Tips for Graduate Students writing Statements of Purpose

As a professor who reviews graduate applications, I have discovered that the weakest part of the application is usually the statement of purpose because students don't seem to know what to include or how to write this genre. So, for what it is worth, here are my suggestions for writing more successful personal statements.

The statement of purpose is NOT
  • an autobiography about how you became interested in religious studies or biblical studies
  • a lengthy rehearsal of everything you have done in college (or: everything you have done out of college)
  • a vague discussion about what you think you are interested in studying further
The statement of purpose should
  • begin with a strong paragraph of specifics introducing yourself and your professional goals (i.e. to become a professor, minister, editor, so on)
  • move on to state what program you are applying to and why you want to be admitted to that particular program (i.e. program's resources, specific professors you'd like to study with, areas of study available in the program, and so on)
  • go on to explain specifically what you intend to study and what research area(s) you wish to pursue for your thesis work (do not be vague; you can always shift topics later if you change your mind)
  • include a short paragraph about the qualifications you bring to the program (i.e., languages, fellowships, publications, previous study) and why you should be admitted
  • this should all be accomplished in under two organized pages