Do’s and Don’ts When Writing Your Statement of Purpose

You’ve chosen a graduate program, read up on tips for applying to grad school, and even wrote a focused grad school resumé. But if you’re like many students, you’ve left the most daunting part of the application process for last—writing a statement of purpose. The good news is, that the task doesn’t have to feel so overwhelming, as long as you break the process down into simple, actionable steps. Below, learn how to write a strong, unique statement of purpose that will impress admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.


  • Explain something about yourself, your self-discipline, time management skills, motivation, and drive for seeking a graduate degree in your field.
  • Mention scientific accomplishments that you are particularly proud of and why. Try to explain to the committee how you evaluate yourself in terms of accomplishments and productivity.
  • Try to present a clear and well-thought-out idea of who you are and what you would like to do in graduate school.

o Briefly introduce a general problem of interest to you (why would anyone care?), and then get to the specific area of your interest.

o, Explain what you would like to accomplish with regard to resolving some open questions. BUT don’t come across as dogmatic, or claim that you’re going to solve any of the world’s problems! (see DON’Ts below)

  • IMPORTANT: Specifically mention any faculty members that you would like to work with, and whether you have contacted them about the possibility of working in his or her lab.
  • Explain why you think that lab or graduate program is a great place and would be a good fit for what you are looking for from your graduate education – i.e., what are the specific reasons that you are applying to THIS program as opposed to any other?
  • Explain what your ultimate career goal is (e.g., a GIS analyst, resource manager, faculty position at a major research university, etc.).


  • Take more than a couple of pages to make your point. Admissions committees have to read a couple hundred of these things, and the statements that make a compelling case for acceptance in 1-2 pages are MUCH more successful than ones that ramble for 5 pages (and are never read to the end because they are too long!). On the other hand, don’t shoot off a statement that is only 1 or 2 paragraphs long either!
  • Have any typos, spelling mistakes or missing punctuation. Like it or not, writing is an essential part of being a successful scientist, and a poorly written statement is always a red flag to admissions committees!
  • Try to be cutesy and tell nice stories about how your love of squirrels and dolphins as a child has led you to want to save the world. This is a career path that you are trying to pursue, and attempts at being overly cute or humorous are almost always considered unprofessional.
  • Claim that you’ll solve some global problem. Individuals can only ever do a small part by ourselves, and although we can each advance knowledge about the natural world, we’re just not going to solve some burning problem by ourselves in grad school. If it were that simple, someone would have probably done it already!
  • Appear to be too set in your ways. You want to convey an interest in an area and show that you’ve given it some serious thought, but not come across as dogmatic or stubborn (if you can, communicate to your prospective adviser about a possible project, and describe that in your statement).
  • Say anything negative about anyone or anywhere else. No one wants to hear you put down the program or advisers at another college (even if they agree with you), and being negative simply belittles your application.