I'm applying to grad schools in the U.S. for a Ph.D. in mathematics and I recently read about the key differences between an SOP(Statement of Purpose) and a PS(Personal Statement) after noticing a few universities requiring both separately. My question is for the universities that only ask for one statement and/or use the two words interchangeably, can I just add the two statements one after the other to create a single pdf file? While I wish to keep the language in the sop more formal and explain what my current and future plans are with this degree and why I'd make a good researcher, I'll be using the PS to be slightly less formal and talk more about my life experiences and the role they've played in developing my interests in my field as well as explain the gaps and shortcomings in my CV.

Ideally, I would like to keep these separate but for the universities that require only a single SOP, should I expect that they're just not interested in my PS or that they are using the words interchangeably and they want me to combine details form both letters into a single one, instead of appending two letters together?

1 Answer 1


It is impossible to say whether any given university uses them interchangeably, though it is likely that some do.

Actually, I'd suggest that you write three documents; an SoP, a PS, and a combination that includes all important elements. I'd also suggest that you tailor these for each application so that they are a bit more specific in each case.

Appending one to the other seems like a poor option, though.

Consider that some universities will also look at these as a sort of writing sample.

  • You're right. Merely appending the two files together might come across as a time saving measure and portray the applicant as lazy or uncommitted. Also, are there universities where including personal information in your essay would be considered inappropriate if they only ask for an SOP? I would very much like to include some such details to explain the gaps and shortcomings in my CV.
    – ZSMJ
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 14:33
  • 2
    This is good advice also for academic job applications. Having two or three versions of teaching and research statements is necessary because different schools have different focuses (R1 vs R2 vs teaching oriented universities with or without research expectations) and perhaps page limits. It's a little annoying, but it's better to create something new rather than butcher a great document. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 18:36

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