Applying to Graduate School

5. The Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is a crucial component of your application that challenges you to introduce yourself in a clear, compelling and concise manner. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your personal statement: give yourself a few months to draft and revise it.

Before you begin writing, spend some time to clarify your thoughts, construct an outline and decide on the message you want to convey in each paragraph. Then, think of supporting facts and examples that will help you get those messages across. Plan to revise your statement multiple times and ask your faculty mentor, CIPE advisor, and a writing tutor to review it. Give them sufficient time to get back to you and always tell them by what date you need their feedback.

Schedule an appointment at the Yale-NUS Writers’ Centre

Personal Statement Tips


Personal statements vary across disciplines and programme types, but they generally ask for the following information:

1. Relevant coursework and scholarly activities

This may include:
– Research – supervised or independent. Mention where and with whom you conducted it, your specific contributions, the outcome, your learning takeaways (e.g. specific skills/ knowledge), ways the experience changed your thinking or perspective and contributed to your desire to pursue graduate study in this field. Write the research description in the style of the discipline.
– Large-scale papers and projects, such as your capstone project (if they are relevant).
– Advanced coursework that influenced your graduate school direction.

2. Relevant activities outside of the classroom 

You can include 1-3 extracurricular activities and explain how they have contributed to your interest in graduate study and your programme of choice. The experience and insight you gained from an activity is most important; the type (internship, volunteer work, etc.) and compensation (paid/unpaid) are less important. Sample activities:
– Work experience, especially internships and/or research in your chosen field of graduate study (e.g. pro-bono consulting for MBA programmes, teaching experience for programmes in education, or biomedical research for medical school).
– Involvement in student groups or clubs. For example, an active role in the Yale-NUS Investment Masterminds Club would be relevant to graduate study in Business or Finance.
– Independent extracurricular projects. For example, if you developed a mobile app that assists the elderly, you may mention this in a statement for a graduate programme in social work.

3. Your academic and/or professional interests and goals 

This part of your statement should show that you are passionate about the field, familiar with the latest developments, and capable of high-quality work.
– Elaborate on your specific area(s) of interest within your chosen field. Pose a question, a problem, or a theme you would like to explore, and the associated question(s) you seek to address.
– Explain how this degree fits into your long-term career goals (What do you plan to do after grad school?).

4. Reasons to apply for the specific programme

Throughout the statement, relate your experiences and interests to aspects of the programme that you are applying for, explaining how it is a good fit for your goals and, in turn, how you can contribute to it. A few ways to do this:
– Mention specific faculty in the programme whose scholarship you are interested in. Discuss why you are intrigued by it and how it relates to your own interests. To do this well, you will need to read up on those faculty’s research publications.
– Include specific details about the programme courses or experiential learning opportunities (e.g. internships, community involvement), which make this programme a good fit for your goals.
– Mention on-campus clubs or societies whose mission aligns with your own and that you plan to join.

General Tips for Effective Personal Statement Writing

1. Keep it brief and focused. Unless the programme asks otherwise, limit your response to 500-1000 words/1-2 typed pages in 12pt font.

2. Every paragraph should convey one main idea. Aim for a maximum of three main ideas in your statement.

3. Have clear logical flow that progresses from one sentence to the next, and from one paragraph to the next, throughout the statement. Some ways to do this are: going from general to specific, going from specific to general, or using linking words/ phrases.

4. Be positive, confident, and honest when you describe your background and accomplishments.

5. Elaborate on what is written in your resume or CV, rather than copy it word for word. The readers will have your CV at hand as they read your statement.

6. Show, don’t tell: give examples to support your claims. Describing the scope, scale and impact of the work you have done will be more impactful than just saying that you are hardworking.

7. Use strong active verbs and avoid too many qualifiers. If a research experiment was painstakingly designed, flawlessly executed and meticulously analysed by you, that means you designed, executed and analysed the experiment.

8. Give yourself plenty of time to revise and simplify. If you can express an idea with fewer words, do it.

9. Correct all spelling and grammatical errors. The people reading your personal statement will often be your future professors or colleagues. The level of polish it has will reflect how much respect you have for them and for your own work. Spell-check is just the beginning – you should also read the statement aloud and ask family, friends, advisors and writing tutors to review and offer feedback.