One of the hardest parts of the psychology PhD application is writing a good Statement of Purpose. You need to start drafting a statement of purpose early, as you will likely go through a lot of drafts. A good strategy is to have a general version of the statement finalized first, and only then start tailoring your statement to each school
What Should Your Statement Include?
- The most important part of your statement (and this part should take up at least 1/3 of your statement) is what you want to do in graduate school and beyond, and why
- You need to have a very specific idea of what you want to research. Specifically, you need to write about what area of psychopathology you are interested in (ex depression, eating disorders, anxiety), what population you want to work with (children, adults, minorities, etc), and whether you want to research treatment, etiology, assessments, etc. The way you talk about your research should demonstrate that understand the research issues in your interest area. You may want to mention specific project ideas, but you also want to show some flexibility
- You need to write about what your goals are – whether you want to become a professor at a university, work in a medical center, and why
- You should be able to explain how you became interested in your specific research area
- You need to tell the reader about your past research experience. It is important that you write about the projects you worked on, what specific tasks you worked on (briefly), and what you learned from these experiences. It is also important to make a clear connection on how your past research experience influenced your future research interests
- Your statement should be interesting, adding flavor to your graduate school application
Tweaking Statements for Each School
- At the bare minimum, you should include one paragraph that talks about why you want to go to the particular program. You should mention what parts of the program will allow you to meet future goals (ex: if you want to be a professor, you may want to mention how you are excited about teaching your own course). You also want to mention specific professors with whom you want to work and make a case on why you think it would be a good fit for you to work with them. If you do not mention a specific professor to work with, it is likely that no one will read your application
- You may eventually change the structure of the essay for different programs because of different prompts / word limits
- You may also have to tweak other parts of the essay for each program
Don’ts – Common Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process
- Absolutely do not talk about your own psychopathology or the psychopathology of your family / friends
- Do not talk about your awards / merits outside of research- that is what the CV is for
- The statement of purpose is not a personal statement about your own development. It is a professional document, and you should treat it as such. It should look nothing like that the personal statement you wrote for your college applications.
- Avoid spending too much space explaining away rough areas of your statement. If it is absolutely necessary, you may want to write a few sentences. But do not spend paragraphs of precious space explaining why you changed careers / had to withdraw from school for a semester/etc.
- Do not write “fluff” – if anyone else could have written it, don’t write it. You should be very brief and to the point. Your statement has to be unique
- Show, don’t tell
- Make absolutely sure that there are no spelling / grammar mistakes. Have your grandmother read over the statement if you must
- Avoid cliches. Do not write how you became interested in psychology when you were in elementary school and how you read different pop psychology novels for fun
Example Statement of Purposes