Personal Statement vs. Statement Of Purpose: Understanding the Differences

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November 1, 2022
What is The Difference Between a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose?Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose: Which One To Write?FAQs: Personal Statement Vs. Statement Of Purpose


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

What is the difference between a personal statement vs statement of purpose? Keep reading as we differentiate between the different types of statements you might have to write for your application. 

Scholars wanting to take the next step in their academic career and apply to grad school will most likely have to write personal statements and statements of purpose in the application process. 

The big question is: what is the difference between a personal statement vs a statement of interest? Is a statement of purpose the same as a personal statement? Which one should you submit? 

To best stand out on applications and impress admissions officers, understanding the expectations of each statement is key. 

If you’re getting your grad school applications together and are unsure of which statement to write or what the differences are between the two, we’ve got you covered! 

Keep reading as we outline the differences between the two statements and answer some of your frequently asked questions.

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What is The Difference Between a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose?

Going off of the names, a personal statement and a statement of purpose can sound pretty similar. However, there are differences between the two and each statement has a specific aim. 

Knowing the distinction between each statement and the appropriate circumstances to write each statement is vital to impress college admissions committees and having your college application stand out. 

The table below points out key differences between personal statements and a statement of purpose.

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose

Ultimately, both statements have similar goals. They both require the applicant to demonstrate why they are a great candidate for the chosen program and institute and why they should accept you into the program. 

While there are differences in the composition of each statement, there are a few essential things to keep in mind regardless of the school or program you’re applying for.  These requirements are as follows 

When writing either statement, remember to carefully read the instructions from each college before you begin writing. Different colleges may have different requirements for formatting, statement length, among other things.

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose: Which One To Write?

First and foremost, ensure that you read the instructions on the school’s webpage! The webpage will clearly list and define what each school is asking for. Look at the program’s FAQ page for more information as well. 

Some schools will clearly define which type of statement they require hopeful students to submit. Some schools, however, ask for a mix of the two. 

For example, the University of Notre Dame’s MFA in Creative Writing program asks applicants to write a statement of intent that describes both personal goals and motivations for applying to the program. Make sure you know exactly what the program is asking for before you begin writing. 

If you need to make the call on which statement to submit on your own, there are a few things you should consider. One thing to keep in mind is the program you are applying to. 

Typically, research-based programs will be looking for more professional essays. In this case, submitting a statement of purpose may be the better choice.

If you are applying to a creative writing program or a grad program in the humanities, writing a personal statement may be more fitting. Typically, humanities programs want to know more about you as a person and how your experiences have shaped you into the person you are now. 

Humanities programs, like English or Gender Studies, want to see that students can be reflective, as the research topics pursued in these programs often require self-reflection and critical thought. In cases like this, you should write a personal statement as they often provide more insight into who you are.

FAQs: Personal Statement Vs. Statement Of Purpose

Now that we’ve answered “is a statement of purpose the same as a personal statement?,” let’s move on to answering some of your other frequently asked questions about personal statements vs statement of purpose. 

1. What is the Difference Between a Personal Statement and SOP?

Simply put, a personal statement should include your motivations and interests–speaking more to who you are as a person. Meanwhile, a statement of purpose focuses more on why you want to study in the program you’re applying to and your academic abilities. 

While writing a statement of purpose, make sure to write what the admissions committee wants to hear. Writing a persuasive statement of purpose can help your college application stand out amongst your competition.

Need help determining what to include in your statement of purpose? Some achievements to highlight include:

Meanwhile, your personal statement should focus more on your personal goals and motivations for applying to the specific program. Some details to include in your personal statement include, not are not necessarily limited to:

If you feel awkward about talking about yourself on a personal level (don’t worry, a lot of us do!), check out some tips here on how to answer the prompt “tell me about yourself.” 

While a personal statement is different from answering an interview prompt, treating your statement like you would in an interview can be a  good basis as you start thinking about how to share your story. 

As always, make sure to edit and proofread before you submit any piece of writing.  

2. Can I Submit a Statement of Purpose as a Personal Statement?

As the two statements differ a lot from each other, it won’t be the best idea to submit your statement of purpose as a personal statement. You can, however, tweak your SOP a bit to make it fit into the criteria of a personal statement. 

Your statement of purpose should outline your academic achievements and credentials. You can change up the wording and alter the content a bit to take a more personal approach for a personal statement. 

In showing off your academic prowess and attention to detail, you should pay close attention to how you’re writing your statement. College admission committees will notice if your statement is vague or does not follow what they asked for. 

While it may be time-consuming to write multiple statements (if you are applying for various programs), it is in your best interest to take the time and write a specific statement for each program. 

Don’t cut corners for your college applications.  

3. Is a Personal Statement the Same as a Statement of Purpose?

A personal statement is not the same as a statement of purpose. As we have discussed throughout the article, the two take different tones and have different objectives. 

A personal statement is more of a storytelling piece that reveals how you got to where you are today. It can be less formal, and a bit more poetic and intimate than a statement of purpose. 

You can be a bit more creative with your personal statement as well! Try starting it off with a relevant quote or a clever opening line to engage your audience right away. 

A statement of purpose is more traditionally academic in its tone and structure. A statement of purpose should be more formal and focused on your credentials and accomplishments compared to a personal statement.

Final Thoughts

College admissions are no joke. Even if you are a strong applicant, there will also be tons of other applicants that have all the qualifications. Understanding the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose is crucial to standing out amongst thousands of other college applicants

If you are applying to a research based program, a statement of purpose will probably fit the requirements more. If you are applying to a humanities program, something more personal and less formal, like a personal statement, would be more fitting. 

Use your own judgment to decide whether a personal statement or a statement of purpose would be most appropriate for the program. 

Best of luck!

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