Strategies and Structures for the Graduate School Statement of Intent

by Anton Vander Zee

The graduate school Statement of Intent is an established genre with a predictable series of “moves” and “steps.” This genre, however, too often remains opaque to those applying.  To add some clarity to this process, the template that follows, developed in light of recent research in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), provides guidance for how to craft a successful Statement of Intent.

Set the Stage: In the first paragraph, introduce your reader to the problem, issue, or question that compels your pursuit of an advanced degree. Perhaps you are fascinated by representations of gender in Victorian novels, or by the threat of micro-plastics in marine environments. Here, frame your interests in the context of the broader scholarly conversation that you hope to join in your coursework and research. Conclude the first paragraph with a concise statement about how your background (majors in X and Y, internships in A and B, research in C and D) prepares you for the specific opportunity at hand (a degree program in X field at Y university).

Your Qualifications: The next section (1-2 paragraphs) should address your academic and professional qualifications. This might include key academic coursework, research experiences, experiences studying abroad, publications or presentations in press or pending, leadership roles, and community engagement activities as relevant. Concisely introduce each relevant element here with an eye towards the skills and qualifications it provided. You might also reflect on how this experience contributed to your scholarly or professional growth and development. Organize this section strategically: a paragraph on academics and research, for example, and another on relevant outreach or internships.

Your Graduate Plan: The next section (1-2 paragraphs) should demonstrate your familiarity with the school, program, course structure, research opportunities, and possible mentors. The transition here is quite predictable: given your [summary of background] X program at Y school is [some statement regarding fit]. Begin most broadly with what draws you to the school. Then, note any aspects of the program that attract you to it—unique opportunities that attract you, for example, or specific coursework that you find most compelling. Finally, note a few faculty with whom you might want to work. If you are applying for a program that includes a significant research project (thesis or dissertation), it makes sense to spend some time—even an entire paragraph—discussing your research interests, though these are of course bound to change.

Other Stuff: The next section (1 paragraph) is necessarily flexible. The statement of intent is not a “personal essay,” but in many cases offering a brief glimpse into relevant aspects of your background can enhance the application. What else draws you to the program or school that you haven’t mentioned yet? And what else makes you uniquely qualified? You might note opportunities for community engagement and club participation, or address more personal details or concerns. Are you a first-generation college student who has worked your way through college? Are you a member of a historically under-represented group? Do you currently live and work in the area? Did a health issue caused a precipitous drop in grades sophomore year that you would like to explain? Do you have a commitment to your field that is more personal? This is your chance to bring that material in.

Conclusion: This document is, at its core, a statement of intent: what you plan to do and why, in both the short- and long-term. In your conclusion, articulate, once more, your interest in the program and make a meaningful gesture toward future, post-graduate plans. The goal is to pitch this graduate study opportunity as forming a crucial bridge between your past and future. Be as specific as possible, noting whatyou hope to do and why. And don’t worry if you’re not sure what the future holds—none of us are. The goal here is simply to conceive of a possible future, not to commit to one. Your plans will naturally change as you continue to grow academically and personally.

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