Most Brave Supplicants wandering around on the blahg are planning to apply to business school for an MBA. However, we’re an all-purpose ‘Snark and we’ve had plenty of experience helping BSers trying for admission to all sorts of other types of graduate programs, including the JD/MBA, Master’s in Management, Master’s in Real Estate, Master’s of Labor Relations, Doctorate in Accounting, and on and on. Pretty much every competitive admissions process requires some type of written component to the application. The term “essay” is commonly used for MBA admissions. If you’re trying for some other type of master’s program, you may have encountered other strange beasts among the application requirements, including the Personal Statement, and the Statement of Purpose.
“What in heck?” you may ask.
“What are all these things and how will I sort out a strategy?”
It may seem intimidating at first, particularly when “Personal Statement” is so vague and undefined, and “Statement of Purpose” sounds so, well, meaningful. You may feel like you don’t really HAVE a purpose in life, which is the whole driving force behind your interest in going back to school. You may be at a point where you’re hoping that school, and more education, and the structured surroundings of academia will give you a purpose. How on Earth are you supposed to write a Statement of Purpose for your graduate application when you’re casting about aimless and wandering in life?
Never fear, Brave Supplicant – the ‘Snark is here! And we can tell you straightaway, these application torture devices are not that difficult to write.
Or at least, no more difficult to write than any other MBA essay – and certainly far far easier than grappling with the crazy questions like Stanford’s “What matters most” or Harvard’s open-ended “What should we know about you” MBA prompts.
Before we go any further, a quick disclaimer: The one endeavor that we have pretty much zilch experience in is med school. If you’ve decided you want to dedicate your life to helping humanity through the field of medicine, then we’re not the ‘Snarks for you. There’s plenty of resources out there to help you through that grueling admissions process, and anyway, if that’s your plan, you’ve likely been working towards it for some time already. It’s not like you woke up one day and decided to go to med school. It’s not a casual undertaking.
For many other master’s programs, though, your application may vary rather significantly from what the business schools require, but the essence of it will be:
- An online app
- Your transcripts from college
- Some recommendations
- A written component
There may or may not be an interview, which may or may not be optional.
As you can see, these are all basically the same elements that comprise an MBA app, too. As we mentioned above, that fourth item might be called different things but it’s essentially an essay.
Here’s some examples of instructions that different programs have given for this written component:
Statement of Purpose
A one- or two-page statement stating your reasons for undertaking graduate work, as well as an explanation of your academic interests, including their relation to your undergraduate study and professional goals. Include your full name and your proposed field of study at the top of each page.
Pretty generic, isn’t it?
Here’s another one:
Personal statements should describe your background, past work in your intended field of study, plans for graduate study and professional career, if applicable. If you are presently in a graduate program at another university, please explain why you wish to leave. If you have not yet come to a decision about your career, or if your plans are tentative, please do not hesitate to say so.
This is one of the more detailed that we’ve seen, from Cornell’s real estate school:
Statement of Purpose
One of the most important pieces of the application, the statement of purpose provides an opportunity to discuss your motivations, background, character, personal goals, and any other insights that you want the admissions committee to consider in evaluating your application. There is no set format, but statements should be no longer than 750 words. The admissions committee reads the statement of purpose to gauge an applicant’s passion for real estate, leadership potential for the real estate industry, and the ability to contribute in the classroom. Questions the committee hopes to finds answers to within the statement of purpose include:
- Are you someone that positively impacts the people and organizations around you?
- What experiences can you share that point to your character and integrity?
- Do you have the traits that will inspire a legacy at whatever organization you serve during your future real estate career?
Wanna know a secret?
Most applicants’ Personal Statements are crap.
If you do even a half-way decent job of writing your Personal Statement for your graduate app, you’re going to be so far ahead of the game that nobody will be able to catch you.
The most common problem with graduate applications is the same exact problem that we see over and over again in MBA applications. The main difference is, the competition for the top bschools is so fierce that everybody trying for an MBA seeks out help on writing their essays, so the overall quality of applications across the entire pool of candidates is halfway decent (with massive variability, of course; there’s some gawdawful MBA essays that get submitted all over the place every year). For other types of graduate programs, admission typically isn’t quite so selective, which means that there’s fewer incidence of applicants seeking out help, with fewer resources on how to write a good application available. If you’re trying for a smaller program or a less popular discipline, then the crazy competitiveness simply hasn’t affected the applicant pool the way that those forces have done in MBA admissions.
All of this is to say that the level of quality among Personal Statements submitted to most of these graduate programs is markedly lower than it is in the MBA sphere. Which means that if you do a good job on your Personal Statement, you’re going to stand out like a firecracker lit on a moonless night in winter in Antarctica.
OK great, so how do you go about writing a good Personal Statement?
Especially if the program you’re applying to has a really vaguely-worded prompt or loosey-goosey instructions that don’t tell you what they want?
Well, one trick is to find a prompt for another school that is more specific and detailed, and just use that.
Here’s a discussion of a career goals essay question from a lesser-known bschool that could serve that purpose really well.
Remember, when you’re applying for a graduate program, you’re basically telling the admissions committee that you want to go learn stuff which will then let you go do stuff.
There’s only two possible paths that you would have in mind:
- “I want to go get this specialized education so that I can pursue this specific new career out in the business world.”
- “I want to go study this specialized discipline so that I can contribute to the body of knowledge in this field and either become a researcher or teach it.”
In both cases, your statement that you need to be admitted to their program needs to cover why you want to go there based on what you want to do with it. There are differences in how a pitch would need to be developed for someone interested in pursuing a PhD and go into research, but no matter what, your main objective with your application is to help the adcom see what your plan is. What’s the endgame? Why is this degree, from this school, necessary for you to get there?
If you can communicate that succinctly, while weaving in evidence for what you have done in the past that has set you up for success in pursuing this new endeavor today, then you’ll be the golden child in the eyes of the adcom. They will love you forever.
Being clear, and specific, and detailed in how you lay out your plans for the future – nay, your Statement of Purpose – will take you far, Brave Supplicant.
Want more help from the ‘Snark on your pitch to graduate school? Our Single Essay Decimator is a great option for evaluating your strategy and execution on the Personal Statement!