Originally Posted: Apr 30, 2015
Last Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Now that you’ve decided to apply to graduate schools, your next step is completing your application materials. One of the most important pieces of your packet is a letter of intent, sometimes called a “statement of purpose” or “personal statement.” This essay allows the admission committee to get to know you as a person, not just a student and collection of statistics.
More importantly, your letter of intent is meant to convince the committee that you’re a valuable addition to their program. In order to do this, your statement needs to stand out from the hundreds of others in the pile. Rather than give the admission committee a complete biography, highlight some of the most important moments in your academic or professional careers—those moments that will give the reviewing committee a strong sense of who you are and your commitment to the field.
As you write, keep your audience in mind. The committee members are not only professionals in the field, but they are your future colleagues. The key is to grab them right from the start, so your introduction is particularly important. It should get the reader’s attention immediately so they want to keep reading and learn more about you.
A few other tips to keep in mind:
Discuss your interest in the field
This may sound like a no-brainer, but the whole purpose of this essay is to wow the committee with your passion for what you’ll be studying. Sure, you like it and are excited to learn more. But why? What do you love most about it? Remember, the other applicants have the same passion as you do. What sets you apart from everyone else? Why this field above any others? While the primary purpose of this essay is to let the committee get to know you a little better, it’s also a good way to get you to do some serious thinking about the commitment you want to make.
Mention your end goal
What are you going to do once you have that degree in your hand? Go into some explanation of your career goals and how your grad studies will help you reach them. Admission committees are also thinking about your legacy as a student and how your future accomplishments will reflect on their institution.
Cite key, discrete examples as much as possible throughout your essay. So you’re passionate about the field—what initially piqued your interest? What was the defining moment that convinced you that you were on the right path? Tell these stories in the context of how they have motivated your career decision.
You don’t need to give a laundry list of everything you’ve ever accomplished. Share some of the key moments that have shaped you professionally as well as academically and influenced your decision to attend grad school.
It may be tempting to offer a lengthy expository narrative, detailing your life and how you arrived at this juncture. And if those details really support your bid for a place in graduate school, you can include them. But, in general, you want to keep your essay subject tightly focused on why you want study what you want to study where you want to study it.
Yes, your letter of intent is technically an academic essay. But don’t rely on your thesaurus to find the longest, most complicated-sounding words to try to impress the committee. Just as you did as an undergraduate applicant, use your authentic voice and write as yourself—save the academic vocabulary for your papers!