Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: [6] Differences Between the Two

statement of purpose vs personal statement

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

In this article, we compare a statement of purpose vs a personal statement.

We also added six things to think about while writing your statement of purpose and six tips for writing a winning statement of purpose.

Table of Contents

What is a statement of purpose?

It’s an essay written by an applicant, usually for a graduate program.

It aims to tell the admissions committee about your academic and professional goals, professional interests, and how they can provide value to the graduate program.

It can also be called a research statement or a letter of intent. It should be one to three pages long, depending on the program’s guidelines.

The statement of purpose should be written in a formal tone and should include a brief overview of the applicant’s educational and professional experience as well as any other information that makes them a good candidate for the course and a good fit for that specific program.

What is a personal statement?

It’s an essay used by applicants to introduce themselves to an admissions committee, usually for an undergraduate degree.

Personal statements usually focus on the applicant’s identity, personality and skills.

These are often short narratives or stories that show why a particular candidate is right for a particular program.

You can also include personal and academic experiences, as well as explain your motivation and enthusiasm for the field you are applying for.

What are the important differences between a Statement of Purpose and a Personal Statement?

1. Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: Format

Both are types of documents used to apply for graduate programs, however, a statement of purpose is more commonly used especially where research is involved.

The format of a Statement of Purpose is more formal and should highlight your academic strength and background, research interests, long-term goals, and why you are fit for that particular program.

A personal statement can be informal in format and should showcase your personal motivation for applying to that program or any achievements or challenges that you faced as well as learning from those experiences.

2. Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: Purpose

Both statements are used to provide insight into the applicant’s personal background, academic/professional experience, and future goals.

The Statement of Purpose typically calls for greater emphasis on the applicant’s purpose for applying to graduate school as it relates to their interests, academic/professional experience, and future goals compared to a Personal Statement which may focus more on the applicant’s personal background or story.

3. Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: Content

The main difference between the two types of statements is that a personal statement focuses more on who you are as an individual while a statement of purpose emphasizes what you want to study and what you plan to do with your degree.

Additionally, personal statements often include stories from applicants’ lives that help readers get to know them better, whereas statements of purpose usually don’t have this type of personalization in them.

4. Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: Accomplishments

Both the statement of purpose and personal statement can highlight accomplishments and achievements.

However, the statement of purpose focuses more on how the student wants to enhance his/her professional profile through their time at university.

For example, it may mention specific fields of interest as well as incubators or membership of networks that will help build their professional base.

On the other hand, a personal statement tends to focus more on personal achievements rather than professional ones.

It usually highlights a student’s dedication towards a certain field or activity they have been involved in for some time now – such as volunteering or participating in competitions.

It also allows them to showcase any awards they may have won along with any other notable achievements related to their hobbies or interests outside school hours.

5. Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: Creativity

Both a statement of purpose and a personal statement can be creative in their tone and structure.

A personal statement is usually more individual and informal than a statement of purpose which takes on a more traditional academic tone.

While both types of statements should focus on the author’s credentials and accomplishments, personal statements may also focus on other aspects such as relationships with others or life lessons learned along the way.

6. Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement: Resources & Tools

Both should be checked carefully but for a statement of purpose, you should use a writing guide and samples to be sure you are organising your writing in the correct way. These include:

  • The Write Ivy PhD and Master’s Guide: This FREE (and helpful) guide will help you, step-by-step.
  • Sample Statements of Purpose: These can provide inspiration for your own statement of purpose and help you understand the format and structure to write your own document.
  • Writing Tips: Writing tips from experts can help guide you through the process of crafting a powerful statement of purpose that stands out from the rest!
  • Grammar Checker/Spell Checker Software: It is important that your statement is written correctly in order for it to be taken seriously by admissions officers; grammar checkers/spell checkers can help with this task!

Six points to consider when writing a statement of purpose

1. Goals: What do you want to achieve?

Think about:

  • Your goals and objectives: What do you hope to achieve after completing the program of study? Be specific and clearly outline your medium- and long-term goals.
  • How the program fits with your career plans: Does the program suit your interests, professional goals, and academic background well? Will it provide opportunities for further specialization or research in your field of interest?
  • The reputation of the college or university offering the program: do your research to be sure you’ll receive a quality education as well as a chance of a good job.
  • How you will pay for it? Be sure to check out scholarships or financial aid available for this particular program.

2. Information: What do they need to know?

  • Write concisely and clearly, with a focus on your career goals and objectives.
  • Your strengths, achievements, and potential for success in your chosen field or profession.
  • Your qualifications for the desired program of study.
  • You should emphasize any relevant experience that would add value to your application package and future research.

