Statement of Purpose (SoP) vs Personal Statement vs Letter of Motivation (LoM)

Statement of Purpose (SOP), Personal Statement, and Letter of Motivation (or Letter of Intent) are the three things that people often struggle to differentiate between, or rather they just confuse one with another. No worries. We are here to put each one of them into their respective perspectives so as to give you a clear understanding SOP vs Personal Statement vs Letter of Motivation, and how one of them is different from the other.

SOP vs Personal Statement vs Letter of Motivation

Co-authored by Parinita Gupta

Statement of Purpose (SoP) vs Personal Statement

The majority of US and UK universities ask for a statement of purpose (aka SOP) or a Personal Statement. However, sometimes the US schools ask for both an SOP and a Personal Statement (popular for schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Michigan, etc.).

In simple words, the Statement of purpose defines what you want to do, in contradiction with the Personal statement which defines you and who you are as a person. Both of them have a unique role to play in the enrollment in the grad college program that you are applying for.

When it comes to a Statement of purpose vs a personal statement for grad/ug school, the two are very different yet very alike. While both of them cater to the same purpose of making the grad admission committee believe in you, each of them contains quite different information.

The statement of purpose lies on a little more of a formal end in contrast to a personal statement. A personal statement is rather less formal and focuses more on who you are as a person and a student.

A statement of purpose showcases your academic background and your skills relevant to the program you are applying for. It specifically lists your career goals and exactly what you are aiming for, maybe a year down the line or five. It lets the college know what your research and extra curriculum interests are and helps it decide whether you are a complete fit for the program that you are enrolling in or not.

A personal statement on the other hand highlights more on what motivates you personally, what truly drives you to pursue a grad/undergrad program, and brags about all the major accomplishments you have or any major challenges that you have faced along the way and have successfully overcome.

Here is an example, where applicants need to submit both SoP and Personal Statement:

SoP vs Personal Statement

Similar Objectives of SOP and Personal Statement

Even though a personal statement and Statement of purpose are completely different from each other, both of them essentially have the same overarching purpose, of making the admission committee believe that you are the best fit for their institution and the selected program and that you’ll be successful in completing the program with flying colors. Assuring them of the things mentioned above is your goal, bear that in mind.

What is the statement of purpose, and what is it used for?

The statement of purpose (SoP) is an integral part of your application for graduate admission and consideration for merit-based financial support.

It is used to understand your academic interests, and to evaluate your aptitude and preparation for graduate work, as well as your fit with the proposed program of study. It is also used to assess your ability to write coherent and convincing prose.

What to Write in a Statement of Purpose (SOP)?

  • What is your purpose in applying for graduate study in your specified degree program? Describe your area(s) of interest, including any subfield(s) or interdisciplinary interests.
  • What experiences have prepared you for advanced study or research in this degree program? What relevant skills have you gained from these experiences? Have your experiences led to specific or tangible outcomes that would support your potential to contribute to this field (examples: performances, publications, presentations, awards or recognitions)?
  • What additional information about your past experience may aid the selection committee in evaluating your preparation and aptitude for graduate study at the particular university? For example, you may wish to describe research, employment, teaching, service, artistic or international experiences through which you have developed skills in leadership, communication, project management, teamwork, or other areas.
  • Why is this graduate program to which you are applying is the best place for you to pursue your academic goals? If you are applying for a research master’s or doctoral program, we encourage you to indicate specific research interests and potential faculty mentors.
  • What are your plans for your career after earning this degree?

What is a Personal Statement and what is it used for?

The Personal Statement is an opportunity for you to provide additional information that may aid the selection committee in evaluating your preparation and aptitude for graduate study at a particular school. It will also be used to consider candidates for specific scholarship or fellowship schemes.

What to Include in a Personal Statement?

