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If midnight studying and a pantry stocked with Top Ramen don't sound like a promising future, maybe you're not looking at the whole picture. Heading back to school might mean making a few sacrifices and pushing yourself through some tough challenges, but when it comes to earning an advanced degree, the statistics don't lie; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, weekly earnings skyrocket and unemployment rates drop dramatically among populations with master's, professional, and doctoral degrees.
That said, getting into the right school is an imperative part of realizing the career of your dreams. That means knocking the socks off the admissions committee with your statement of purpose or letter of intent. That task could be easier than you think — with a little direction.
Keep true to your purpose
It might seem like a no-brainer that a statement of purpose needs a purpose, but that's exactly where many students fall short. Your letter of intent should revolve around a predefined purpose, and it's up to you to decide what that is. Whether you're hoping to demonstrate your potential ability to excel in your field of study or showcase your personal history of service in the field, it's important that the content of your statement revolves around that central purpose. This will help you weed out any irrelevant and extraneous content that's sure to bore (and possibly confuse) the admissions committee.
Don't copy and paste
If you've never written a letter of intent, it could be tempting to consult your virtual BFF: Google. While you'll find no shortage of templates and examples, if you follow these too closely you risk sounding like everyone else who is applying to your program. According to CrunchPrep, "Almost 99 percent of statements are structured similarly, and often times, students copy-paste and edit statements of purpose from their seniors or friends, making it sound even more generic or irrelevant to their applications." That's why telling your unique story is absolutely critical.
"I want to know the person," said Heather Chewning, MBA program manager at Brigham Young University. "Who are they? Why are they interested in our program? What are they going to do with it? What have they already done that shows me they can handle it?" These questions will never be answered by following anyone else's statement too closely.
Only after you've done your due diligence on the school and the program to which you're applying are you ready to write your statement of intent. It's important to demonstrate a thorough familiarity with the program and understand how it will help you further your career and reach your goals.
"Do your homework. Talk to faculty members and demonstrate that you understand the nature of the programs to which you are applying," advises BYU Graduate Studies. "Provide evidence that you are well-prepared and self-motivated. Be specific and avoid lofty sounding generalities."
Proofread, proofread, proofread
If you want a surefire way to get your application rejected or waitlisted, litter your statement of intent with typos, grammatical errors and other avoidable mistakes. Keep in mind that you're writing your letter to educational professionals, and understand that how you present your story is as important as the story itself.
"Take the necessary time to write and rewrite the letter of intent so it represents a polished document that is well written, demonstrates good sentence structure and grammar and is without spelling mistakes," said Mary Williams, PhD, RN and associate dean at BYU Graduate Studies
While a statement of intent should never be a straight biography nor a catalog of achievements, it's important to be specific. Avoid using broad generalities without clarification. For example, don't merely claim to be "skilled and experienced." Back that statement up with examples of educational and professional achievements. Be specific in your goals as well. It's not enough to say you want to "excel in your field." Tell the admissions committee exactly what "excelling" means to you.
If your intent is a phenomenal career, it all starts with your statement of intent. For more information on how graduate studies can help you succeed, visit BYU Graduate Studies.
Kristen has a journalism degree and has experience writing in a variety of fields, including art and culture, health and fitness and financial and real estate services. Kristen has written for USA Today, SFGate and the Knot.