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Admissions George Washington University Statement of Purpose Length

  1. Dec 27, 2016 #1
    Long shot, but has anyone applied to the GWU Physics PhD program? If so, how long was your Statement of Purpose? There is no information about it on the application, I ran across this page: https://www.programs.gwu.edu/graduate/physics. This says 250-500 words, but asks for "your academic objectives, research interests, and career plans. Also discuss your related qualifications, including collegiate, professional, and community activities, and any other substantial accomplishments not already mentioned on the application. If you are applying for an assistantship or fellowship, you should also describe any teaching experience you have had." Now, am I crazy, or is this impossible to include in only 500 words? My research experience alone is over 400 words, and GWU's application doesn't include any other place to write about or even list research experience. With every other school I've applied for, my statement has been close to 1500 words, and my statements have been looked over by professors who have told me they are just fine in length. Most other programs I see cap the statement at 2500. Has anyone applied here before? What did you do about this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 27, 2016 #2
    Contact somebody of the university.
  4. Dec 27, 2016 #3


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    According to the website, the university is requesting an essay between 250 and 500 words. It appears that is the constraint that you have to work with, unfortunately.

    From the point of view of someone reading through many applications, after about four or five, they tend to start bleeding together. And the longer they are, the harder it is to keep them straight. Some programs may have more resources to devote to the admissions process than others and therefore can afford to read through longer essays.

    I realise that condensing your life into 500 words is a difficult task. Fortunately, every applicant is under the same constraint. So at least, it's a fair process.

    Some tips on how to keep it short:
    1. Think about your audience. Faculty on admissions committees will likely have a detailed background in the field your applying to. They will also be aware of details about their own program, how the school is ranked, its reputation, its strategic initiatives, etc. So think about what you need to explain to them and what you can assume they will already know.
    2. Some things are given. For example, the fact that you have a passion for physics is pretty obvious from the fact that you're applying.
    3. You don't need to explain how your interest in physics came about.
    4. Keep every point relevant to the specific points that are requested.
    5. Avoid flowery language. Sometimes students try to create an impression with their vocabulary or by adding in artistic prose. Keep it simple.
    6. If you already have a 1500 word essay - you might consider starting from scratch rather than cutting two thirds of it out.
    7. You could try starting with bullet points addressing each point you want to make and build that into an essay.
  5. Dec 28, 2016 #4
    I wrote to/called the head of graduate admissions for the department. However, as it is winter break, I did not expect anyone to be around and indeed, there was no answer. The application is due in early January and I want to get it done, so I posted here as people do check this forum over break, and I also thought it would be nice to get the perspective of someone who had applied.
  6. Dec 28, 2016 #5
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write out your advice, it's much appreciated! I guess my concern comes from the fact that I had to dig around for this information, and the 250-500 word limit seems extremely generic, I clicked through a bunch of other programs and the exact same information was posted for multiple programs, ranging from art history to chemistry. It seemed like a generic blurb written by the admissions department, not by the academic department. And no information pertaining to this is posted on the physics department website. If I hadn't dug around, I would have submitted an application with a 1500 word essay and thought nothing of it. I definitely get what you mean when you say some schools have less resources to read long applications, and GWU has a small department, but then again they don't get a lot of applications. I just don't want to put myself at a disadvantage, either by submitting an essay that's too long or by submitting a short essay when other applicants submitted long essays because they didn't run across this webpage.
  7. Dec 28, 2016 #6


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    In some schools the application first has to go through the department of graduate studies or a general admissions office. They will do basic checks on the application - all necessary transcripts are included, GPA conversion to the relevant scale and check that it meets the school's minimum standard, all reference letters make it in, additional documentation is included like GRE scores, English language testing, etc. In this kind of scenario, it's possible that your essay could be fed through a word-count algorithm and that could determine whether the application is complete or incomplete. I don't know the chances of this or how much leeway they might allow for exceeding the word count. But now that you're aware of the limitation, the best strategy is to adhere to it.
  8. Dec 31, 2016 #7
    I understand the frustration. Some departments really just don't have it together when it comes to informing applicants about things like deadlines or application requirements (especially small departments). When applying, I went to the departmental webpage as well as the general graduate school webpage, and sometimes saw conflicting information (sigh). If you saw a requirement *somewhere*, it's best to stick to it.
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