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What is the difference between personal statement and statement of purpose

  1. Dec 6, 2008 #1
    Some graduate schools I am applying to require both while do not give specific directions of what to include in each . This lack of directions makes me very confused about what to put in each category. I have done some research and have rough idea, however I am not sure. So if you can help me I would greatly appretiate it.
    Well here are my thoughts.
    In personal statement, you write information about yourself and/or how you ended up deciding to do physics.
    While in statement of purpose, you try to persuade the reader that you would be great physics candidate, by presenting evidence of you prior experience with physics.

    Besides describing research projects, Is it worth mentioning of how you overcame challenges in coursework. As example, doing well at CM 2 without having CM 1 as prerequisite, by studying CM 1 material simultaneously.
    Or doing well at advanced Computational class without any prior programming experience, by simeltiniously learning programming language. Or doing well in electronics class with zero prior experience and having letter of recommendation for that professor to back it up.

    Also, in many guides suggest that you write about future goals with Ph.D degree. This scares me. I have no clue what exactly I want to do. Isn't what graduate schools suppose to help you figure out? Is it ok to say that you limited experience in the field prevents you from making accurate judgment, and that you are hoping that awesome wide research of University X will help me to better define my interests.

    Would it be necessary to mention one specific person whose research you find particularly intriguing. What if, what you did earlier, as undergrad is completely unrelated.

    Is it worth mentioning biophysics is one of the areas of interest, if you had not taken any biology classes.

    Is it ok to say that long range goal is to work in industry. Would you need to elaborate more on it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2008 #2


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    It would be nice if they gave you a couple lines of instructions. Anyway, my interpretation on that is that you're probably on-target with your own interpretation of what a personal statement should be. Something about who you are, and how your interests in the field developed, your background experiences and qualifications, including personal character traits, that make you well-suited for graduate school.

    I would think a statement of purpose is more of the forward-thinking aspect. What do you intend to get out of graduate school, what research areas do you wish to pursue, why did you choose that particular program, and how you think that program can aid you in achieving your goals.
  4. Dec 6, 2008 #3


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    I agree with Moonbear.

    However, to clear up any confusion, I would suggest you email or phone the graduate advisor at the university you're interested in and ask specifically what they're looking for, or what information successful candidates have included in the past.

    My understanding is that with the personal statement, they want to know about you. This is where you can factor in things in your life that you'd like the admission's committee to be aware of. Things to include would be personal successes you've had, obstacles you've overcome, volunteer positions you've had - and stuff that's not necessarily related to your field of study either. Maybe you've earned a black belt in a martial art, or maybe you spend a summer as a volunteer teacher in Africa, or maybe you speak three different languages - these things obviously reflect your strength of character and can be factored into your candidacy.

    As for the statement of purpose, they're likely looking for you to demonstrate that you've given some thought to what you want to do in the graduate degree and with your future. It's fine if you don't know. No one is going to hold you to what you state. But here they want to know that you've done some research into what you're getting yourself into and what your motivations are for pursuing the degree.
  5. Dec 6, 2008 #4
    Talking to someone from university is interesting idea.
  6. Dec 6, 2008 #5


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    i would think a personal statement regards past experiences and current practices and philosophy, e.g. how and why i teach, while statement of purpose would concern goals and aspirations, such as what i hope to accomplish in research and teaching and career.
  7. Dec 6, 2008 #6
    In all likelihood, the person who wrote the application forms or webpage just used the first phrase to come to mind (statement of purpose/personal statement/whatever), and you shouldn't read too much into the particular wording.

    This is your chance to 1) show that your interests are a good fit for their program, 2) show that you are focused on your field of study and dedicated enough to complete the program, 3) to add in things that don't show up in other parts of the application, and 4) re-emphasize particular things you've done that relate to your field of study that are already in other parts of your application (research you've done, graduate level courses you've taken, etc). If this is a phd program you also want to show that you are really interested in doing research, because thats basically what they'll be paying you to do.

    I highly recommend you stay away from the wishy-washy stories about how you always wanted to be a scientist since you were a kid and saw the space shuttle, or how you love condensed matter SOOO much, or how you were president of your dorm or whatever.

    Why? First of all, you have to be professional - you would never put that stuff on a job application. Second, your love of the subject should come through naturally, you don't say it outright. Finally, its just wasting precious space you could be spending talking about the research you've done, and how your interests fit in with professor XYZ's research group, etc. You only have 1-2 pages!
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