Writing a statement of purpose was probably the worst part of the application process. (I say “a” statement of purpose, but in reality I ended up writing several, due to varying length and content requirements. Conveniently, I could use a generic SOP, touched up with a paragraph on why School X was good for me, for most of them.)
I’ve heard it said that, if you have unusual circumstances, you should explain them in your SOP. That is all well and good but most of my programs limited me to 500 words, and I had at least three extenuating circumstances to explain away; the result was that, if I tried to rationalize all my shortcomings, I wouldn’t have any room left for anything positive. So my first draft–and my second, and my third, and maybe even my fourth–ended up being far too negative and whiny.
I had to start completely anew to create a statement of purpose that I could live with. My “boss” at one of my volunteer jobs likes to say, “Everyone brings something to the table,” and although I didn’t actually put that quote in the SOP, I used it as the basis for my essay. What did I have to bring to the table that other applicants might not? And while I managed to weave in explanations for at least some of my weaknesses, I used my strengths as my main focus. After all, I wanted admissions officers to think about why they should admit me, not why they shouldn’t not admit me.
I ran my completed SOP by my husband first (who’s a nit-picky editor if there ever was one) and later SL, who really liked it. I think it turned out well, but it was a royal pain to get it to that stage. Needless to say, I hope I get into grad school this year, because if I don’t, I’m going to have to write another SOP and that would really suck.