Statement of Purpose for Grad School – Examples & Advice

July 8, 2023

sample statement of purpose for graduate school

A statement of purpose is a key component of any graduate school application. While graduate programs and their application processes vary wildly, there are a number of common factors that admission committees will be looking for in a statement of purpose. As opposed to an undergraduate personal essay, a statement of purpose for grad school should prioritize academic interests over a personal story. Select personal details, as they relate to your academic interests, however, can also be an important piece of your statement. If this integration sounds challenging, don’t worry! We’ll look at samples from statement of purpose for grad school examples in the article that follows.

With this central focus in mind, a statement of purpose for graduate school should engage specifically with the program to which you are applying. here it is important to thoroughly research the schools and programs you are applying to, as well as faculty members whose research or academic interests align with your own. You will want to demonstrate these common interests in your statement of purpose, offering a clear sense of what you would contribute to the department and how you would fit into the conversation.

Along these lines, for many programs, it will be helpful to reach out to faculty members who could potentially serve as mentors or collaborators. For some programs, this is an essential component of the application. For others it is merely helpful, both to get a sense of the program for yourself and for the sake of your application. It is a way of demonstrating interest beyond the page and it can provide great material to include in your statement of purpose. As you will see in the following excerpts of a sample statement of purpose from graduate school, leaning into specificity is almost always a smart move.

Things to Include in a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

1) In regards to your scholarly past, how have you arrived at this point? What are the classes, ideas, jobs, internships, research, publications, etc. that have brought you to where you are? What are your academic accomplishments?

2) What questions, interests, or ideas continue to push you forward? What are the trajectories you can see your studies taking? And towards what ends?

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

3) What are your goals and what is the larger purpose towards which you are working? Are there issues you hope to “solve” (or at least contribute to solving), people or communities you strive to help, areas of research you would like to push forward?

4) How do you plan on doing these things and why is this program, with these faculty members, the right place for you?

Structuring the Essay

While there are no set-in-stone rules about how you should structure a statement of purpose for graduate school, a good way to get started is by thinking in terms of an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. The role of the introduction is to give a sense of the person behind the statement. You might do this with a few prescient details or an anecdote that catches the reader’s attention. This is also a nice place to touch upon an image or idea that will be returned to and further developed later in the statement. The introduction should offer context that sets up a discussion of academic interests. Here is an introductory excerpt of a sample statement of purpose from graduate school from a student applying to a Master of Arts program in psychology.

1) Introduction


I entered college convinced that I wanted to be a doctor. My grandfather, who passed away when I was thirteen, had been a rural practitioner and someone I looked up to. I admired his calm, caring demeanor when I was a child, and, after his passing, through the adoring stories I heard about him, my admiration only grew. At his funeral, in Western Massachusetts where his practice was located, many of the people he had helped, families spanning multiple generations, expressed their gratitude in a way that was new to me. I saw how much good a person could do and from this moment I decided that I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps.

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

So, I entered the University of Chicago on a pre-med track, planning to major in biology. I arrived at school as a naïve eighteen-year-old, thinking I could chart out the next ten years of my life. By sophomore year I was already having doubts. Organic Chemistry was a slog and I felt like I was losing the ambition to help people that had motivated my studies thus far.

This same semester, I took Introduction to Psychology and found myself more engaged than I’d been in any class so far. There was a discussion group component of the course in which we attempted to think in accordance with the patterns of various personality types and psychological disorders. In these discussions, I learned a lot about myself and came to recognize what a powerful tool talking could be. I realized there was more than one way to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and that psychology was a field that kept me enthusiastic and fit my temperament.


This sample statement of purpose from graduate school does a good job of establishing the applicant’s academic trajectory while also giving a sense of the emotional underpinnings. It demonstrates a motivation that offers a sense of continuity without precluding discovery. This is a good thing to establish in a statement of purpose for graduate school because it demonstrates a commitment to critical, evolving thought. While admissions committees want to see that you are seriously engaged in the field in which you are applying for graduate studies, they also don’t expect you to have everything locked into place. Graduate school is a place to grapple with new concepts.

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

This introduction does a good job of leaning into specificity, but there are also places where it can go deeper. For example, it could be interesting to recount a particular exchange that occurred in the Introduction to Psychology discussion group. Mentioning particular classes and ideas or conversations that came up in those classes can lend your essay a refreshing touch of personality. When it comes to details such as these you can ask yourself, is this a story that only I could tell? If so, you’re likely on the right track. The introduction sets us up to delve into academic interests, bringing us to the main body. The following is an excerpt from a sample statement of purpose from graduate school from a student applying to a PhD program in art history.

