Advice for Writing a Strong Statement of Purpose

A strong statement of purpose communicates to an admissions committee your preparedness for graduate studies. You need to introduce yourself, explain what sparked your interested in graduate study in Hhistory, describe your academic background, and elaborate on your academic interests going forward. Finally, you need to tell the admissions committee why you are choosing their department — why are they a good fit for you, and why are you a good fit for them?

Essential Elements

Most statements of purpose are no longer than 2 pages in length. All should consist of the following elements:

  1. Introduction

Tell the committee where your interests lie and why you have chosen to attend graduate school. This part should be brief and to the point — do not spend a lot of time on autobiography.

  1. Summary of undergraduate and (if applicable) previous graduate career

Explain any research you have conducted (and indicate with whom, what sort of work your produced) including any important papers, senior/MA thesis. This section is the place to include anything scholarly beyond your curricular requirements that might pertain to the area you wish to study in graduate school.

  1. Discussion of the relevance of recent/current activities

This is the place to discuss what you have been doing if you are returning to graduate school after a period in the workplace or have completed internships or work experience in a relevant area. You can describe what you learned in your position and indicate how your experiences influenced your decision to attend graduate school. You should be keep this section (if it is necessary) brief — remember the admissions committee will also be assessing your CV that will contain some of this information.

  1. Explanation of your academic interests and plans for graduate study

The final section of your statement of purpose should be the longest. Here you explain what you would like to study in graduate school with enough specificity to persuade the admissions committee that you understand the scope of research in history and are engaged with the profession.

First indicate the area of your interests — describe the place and period you want to study and what kinds of broad questions you wish to explore. It is often a good idea to indicate which scholars’ work you admire, or what approaches to historical research interest you most. Next explain precisely what you want to research and what specific questions are shaping your project. PhD applicants should describe the project they wish to undertake for their dissertation. You should write an ample paragraph here!

Once you have explained your interests, you need to explain why you think you are a good fit for the department — part of this process is identifying which professors you would like to work with. Look at faculty profiles to identify professors with interests similar to your own. Don’t just list names, describe what aspects of their work appeal to you and be as specific as possible.

Some General Tips

  1. Write in an active, not passive voice — doing so will make your statement more dynamic.
  2. Use examples — don’t tell us, show us!
  3. If life circumstances affected your grades or your time in college explain these briefly — it can demonstrate your ability to persevere despite obstacles.
  4. Be concise — stick to the page limit. A well-crafted short statement of purpose if much better than a longer statement that lacks clarity and organization.
  5. Get feedback — be sure to show several professors your statement of purpose to get feedback and advice on how to make it stronger.
  6. Proofread! Copyedit for consistency, accuracy, and style. Ask friends to read your statement to pick up on errors that you may have missed.