Personal Essay Vs Statement Of Purpose

International students have long crossed the 1 millionth mark, in the US. That’s like the population of a mid sized city in the country – think Dallas, in Texas. And if that’s what you get for the number of students who have been actually accepted, it is almost unearthly to fathom how many actually applied to the US Universities to begin with.

The average acceptance rates for most universities is in the range of 25-35%, with the exception of a few like Michigan State (~72%) and Purdue (~61%). You can further imagine the extent of the astronomical piles of applications that all the admission offices sort through every year.

So when you send in an application, it is the needle in a haystack the size of a Mall. And it is the job of those admissions officers to get to know the candidates from their pdf profiles. Quite an unenviable task that is only softened by the quality of the applications that they receive.

Besides the usual hard determinants like your GRE, TOEFL, GMAT, or your GPA records, the more subjective Letters of Recommendations and your personal essays paint the person behind those lists of numbers. And that is why it is essential for you to Van Gogh the most out of your essay, for them to be able to get to know you and your story.

It is also your chance to make an impression that stands above the rest, sometimes even giving you the window to explain the grey areas in your resume. But what makes this process challenging, for the applicant, is the self reflection that needs to go in to make the essay about the individual rather than a run of the mill tale of any degree hopeful around the globe.

There is, however, yet another degree of baffle when it comes to what the universities are looking for. They could be vague about the concept and leave it for you to assume that they want a Statement of Purpose or a Letter of Intent. They could sometimes ask for a Personal Statement. Or if someone in the Adcom Office happens to be a voracious reader, they could throw you a curveball and ask for both!

It then becomes a test of your mental resources to identify what could be uniquely phrased in each of those essays. Feeling lazy and paraphrasing the same content for either essay could leave the seasoned recruiter with a frown and your application in the nearest bin.

In this article, we will recall some of the salient features of an SoP, a Letter of Intent and a Personal Statement, thus drawing the hair-thin line that separates the content of each.

Statement of Purpose (SoP) vs Letter of Intent vs Personal Statement

What are the differences and similarities?

It is possible, as you start dwelling, in these, that you discover a whole lot of similarities and crossover, in the content. Nevertheless, there is a subtle difference.

Statement of Purpose/Letter of IntentPersonal Statement
What now?

An SoP is the justification of what you would like to accomplish from the degree.


A Personal Statement is the justification of what is it that has motivated you to arrive at this juncture.


So let’s list out a few things to keep in mind as you frame your future through each of these literary pieces.

Statement of Purpose

An SoP is a bridge between your past and the future you are eager to build with the degree, at a particular University. It requires a substantial amount of research into the particulars of the school you are applying to. Before you begin to construct the body of this epic tale, you should try to collate a believable response to some of these questions.

Why this school?

What is the field of research that entices me?

Why can’t I pursue this in my own country?

Which Professor(s) are currently pursuing this field and how does their work align with my interest?

What am I looking to gain out of this academic experience?

What are my career goals?

How has my background prepared me to develop this interest?

Here’s why I didn’t score well in that test and this is what I learned from that failure.

How have my skills prepared me to learn, and further pursue, this field?

What is special about me, as an applicant, that sets me apart from the rest?
You should take a good look at your past and find a reason to connect the present you with what you have been. And then take it a step further to lay out how the past and the present dots connect with how you envision your future.

Remember that the importance of your research interest may not be relevant in the case of someone applying for a Master’s, or an MBA, program. In those cases, the question about your research interest will be replaced by an interest in a particular field.

Now, if you really have a research interest to share, as an MS hopeful, you may as well lay them out and score some extra points. But whether it is for an MS, MBA or for a PhD, one cannot stress the need to be realistic, enough. It will simply sound too pretentious to claim that you see yourself completing a Nobel prize worthy research in your graduate school!

After having done the background work, when you do write, try to make your SoP sound like an impressionable story. Begin with a snippet of what motivated you to look towards higher studies.

Fill it up with some noteworthy emotion and plausible facts. I have superb skills in doing Computers sounds way less credible than I developed, my interest in Computers, quite early in my life, and when I won the Junior Programming Championship Award, organized in my county, I realized that I did have skills that were a cut above others.

Beware of making your statement a barrage of accomplishments, filled in multiple pages. Stick to the word limit and if there are none, stop at 1000. Don’t make it sound like it was compiled by Thesaurus. While grammar is important, this essay is not a test of your English speaking abilities. And whatever you do, don’t plagiarize!

