What You Need to Know About Statements of Purpose for College Applications

Typing up a statement of purpose.
What You Need to Know About Statements of Purpose for College Applications
A statement of purpose is a simple question of Why? "Why are you interested?"

Why is it that these four simple words combined can stump so many of us into silence?

  • Why are you interested in our college?

  • Why are you interested in that university's program?

  • Why are you interested in majoring in this area of study?

Truth be told, it is a question that appears frequently on many types of applications. If colleges are limited in the amount of spaces available for incoming freshmen or transfer students, they are going to want to know more about each student's Why? so they can make better admissions decisions.

In this post, we'll be sharing insights into the statement of purpose, which is often required as part of college applications packets. By understanding what this is and how it's used by admissions committees, you'll be better equipped to write your response in ways that will give you an edge over the competition.

What is a statement of purpose?

A statement of purpose is a statement that provides details of your goals and the reasons for those particular goals. It explains your intentions and purpose, and should ideally include personal and relevant insights into how they align with the mission of the college you're applying to.

How is a statement of purpose different from a personal statement?

With a statement of purpose, admissions teams are seeking information about why a student is applying to their college. What prompted the individual to complete the application, and what is he or she looking to gain or experience, if accepted?

On the other hand, a personal statement is used to gather insight into the interests, values, and qualities (to name a few) of a candidate; in other words, who are they as human beings? Click here if you want to know more about personal statements.

Why are statements of purpose important?

Statements of purpose provide details on what applicants are trying to achieve and why. It shares insights into the experiences they've had, where they are now, and how they envision themselves moving forward in life. Those that reflect interest in learning, desire to apply knowledge and skills in service of others, and advancing in life, will have an edge over those that don't because being motivated and ambitious to become more than who they are today often appeals to progressive schools. Undergraduate and graduate schools that receive more applications than the amount of spaces they have available will be aiming to select the most highly qualified candidates. In addition to the general contact and qualifications portions of their application, they'll be looking for details that reflect each student's fit for their programs and community. "Fit" pertains to personal qualities, goals, insights, motivations, and the like, and how well they align with the various facets of the college. By having a clear understanding for each applicant's Why?, they can narrow the candidate pool down quickly, and in some cases, easily. To stay in the running, take your time to identify your Why? and choose words that bring out who you are and what you're striving for in life. Explain to admissions officers how their school can support you along your life journey, and offer insights into how you can contribute to their community as well.

How long should a statement of purpose be?

The length of your statement of purpose will depend on the instructions detailed on the college application. You may be asked to answer the question in 50 words or less, or you may have up to 1000 words or more. Be sure to read the directions carefully for each application, and stay above the minimum and below the maximum limits. Many of the students we've worked with ended up with two to three times more words in their first drafts than what was allowed. Though this created a lot of clean-up and editing work, including hours of rephrasing sentences and identifying more effective words to use, having a breadth of details to start with did make it easier to some extent. What these students found challenging was choosing what to keep and what to disregard for their statements.

If you find yourself in this situation, some questions to start with include (list is not inclusive):

  1. Are my statements too descriptive?

  2. Does a college admissions officer really need to know this?

  3. Do I repeat a particular word or phrase too often?

  4. Am I designing a good quality story or am I writing just to fill the word count?

Statements of purpose are very personal and can be difficult to trim down with generic questions. If you feel this is true for you, seek support from someone who may be able to trim your essay down without losing the emotion and essence of your writing. You may also contact us here if you'd like to request our assistance.

We've also worked with applicants who've struggled to come up with content. In these cases, strategic questioning using what they had written down, along with personalized prompting to bring out the details, were effective for this task. Example questions that we often start out with are (list is not inclusive):

  1. What is your reason for choosing this field of study?

  2. What does this university offer that others do not?

  3. What qualities will you bring to the school, if accepted?

As stated above, statements of purpose are personal and need to be individualized. If you are having trouble reaching a specific word count, check out our post on prompts here, or contact us if you need more information.

The points here are: 1) whether you're filled with ideas or short on them, constructing your statement of purpose is very doable and 2) pay very close attention to word or character limits!

What is the best answer to give for a statement of purpose?

The best answer is and will always be your answer. Let me explain a bit further. When someone asks for your help with something that is going to either involve your time or your money--or both--wouldn't it be reflexive to ask, Why? Wouldn't you want to know why that person needs your money and/or your time?

Seeking answers to Why? provides, for example:

  1. The value, or level of importance, people place in what's being offered or provided

  2. Insights into people's intentions

  3. Details as to what motivates them

  4. Potential outcomes and future opportunities for all involved

With an understanding for each person's Why?, there's a better chance of building stronger teams and communities, as well as creating meaningful opportunities for ourselves and others.

So, to answer the question, the best response to give for personal statement prompts and questions is one that is authentic, specific, and relatable. If you're really interested in attending a particular university, don't hide behind other people's responses--don't repeat what you hear others using, and don't go off of what you see on the Internet. If you found a seemingly good response online, it's highly likely that admissions officers have seen it, too. Canned responses are often generic and do not leave lasting impressions. Trust what you feel, believe in your goals and dreams, and choose to share the reasons why you know you are deserving of the opportunity to attend the college you're applying to. Take time to think about the impact you can have on others who attend your dream college. You can even have an impact on faculty and staff members, and businesses and residents within the surrounding area of campus. On the flipside, consider the impact they can have on you and the path you take in life. How will you contribute to the college's community, and how will you benefit from their choice to open their doors to you? By addressing both sides in your response, you'll illustrate how broad your understanding is for what's being offered and what can be achieved. This, in turn, offers insight into your attitude, outlook, potential for positive impact and reach, critical thinking skills, and so much more. In the end, above all else, remember that there will never be an answer that's stronger than your own genuine response!

What is the best strategy to use when writing a statement of purpose?

As you write your statement of purpose, maintain a firm focus on answering the question or prompt from an angle that is personal to you and relevant to the college you're applying to. To identify points of relevance:

  1. Understand the college's mission

  2. Be aware of the programs they offer

  3. Familiarize yourself with campus life activities and opportunities that are available

Using these essential pieces of information, strive to paint a picture that shares personal anecdotes to reveal your story. Include descriptors that describe your emotions and insights; these types of words can be tremendously powerful in drawing readers into your statement. Ultimately, be sure to phrase your content in ways that show your ability to communicate effectively and efficiently as it relates to what they're asking for.


Statements of purpose offer college admissions teams an applicant's reasons for applying, such as personal, academic, and professional goals; experiences leading up to their current interests; and intentions and motivations for wanting to enroll in their classes and programs, to name a few. Offer the admissions committee an inside look into why their school is important to you and how you believe being selected will not only help you, but them as well. Share personal anecdotes that reveal your self-awareness and eagerness to learn and grow. In addition, offer insights that you've gained as a result of past successes and failures. This can create an emotional connection with reviewers, making your response much more relatable and memorable. It is also important to read the instructions carefully, especially as it relates to word count or character limits, and to choose words strategically. Remaining focused on the prompt to ensure that your response is highly relevant and directly aligned with what they're asking for is crucial. Take the time to brainstorm ideas and to organize them so the details flow and guide the reader from beginning to end. Lastly, and most importantly, remember to be authentic as you explain your Why?

A final word…

To give yourself your best chance of receiving a college's acceptance, intertwine your value and uniqueness with your Why? as you craft your statement of purpose. Then, strategically align yourself with what you know about the college. As always, don't hesitate to contact us here with any questions you may have.