applicant’s goals and how the schools/programs will help him or her succeed. In short, they require a more projection into the future than personal statements.
It is important to research programs and schools before writing so you can tailor your statements for each individual application. You should know and express honestly why you will excel in a given program and how you will use your experiences to achieve your future ambitions.
Some schools require both personal statements and statements of purpose—this post should help you determine how to distinguish the two.
Remember, though, that all schools have different expectations. If you find yourself confused or unsure of how to proceed with your statements for a given application, feel free to reach out to your admissions contact.