Whats the Difference Between a Statement of Purpose and a Personal Statement?

When preparing your application to university or graduate school, you may notice that some schools ask for a Statement of Purpose, whereas others require a Personal Statement. This leads everyone to inevitably type into the search bar:


Whats the difference between a Statement of Purpose and a Personal Statement?

 Think of it like this:


A Statement of Purpose is more about the Statement.
A Personal Statement is more about the Personal.

Statement of Purpose

A Statement of Purpose (SOP) is like a CV in paragraph form. You need to start with an introduction describing why you are interested in your chosen major, followed by a few paragraphs describing your relevant academic courses, extracurricular experiences, work history, and closing by describing your future goals and how the schools program can help you achieve them. Each of these topics can have their own paragraphs, or sometimes they can be combined. An SOP is usually around 5-7 paragraphs, 500-800 words. Its fairly straightforward; you dont need to be overly artistic or creative in your writing style, but it is a good idea to put some work into making sure it sounds interesting, has a good introduction/conclusion, and is error-free and formatted well.

Personal Statement

In contract with an SOP, a Personal Statement tends to be much more of a creative writing project and a chance to showcase what makes you unique. It should reflect your unique voice, your unique experiences, and your unique personality. It should grab the readers attention and tell an interesting story. However, given the fact that every student who writes a Personal Statement is going to try to make it as unique and special as possible, it is important to avoid going over the top. Dont be pretentious. Youre not Hunter S. Thompson. You will need to really take some time to reflect on what makes you stand out from the crowd, and how you can best represent this in a written essay. (Hint: Write, rewrite, rewrite again, get some other people to critique it, and then rewrite it a few more times.)

Compare this students Statement of Purpose with his Personal Statement below:

As you can see above, although the core content of these two essays is the same, the information is expressed in very different ways in the two essays.

*The Advice Here is True, Except When It Isnt

On this page, weve tried to describe how SOPs and Personal Statements are different. But it is important to note that some people/schools tend to use these terms interchangeably. Therefore, it is important to look carefully at each schools requirements for their application essay. Many schools will give a specific list of points that they want you to cover. Also, many schools will give you a word limit or character limit, which you should adhere to precisely. And if you really get stuck and have no idea which type of essay to write, it can be possible to write an essay that is kind of halfway between an SOP and a Personal Statement”basically an SOP with more pizzazz and more of a personal touch.

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All the Best, 

Cathy, CS