3. Word Length: How long should it be?

It should usually be between 1-2 pages (single-space pages in 12-point font). Some schools may provide a word limit, in which case you must keep to it.

4. Type of Statement: Should it be a purpose or a personal statement?

A purpose and a personal statement both serve as an introduction to the candidate.

However, a purpose is more formal and objective, while a personal statement can be more creative, using a narrative style with the candidate’s voice.

Additionally, a purpose focuses on qualifications and accomplishments while a personal statement can reveal how the candidate got to where they are today.

A purpose is more traditionally academic in its tone and structure than a personal statement.

A personal statement can be less formal than a purpose and may start off with relevant quotes or clever opening lines to engage the audience right away.

Additionally, while both pieces should be proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes, they differ in that personal statements may have an additional layer of creativity not found in statements of purpose.

5. Writing Style: How should it be written?

  • Make sure your statement of purpose is unique and focuses on your skills and achievements. Add concise detail to leave a lasting impression.
  • Write in a more formal way: Ensure that your statement of purpose directly and clearly communicates your goals, motivations, and aspirations.
  • Consider your audience: Before writing your statement of purpose, consider who will be reading it (for example, faculty members or admission officers) so that you can keep it focused, with relevant information about yourself or the subject you want to study
  • Proofread carefully before submitting.

6. Writer’s Voice: What tone should be taken?

When writing a statement of purpose, it is important to focus on the positive (what you can do, what you want to learn) rather than gaps in your experience and skill set.

If you are adding example experiences to demonstrate your skills and suitability for the course, the story you choose should be interesting, with concise detail that will interest a reader.

Six steps to writing a winning statement of purpose

Step 1: Explain why you want to pursue this graduate degree

When writing a statement of purpose for a graduate degree in business, it is important to explain why you are passionate about pursuing this degree, what inspires you to achieve your professional goals, and how the program aligns with your career aspirations.

Add motivating factors such as transitioning from the corporate world or completing an MBA to progress within your company.

Additionally, be sure to explain any relevant experience or qualifications that qualify you for admission into this program, with supporting data.

For example, ‘I trained new staff in using software to improve sales’ may be true, but ‘I trained 28 team members using the XYZ software package, and their sales increased 9.2% within a week’ is much better.

Step 2: Share your motivation and your dreams but be brief

  • Start by brainstorming and writing down your goals and ambitions. What motivates you? What are your dreams?
  • Identify your strengths (that will help you achieve these goals), as well as experience or skills that will be relevant.

Step 3: Define your research interests

  • Identify your research interests: What are you interested in studying, and why? Which topics or questions are you hoping to explore?
  • Name the professors at the school who you are interested in working with, explaining how their specialist research topics could fit in with your objectives. Do the same for any other programs such as work experience placements that are part of the course. For example, ‘I received an award for my presentation on the Hall Lock (used in anaesthesia) and am thrilled to have the opportunity to complete my work placement with Professor Hall’s team at Cardiff University, where this equipment was developed’.
  • Provide specific examples of your interests related to the course. For example, if you’re applying for a PhD program in Clinical Psychology then it would be important to highlight what specific topics within clinical psychology interest you most (e.g., psychotherapy techniques) and why they resonate with your personal values/beliefs/experiences.

Step 4: Outline your strengths and suitability for the program

  • Create an outline before you start writing the statement of purpose.
  • Write down your thoughts in an organized manner and ensure that your essay is coherent.
  • Find personal reasons that motivate you to apply for the program, then spend some time reflecting on what motivates you specifically for this course of study.
  • Discuss any challenges that you have overcome in recent years to highlight your problem-solving abilities.
  • Conclude on a positive note by assuring the admission committee that you can tackle any challenges ahead successfully.

Step 5: Show by example how you have achieved goals in the past

Showing by example how you have achieved goals in the past can help with writing a winning statement of purpose because it provides the admissions committee with an insight into your strengths and achievements.

You can also demonstrate that you have the determination and drive to succeed in this graduate program.

Additionally, these examples show that you are able to take initiative and make a positive impact on whatever situation or project you are involved in, building trust between yourself and the admissions committee.

Step 6: Follow all instructions!

  • Check all the instructions and requirements for writing a statement of purpose.
  • Follow all instructions to the letter, without trying to be smart or creative to get them.
  • Once again, make sure that your essay meets six basic requirements: it should be concise, well-structured, coherently organized, grammatically correct and free from spelling mistakes, and coherently written in perfect academic English without any slang or typos.
  • Make sure you have included all the necessary information such as name/surname/contact details/college applied to/date submitted etc., at the end of your essay before submitting it online or via an email attachment if instructed to do so by the admissions team.

FAQs – (Some of these are covered in more detail above)

What is the difference between a Statement of Purpose and a Personal Statement in terms of undergraduate and post-graduate programs?

