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Tips for Applying to Graduate School: Advice on Writing a Statement of Purpose From the People Who Read Them

By Leah Antovel, marketing and social media assistant at UF CJC Online

Oct. 5, 2020

Applying to graduate school can be daunting. After determining the school or program you’d like to attend, application processes, including letters of recommendation, transcripts and test scores, can be difficult to navigate. The Statement of Purpose is one element that can seem especially intimidating.

To make writing a Statement of Purpose easier to tackle, we sought advice from the people who read them at UF CJC Online. Tom Kelleher, Ph.D., associate dean at the Division of Graduate Studies and Research, and Evan Kropp, Ph.D., director at UF CJC Online, walked us through our program’s admissions process and best practices for writing statements of purpose based on their own experiences.

Understanding Our Process

Both Dr. Kelleher and Dr. Kropp explain that UF CJC Online Master’s Program is a highly-ranked, competitive program with a comprehensive application process.

“On our website, we provide a list of required documents that applicants need to submit,” Dr. Kropp said. “Applicants log on to our online system to submit their initial application form, and then they work with our admissions and enrollment coordinators to submit any remaining materials.”

Once all required materials are received, including, but not limited to, letters of recommendation, transcripts and a Statement of Purpose, those files are forwarded to the admissions committee who make decisions on a rolling basis.

While a transcript highlights grades and letters of recommendation tell us how others view an applicant, the Statement of Purpose is a prospective student’s chance to speak directly to the admissions committee about their qualifications, interests and goals.

“We admit students based on their credentials and their ability to succeed within the program,” Dr. Kropp said. “Once the admissions committee makes a decision, it is confirmed by our admissions office, and letters are sent out via email to applicants notifying them of our decision.”

Dos and Don’ts

When reading statements of purpose, Dr. Kelleher, Dr. Kropp and the rest of the admissions committee are looking for certain characteristics to identify an ideal candidate.

“We are looking for a match,” Dr. Kelleher said. “We want to know, not just are you among the most competitive applicants for this program, but also, is our program going to be a good match for your needs.”

After clearly highlighting your personal and academic journey and goals, it’s a good idea to put a little bit of your personality into it to set yourself apart. Dr. Kelleher’s son, who’s in the process of applying to college, received advice on college essay writing that he believes is also useful when drafting a Statement of PurposeIf somebody were to read your essay who knows you, would they know it was you who wrote it, or would it sound like some other college student or any other applicant?

Equally important, Dr. Kelleher believes editing is key. Make sure you have someone proofread your work for grammar and consistency. A Statement of Purpose is also a one to two page writing sample for you to demonstrate your writing and communications skills and how those skills will transfer successfully into the program.

Dr. Kropp looks to use the Statement of Purpose to get a better sense of a candidate beyond what can be gathered from a resume, transcripts and letters of recommendation, especially any gaps.

“Often, students will feel that, if they don’t meet a minimum requirement for admissions to the program, that they are automatically disqualified,” Dr. Kropp said. “We don’t automatically disqualify people. The Statement of Purpose is a great opportunity for applicants who feel one or more parts of their application materials may be lacking in some way to speak directly to the admissions committee and explain the reasons why there may be a blemish on their record.”

Learning From Experience

Both Dr. Kelleher and Dr. Kropp wrote statements of purpose for their master’s degrees before working at UF, so their advice partially stems from being on the other side of the process.

Dr. Kelleher remembers making a case in his statement for why he thought it was important for him to go to graduate school and what he wanted to get out of the program. He made sure to include how his personal goals, professional goals and what the program had to offer were aligned.

When Dr. Kropp was writing his Statement of Purpose, he recalls being nervous about meeting all of the criteria and making sure his statement was free of any errors. He later worked with a faculty adviser during his studies who was one of the people who accepted him into the graduate program. The adviser told him in passing that it was his other application materials and definitely not his Statement of Purpose that got him accepted.

“I thought it was kind of funny that he said that because I felt my statement was very strong,” Dr. Kropp said. “I went back and I reread my statement. I had used my statement to explain why, as an older, non-traditional student, I had decided to pursue a career first and then return to school.”

Dr. Kropp’s former adviser had an expectation for the statement to focus on his research interests or key issues in the field. Now, while reviewing application packages, Dr. Kropp looks for statements more like his own that highlight an applicant’s personal journey and why they’d like to attend the program to further their career goals.

“My takeaway from that experience was that despite a statement’s prompt, different individuals working to evaluate applications will have different expectations and will look for different things,” Dr. Kropp said. “It’s why we have multiple people reading and reviewing, and then in instances that are not clear-cut, we have committees that meet to discuss applicants.”

Dr. Kropp adds it may be beneficial to reach out to admissions personnel to get a better sense for what they’re looking for within a Statement of Purpose.

 

With this insight in mind and as you begin or continue to draft your Statement of Purpose, Dr. Kelleher acknowledges that it may be tempting to be excessively humble, but you need to overcome not wanting to self-promote. It’s also important to approach guidelines creatively so your statement stands out from the pile.

“We want to see people personalizing their statements and we want to see which direction people go with it,” Dr. Kropp said. “Don’t overthink it and let your personality shine through. We want to know there’s a real person on the other end of the paperwork.”

If you’d like to learn more about pursuing a degree with UF CJC Online, please visit our website at https://onlinemasters.jou.ufl.edu/ and follow us on social @UFCJConline

 

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