2) Main Body


A turning point in my academic career came when I was a sophomore, following a discussion of Velázquez’s Las Meninas that continued for hours after class let out. This was right around the time I decided, albeit gradually, to major in art history and it involved the discovery of a new way of looking at paintings—a way that reached beyond the limits of the canvas, balancing aesthetic sentiments with critical ones. For the first time, I began to think about the politics of viewership and how a viewer’s gaze is constructed by their social context and the technologies through which they encounter a work of art.

These concerns, which have reshaped and shifted focus over the years, represent a thread that I continue to return to in my studies. It is for this reason that I’ve set my sights on Columbia for my PhD. I first encountered Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer in my senior year of undergrad and it is a work that I felt an immediate kinship with. In Techniques of the Observer, I had the sense that Crary was developing ideas that I understood on some deep level and yet had not been able to articulate. Considering the historical construction of the observer as a process inseparable from economics and social power offered a new perspective through which I could engage with questions of politics and aesthetics.

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

Further, I am very intrigued by the course that Professor Crary’s thought has followed over the years. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep is another book of his that has had a major impact on my thinking. I am interested, in particular, in how the contemporary assault on sleep in favor of hypervisibility relates to modern visual culture as discussed in Techniques of the Observer. This is to say that I am not only interested in the ideas but also the trajectory they have taken over a number of years. I would be absolutely thrilled, perhaps even star-struck, to be able to study with and in the same department as Professor Crary.


This sample statement of purpose from the graduate does a good job of demonstrating fluency in the language of the contemporary field of art history. Rather than talking about or around their interest, the applicant conveys it by inhabiting this particular register. This section of the essay also blends the personal with the academic, evoking an intimate (rather than detached) connection to the material. This is something that selection committees like to see—an indication of long-term investment rather than fleeting interest.

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

One place where this section of the essay could move further is in its engagement with the ideas it discusses. Rather than merely reciting Crary’s ideas, this sample statement of purpose from graduate school could offer a reflection on them and, perhaps, new ideas that emerge in their wake. You should, of course, make sure that you’re adequately familiar with the work of a faculty member if you are citing them in your statement of purpose for graduate school. This doesn’t mean you can’t mention areas that you are interested in learning more about, but it’s best to be transparent when doing so. It’s a risky approach to try to fool an admissions committee into thinking you know more than you do. They look at many applications and will generally be able to see right through this.

3) Conclusion

The conclusion to your statement of purpose for graduate school is a space to leave your reader with an impression of how you will fit into the department and how you envision your studies moving forward. This is a place to weave things together and bring your statement to a natural close. Instead of summarizing what you have already said, think of this as shedding new light on the prior material.

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

Further, a statement of purpose is generally most effective when the weaving process occurs throughout the essay rather than being merely tacked on at the end. When this is the case there is less pressure to clarify things, which will allow you the freedom to end with an evocative image, anecdote, or idea that will stay with the reader. It can also be a place to share gratitude and convey a sense of self-awareness or humility. Here is a conclusory excerpt of a sample statement of purpose from graduate school from a student applying to a two-year Master of Fine Arts program in poetry.


Here, again, I return to a conviction in the importance of poetry, in the need to expand the realm of possibility and to a belief in the communities, no matter how large or small, that poetry builds and sustains. With these thoughts in mind, my poems look for moments in which the mundane gains an illuminated, suspended quality—when, as Wordsworth writes, “We see into the life of things.” These moments gesture beyond the contemporary system and through them I attempt to counter othering narratives, such as that of exoticism. Upon completing my MFA I plan to teach and to continue on this trajectory, as I work to deepen the role of poetry in our ongoing political struggles.

Statement of Purpose Grad School Examples (Continued)

It is my hope that Brown University will be the place in which my life as a poet, student, and teacher moves forward. I am excited to collaborate in a workshop environment and I am at a point in my writing where the support and criticism of an intimate group would be of great benefit. I will share as much of myself as I can, while doing my best to strengthen the artistic community in Providence. Thank you for your consideration.

Sample Statement of Purpose for Graduate School – Final Thoughts

We hope you found our sample statement of purpose for graduate school to be a useful tool in your grad school admissions journey. For PhD candidates in particular, this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education will make for worthwhile follow-up reading.