Statement of Purpose

This page provides advice on writing your "statement of purpose" and other graduate school and fellowship essays and includes some sample essays by recent Mudd alum. These essays are a very important part of your application. Many schools ask for a single essay whereas others (including most fellowships) request several essays.

Keep in mind that your essay (and indeed, all of your application materials), will be read by professors of computer science and not by admissions officers. You should assume that your readers are very well-trained in computer science.

What are they looking for?

In general, these essays should convey the following:

  • You are genuinely interested in research;
  • You have an idea of the subdiscipline(s) that you would like to do research in graduate school and you can speak about them with some level of sophistication;
  • You've had some research experience(s);
  • You understand the research process from selecting a problem to solving it to presenting your results;
  • You've done your homework about this particular school and have some ideas of which faculty members and/or research groups you'd like to work with.

Organization of the Essay

There are many ways to write a good statement of purpose essay, but here's one possible structure that works well:

  1. In the first paragraph, describe the area or areas of computer science that you plan to study in computer science. The more specific you can be, the better. This is not a contract that forces you to study that subdiscipline and you might change your mind later. However, most graduate schools are more more inclined to accept students who have a good idea of an area that they plan to study. After describing the area, give a summary of your prior research experiences and an overview of the contents of the rest of your statement.
  2. In the next several paragraphs, describe the research projects that you've worked on, the challenges, the approach, and your contributions to the project. A typical situation for a Mudder applying to graduate school is one summer of research, one summer of an internship at a company, and a clinic project (which you will just be starting as you write your statement of purpose). Your summer research is the most relevant part for graduate school and should come first; It merits at least one substantial paragraph. Your clinic project is likely to have enough of a research component to merit a second paragraph. If your summer internship had some aspect of research, that can be a third paragraph. We encourage you to consult with your adviser in developing the structure for your essay based on your own experiences.
  3. Next, one paragraph can be devoted to describing the research that you would like to conduct in graduate school in some detail and your long-term career ambitions.
  4. The last paragraph should be customized to indicate why you want to go to this particular graduate school. You should spend some time looking at the web pages and publications of researchers at that university and mention the faculty and the research projects that you would be interested in joining. Generally, it's wise to mention at least a few faculty members and projects.

Some Real Example Essays

Several recent Mudd graduates who are now in graduate school have graciously agreed to let us share their statement of purpose essays and NSF graduate research fellowship essays with the Mudd CS community. Access to these essays requires a Mudd CS account.

Click here to login and view the statements.