Both a statement of purpose and a personal statement can be used for undergraduate admission or graduate/post-baccalaureate programs.

A statement of purpose usually places greater emphasis on an applicant’s reasons for applying to graduate school as it relates to their interests, academic/professional experience, and future goals.

A personal statement often calls for applicants to discuss their personal background (not necessarily academic or professional).

How long should a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement be?

When writing a statement of purpose or personal statement, it is important to consider the length of the document.

Generally, both types of essays should be between 1-2 pages (single-space pages in 12-point font).

Some schools may provide a word limit, in which case you should strictly adhere to it. Brevity is key, so try to focus on only the most relevant information and make every word count.

What format should I use for a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

The format for a statement of purpose or personal statement depends on the program you are applying to.

For graduate studies, business or law school, it is usually best to write in story form and use a more narrative style with your voice.

For medical programs, it is typically more formal and objective. Regardless of the program, you are applying for, it is important to proofread your essays for grammar and spelling before submitting them.

What are the requirements for a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

The requirements for a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement include:

  • It should be well-written, coherent, and clear.
  • It should be concise and focused on the topic at hand.
  • It should address why you are applying to the program or university in question and why you would be a good fit for it.
  • It should highlight relevant experiences, achievements, or skills that make you an ideal candidate for the program or university’s graduate degree program/scholarship/fellowship award/etc..
  • It should demonstrate your ability to succeed in the chosen field of study by providing examples of past successes related to that field of study (e.g., research papers).

What strengths should I highlight in my Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

When writing a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement, it is important to highlight your strengths. Some examples of strengths you can include are:

  • Leadership skills
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Dedication and perseverance
  • Initiative and drive to succeed
  • Communication skills
  • Persuasive speaking abilities
  • Multicultural understanding and awareness

How do I make sure my Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement stands out?

  • Research the field you are applying to and find out what they are looking for in a statement of purpose or personal statement.
  • Make sure your statement is personalized and focused on why you want to pursue that particular degree/field of study/career path, rather than just listing your qualifications and experience.
  • Make sure it is concise, clear, and easy to read – use simple language that will not distract from the main message of your statement or bore the reader with unnecessary details or long sentences.
  • Proofread carefully for any grammar or spelling mistakes before submitting it as this can make a bad impression on the admissions committee from the start!
  • Make sure it has an interesting opening sentence or paragraph that will capture their attention right away; this could be something related to their field of study/research topic if possible since they will be more likely to take notice if they recognize what you’re referring to right away!

What resources are available to help me write my Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

There are a variety of resources available to help you write your Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement. These include:

  • Sample statements and templates to guide you in composing your own statement
  • Tips and advice from experts on how to write an effective statement
  • Guidance on how to format and structure your document for maximum impact
  • Resources such as dictionaries, thesauruses, and style guides for enhancing the quality of your writing

What mistakes should I avoid when writing my Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

When writing your Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement, you should avoid the following mistakes:

  • Not clearly stating your purpose or goal in writing the statement.
  • Using clichés or overused phrases in your statement. Phrases such as ‘I passed the exam with flying colours’ tend to come up quite regularly in statements so it’s better to write, ‘I received four A grades and achieved a 3.9 GPA’
  • Trying to fit too much into one statement, results in it becoming convoluted and difficult to read and understand.
  • Failing to proofread thoroughly for grammar and spelling errors before submitting your statement for review or acceptance into a program of study/scholarship/funding opportunity etc.

Is a personal statement the same as a statement of purpose?

A personal statement and a statement of purpose both provide an opportunity for applicants to introduce themselves and explain why they are qualified for the position they are applying for.

Both types of statements should be well-written, concise, and compelling.

Personal statements typically focus on an applicant’s background, accomplishments, skillset, and goals while the statement of purpose focuses more on what motivates the applicant to pursue a particular career path or program at a specific university or institution.

Personal statements are often used in applications for graduate school or scholarships whereas the statement of purpose is used more often in applications for jobs or internships.

When it comes down to the statement of purpose vs personal statement for grad school, how exactly are the two different—and how are they alike?

The statement of purpose is the more formal of the two essays, highlighting your academic/professional background and accomplishments, your future goals, and how you see yourself fitting in with the program you’re applying to.

By contrast, the personal statement is less formal and focuses more on who you are as a person, including what motivated you to apply to grad school (and this program) and what kinds of obstacles you’ve faced in life.

The way you approach each essay is also different: for a statement of purpose, consider your future goals; research the program and professors; explain how you’re a good match; emphasize accomplishments; while for a personal statement tell a story focus on your personal motivations to explain any weaknesses or challenges overcome

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