Writing a graduate school application

It’s almost December, so it’s about that time that people kick
it into high gear to apply to graduate school. I’ve had a few of my
close friends reach out to me and ask me to review their statements of
purpose, to which I told them they were crazy for trusting me to know
such a thing. But then again, that’s what I did two years ago to my
2nd year PhD friends, so maybe it’s not so crazy. I’m writing this to
compile a list of thoughts I had on writing statement for graduate school
applications.

  1. The “Statement of Purpose” is aptly named - it is a statement of
    your purpose. What is it that you want to do? And implicit to
    that question, why is it that you want to do it? Consider this
    as your thesis statement for your argument. For example, “I want to do a PhD
    so I can become a professor that does research in X”. Alternatively,
    “I want to do an MS to position myself better for Y job”. Every sentence
    you write afterwards needs to build to that point.

  2. Don’t tell people that you’ve been in love with your subject since you were
    a young lassie (really, I’ve read something like this). It’s cliche and
    people will instantly throw your statement away. Get right to the point
    and state your purpose in the first sentence.

  3. Be aware that most statements get looked at for maybe 3 minutes, max.
    There are a lot of great applicants, and professors have fairly limited
    time. You want to make sure that if someone is skimming your statement
    quickly, they can pull out the important points fairly easily. I like
    to do this by having the first sentence of each paragraph immediately say
    what the point of that paragraph will be, without forcing the reader to tease
    out the details.

  4. Mostly for Research Statements: Make sure it is clear what you want to
    do research in. Level 1 is simply saying you want to do research. Level 2 is
    putting in some work to ask a few questions about the research that you’d like to
    do. Level 3 is when you have done a deep literature dive and found a problem
    area specifically that you want to tackle. That is awesome, but by no means required
    (I got barely to Level 2 in my statements).

Overall, these are some guidelines for writing a good SoP. I’m attaching the SoP I
wrote for graduate school here, primarily because I found that there was a lack of
SoPs available when I was applying to graduate school in CS. I have tons of other
thoughts that I don’t have time to write down here, so I’ll just leave it at that.
If you have questions, feel free to email me at dkumar11@illinois.edu.