By Justine D'Souza
World Education Services
There are few consistent practices when applying to universities. Although most schools maintain a basic set of requirements, individual institutions set their own standards as well. Some universities, for example, require prospective students to write a statement of purpose, whereas others require a personal statement.
Applicants write both personal statements and statements of purpose to provide admissions officers with relevant individualized information about their background, goals, and competencies. These statements should not look like a list of activities or résumé summary. They should showcase an applicant’s voice in describing his/her candidacy. It is where applicants can speak for themselves and elaborate upon accomplishments that other application materials do not showcase in as much detail.
Both statement types should have a clear, direct, and concise writing style. They should also focus on the candidate’s preparation for the program and what he/she plans to do with the education at the school to which he/she is applying. The two have similar functions, but there are differences as well.
Universities typically request personal statements for undergraduate or scholarship applications. Statements usually have a 250–350-word limit. They require applicants to describe how their personal and academic backgrounds render them strong candidates for a particular school or program. They also require applicants to provide some information about their goals. Personal statements often have a generalized format. Applicants have freedom in what they write about—and how they write it—as long as they follow application instructions.
Statements of purpose typically require one to two pages. Universities usually request them for graduate school applications and professional programs. Therefore, they often focus on the applicant’s workforce and/or research-oriented experiences, and application instructions provide a few guiding questions for applicants to answer. Additionally, statements of purpose require more detailed information about an applicant’s goals and how the schools/programs will help him or her succeed. In short, they require a bit more projection into the future than personal statements.
It is important to research programs/schools before writing so you can tailor your statements for each application. You should know and honestly express why you will excel in any given program and how you will use your experiences to achieve future ambitions.
Some schools require both personal statements and statements of purpose. This guide should help you determine how to distinguish the two.
Remember, though, that all schools have different expectations. If you find yourself confused or unsure of how to proceed with your statements for a given application, feel free to reach out to your admissions contact.
For additional guidance and tips on this topic, check out the WES Student Advisor webinar How to Write a Great College Essay and/or Statement of Purpose.