Below are some helpful hints about statements of purpose and personal statements for graduate schools.
Many applicants seek guidance on their graduate school statements of purpose and personal statements. For most, this can be a more Herculean task than writing a 20-page term paper. Put your life, hopes and dreams on paper, in 2 pages or less. Some start with the obvious question: what's the difference between a personal statement and an SOP???
-First of all, an SOP is not the same thing as a personal statement. The latter should convey your goals in light of who you are--your personal experiences, the forces that have shaped you, culturally, professionally, academically, personally, etc. The Statement of Purpose/SOP should be much more targeted: your background (professional and academic), your interests, your research goals, and your overall compatibility with XXX program (professors, research teams, curriculum, teaching style, etc).
Some programs even request Personal History statements (some graduate programs at Berkeley, for example), which should just focus on the environmental and personal forces that have shaped your life. This is where you can really allow your humanity to shine through (with a certain level of discretion, of course).
-Remember that compatibility is CRITICAL in small graduate or PhD programs--whether you are applying for a master's program in electrical engineering or environmental policy. Why should you be 1 of 30 students? What about the program aligns with your interests? How will you fit into specific research teams? How will you push the work being conducted by Professor X? So, remember to SHOW FIT and potential impact.
-Know the program's output. What do Harvard HDP (Human Development and Psychology) graduates do? Do they generate research? Do they enter or reenter the business world? Do they teach? For example, if you're applying to an academia-oriented OB program that produces professors and theorists, you might not want to voice your consulting ambitions. Moreover, this might not be the program for you! This might require some research and outreach to current students--but trust us--doing your homework will ensure that you do not immediately eliminate your chances of admission.
-Make the most of your research background. Haven't been published yet? That's ok--but you can work to show transferable skills and highlight your quantitative, qualitative, leadership and teaming capabilities.
-Make yourself human. Though this isn't your college essay, you can still infuse grad school essays with a sense of authenticity and color. It is always valuable to show the forces that drive you, and show that you are more than an automaton or workhorse.
-Know what you want from your career. This goes without saying for most applicants, but, if you are to truly position your experience, you must know where you are headed. Particularly for grad school application essays, positioning and strategy are essential. You must have an intimate, nuanced understanding of how the Stanford OB Phd program will get you from point A to point B.
-Language and analysis must be top-notch. As a graduate student, writing will be an integral, routine part of your life. Accordingly, your language in this 2 page statement must indicate your capabilities as a writer: reflective analysis, impeccable organization, seamless prose, and a unique point of view. Keep in mind the standard pitfalls--cliches, passive voice, superfluous language, imprecision, etc. Aim to impress!
Hope these tips help you as you continue to refine your graduate school applications!