So, let your SoP flow freely with your story, supported by facts. And let them glimpse you as a candidate who is serious about his commitments to the future. But don’t worry. These are not binding statements, as in no one will take you to court for ultimately not living up to your words (We hope!).

You can even read the following articles for a deeper insight of the various kinds of Statement of Purpose essays you should be familiar with, depending on your pursuant degree.


Letter of Intent

Many schools may specifically request a Letter of Intent, which is essentially your Statement of Purpose, dressed as a formal letter. While you essentially sing the same song with similar bells and whistles, the format should follow something like this.

Mr. Bruce Wayne
5 Gotham Street,
Ph: 999-999999

1st January 2020

Gotham University,
Graduate Program Director,

Attn: Admissions Committee,

(Your Introduction)

What is the motivation? Why choose Criminal Justice? What are the relevant accomplishments? What are your goals?
Why Gotham University? What about this University will help you attain your goal?


With Regards/ Sincerely
Bruce Wayne


Personal Statement

This essay lets you share your experiences in your personal life, your education, your work experiences, volunteer work and anything else that have contributed to shape, the academic you are today, in detail.

There is less emphasis on your research or future intent. But as you may suspect, there is overlap with your SoP. So, in the event that a school actually asks for both, you can highlight on the difference and maintain a healthy distinction between the two.
In conclusion, whichever piece you are sitting down to pen, make sure you follow certain salient features.

  • Open well. The seeds of interest are hidden in that opening paragraph.
  • Don’t quote Lincoln, Gandhi, or any other intellectual. And stay away from pop culture references.
  • Don’t share too much. The stories need to focus on the inspiration more than the bit about your adolescent years you spent as a tortured poet.
  • Follow a formal, yet not too prissy tone of language.
  • And spend a good lot of time self reflecting. That’s not just for the application essay, but rather to evaluate your decision for graduate school. You will be amazed what a few hours of soul searching can reveal.

And when you do have the statement done, read it over and over. The devil is in those punctuations. Proof read and edit till the cows come home. Comma is important, where a “pause” is needed. Don’t remove fresh eyes from friends. Help. (Quite a bloody transformation when the punctuation marks are misplaced – Comma is important, where a “pause” is needed. Don’t remove. Fresh eyes from friends help).

And here’s some detail about our SoP review service, to take your mind off the gore.



Now that application deadlines are just around the corner, today we’ll take a look at the main types of admissions writing. These terms get thrown around a lot at this time of year, so it may be helpful to dissect each and provide a bit more in-depth information.

Application Essay, Admissions Essay, and Admission Essay

These three terms are often used interchangeably when describing an essay featured as part of an application. These essays can range from 100 to 1,000 words in length and almost always have a very specific prompt or question, which vary widely depending on the specific school:

- Why do you want to attend our school?

- Write page 273 of your autobiography.

- Describe a time when you failed at something. What did you learn?

Admissions essays are most commonly found on college and MBA applications.

Tip: When writing an admissions essay, make sure that you read the prompt or question carefully and fully. Many have multiple parts, and you need to address everything in your response.

Personal Statement

A personal statement is a general type of admissions essay, most commonly found on applications to medical schools, residencies, graduate programs, and law schools. The average personal statement is 500-1,000 words in length and is meant to provide a fairly broad overview of the applicant. Topics covered include where an interest in the field of choice developed, how skill and experience have been built in that field, and goals/plans for the future.

Tip: Avoid covering information in your personal statement that is included elsewhere in your application. Things like grades, employment history, and test scores should not be included unless you are elaborating on them.

Statement of Purpose

While the terms “personal statement” and “statement of purpose” are sometimes used interchangeably, there is technically a difference between these types of admissions writing. While a personal statement provides a fairly broad overview of an applicant, covering elements from the past, present, and future, a statement of purpose is usually more tightly focused on the future. In a statement of purpose, applicants have the chance to detail their plans for study in a given field along with their short- and long-term career goals. Length, as with a personal statement, is most typically in the 500-1,000 word range.

Tip: When writing about goals, use language that emphasizes your readiness to accomplish those things. Instead of saying, “I hope to do X” or “I plan to do X,” pick a specific skill that you have or will earn and use it to present the goal: “With the finance abilities I build through my internship, I will be ready to do X.”

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Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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