  • Are there educational, personal, cultural, economic, or social experiences, not described in your Statement of Purpose, that have shaped your academic journey? If so, how? Have any of these experiences provided a unique perspective(s) that you would contribute to your program, field, or profession?
  • Describe the challenge(s) or barriers that you have faced in your pursuit of higher education. What motivated you to persist, and how did you overcome them? What is the evidence of your persistence, progress, or success?
  • How have your life experiences and educational background informed your understanding of the barriers facing groups that are underrepresented in higher education?
  • How have you been actively engaged (e.g., through participation, employment, service, teaching, or other activities) in programs or activities focused on increasing participation by groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education?
  • How do you intend to engage in scholarly discourse, research, teaching, creative efforts, and/or community engagement during your graduate program that has the potential to advance diversity and equal opportunity in higher education?
  • How do you see yourself contributing to diversity in your profession after you earn your advanced degree at a particular university?

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Tips for Writing SoP and Personal Statement for a Single Application

Since a statement of purpose (SOP) is different from a personal statement, your approach toward each statement in these essays also has to be different.

To quickly summarize, here are a few things to keep in mind while writing a statement of purpose (SOP):

  • Take your future goals into consideration
  • Research well about the program and the faculties
  • Explain how both of these two points mentioned above are a good match
  • Emphasize your accomplishments and all the challenges which you’ve overcome

And, here are a few things to keep in mind before writing a Personal statement:

  • Make it sound like you’re telling a story
  • Emphasize more what your personal motivations are
  • Explain in detail your weaknesses and the challenges that you’ve overcome.

Finally, keep these things in mind for either of these essays:

  • Use specific details
  • Edit and proofread
  • Be authentic

SoP vs Personal Statement vs Letter of Motivation

Statement of Purpose (SoP) vs Letter of Motivation

On the other hand, one might get confused between a Statement of purpose and a Letter of Motivation. Generally, European universities (Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, etc.) ask for a letter of motivation.

So, there’s a fine line between both of them. Letter of motivation vitally focuses on the future aspects, and your career goals, specifically how your presence in the college/ grad program is going to affect you, your skills, or any professional work or internship experience that you have.

However, a statement of purpose, apart from focusing on all of these things mentioned above, in a LOM, also allows you to focus on, or rather brag about your past qualifications, grades, internships, work experience, volunteering experience, and other activities. A statement of purpose must explain how you are in your academic field of study, how your choice of subject affects you, and how your previous experiences have influenced your career choices, etc.

Even though a statement of purpose (SOP) and a Letter of motivation are used interchangeably, an SOP is more of something to write to an employer while applying for a job whereas a letter of motivation is something more of an application letter to write to a university or a college when applying. It’s pretty common to find universities, colleges, and employers to use these 3 terms interchangeably, you may also find them referring to LOM (letter of motivation) as a personal statement, but a letter of motivation is not alike a personal statement or statement of purpose (SOP).

How is a Letter of Motivation Different from SoP or Personal Statement?

The difference lies in the fact that how long each of these letters is supposed to be and what intention it serves. Generally, personal statements tend to get more personal, and in-depth with the candidate’s personal life, enigmas, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and even past achievements and failures, whereas letters of motivation have personal elements to it.

However, LOMs are much more focused on the applicant’s future plans and aspirations. A letter of motivation, allows the candidates to refer to their past achievements only as proof of their commitment to their future aspirations.

Before you start writing your letter of motivation, make sure that you have enough time to complete it. Important and crucial letters such as this one cannot be written in a hurry.

Therefore, make sure that you reserve some time beforehand. Also, make sure that you research well your university and its program in-depth and what their requirements and expectations are from their future pupils.

Knowing a little more about their main activities, projects, personal philosophy, and interests will help you figure out what the letter should contain and how you can frame your letter in a way that can make you look like a perfect fit for their institution.

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Related Articles:


How to Write a Statement of Purpose (SOP) for Graduate School (MS/MBA)?

How to Write an MS SOP for Ivy League Schools?

What do Admission Officers and Universities Look for in SOP and Personal Statements?

About Parinita Gupta:

Parinita is a full-time banking professional. Additionally, she is also a passionate blogger and digital marketer.

She mostly writes about the Banking & Finance, Technology, and FinTech sector. But, she also enjoys writing on other topics as well.  You can follow her on Twitter.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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