I am applying to phd programs in the US.

In preparing for the statement of purpose, I consulted some native speakers. I was suggested to add some anecdotes in my statement.

Nevertheless, after a moment's further thought, I found anecdotes occupy the space! And, I am under the impression that, since I am NOT applying to undergraduate programs nor master's programs, simply focusing on introducing my thoughts and research is the best policy.

So would a statement of purpose such that it is specific but it contains no anecdotes be considered less suitable (in whatsoever sense)?

2 Answers 2


In writing, there is a general principle of "show and don't tell" which applies. It's not the question of to anecdote or not per se, but whether the illustration provides some insight into how you are unique. If a (short) anecdote can illustrate something important about your creativity, initiative, or problem-solving skills, then it will help you stand out and can be useful to include.

For example, compare these two statements:

  • I founded a student group that teaches underprivileged high-schoolers to program.

  • When I was growing up, an important turning point in my education was when a friend's older brother taught me programming. I wanted other people to have the same experience, so I organized some friends and reached out to local teachers. Together, we founded a student group that teaches underprivileged high-schoolers to program.

The second is longer, but it tells a lot more about why what the writer did was significant and shows how they expressed initiative and motivation.


This is only second-hand information, since I am a PhD student in Europe, but I have friends who are now engaged in various US institutions, so I am somewhat familiar with the differences in those application matters between the US and Europe.

The main idea when writing a statement of purpose is to be concise and to-the-point. The admissions committee gets a lot of applications and are typically not interested in anything besides the narrow scope of the document before them. So anything that is longer than a few paragraphs needs an exceptionally good reason to be that long. Since you are limited in this way, it is advisable to make these paragraphs count and stick to your research (both done and planned) and recommendations. I've been even told that it is a good idea to bold out the most important catch phrases, like the names of the professors you collaborated with or papers you may have published.

On the other hand, at least in Europe, the interview is the place to show your eloquence and present your personality in the best light (among other things of course), so a few short well-placed anecdotes don't hurt.

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