Certain schools give you specific details about their statement of purpose. For example a maximum of a certain number of words, double spaced, two pages maximum, etc. If a school does not provide any of the above-mentioned details, what would be a good lenght in terms of number of words to engage the admission committee? Is a single space statement of purpose too compressed, or is it acceptable?

I know that brevity and conciseness are important, but I find it hard to fit all the information they want in a one page. And I have to list relevant experiences, future goals, research interests, and which people I would like to work with in the department.

  • 1
    You could ask around for some examples of PhD applications of other people and see what they did. Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 19:39
  • 6
    There's really no right answer to this. They explicitly tell you how long it should be. Write as much as you think you should, and then stop before you're writing stuff you shouldn't.
    – eykanal
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 19:44
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    In addition, let someone you trust, e.g. a former supervisor, read the application and ask for feedback. Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 19:47
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    If you've achieved so much that it does not fit two pages, you are plainly overqualified even for a Ph.D.
    – StasK
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 14:55

3 Answers 3


Depending on the program I would keep it between 1.5 to 2 pages. I framed mine to answer the following questions:

  • Why am I applying to this school.
  • What are my research interests.
  • Previous academic accomplishments.
  • Previous professional accomplishments.
  • Personal story of triumph (optional, I talk about having to drop out of high school to support my family)
  • What is your goal after graduation.


I would also target schools that are pumping out the research that matches with your interests... this will help when you are stating why you are applying like:

A major factor in helping me choose Awesome University was Professor Awesome's research on being awesome. I feel that this aligns well with my research interests, and would make for a great fit between me and the department.

Also, if you talk about any abstract ideas be sure to elaborate on them to give a level of specificity. They want to see you be able to translate abstract ideas into specific thoughts.


If you have a statement of purpose written for one school, you should be able to adapt it to other schools, too. Writing a fully customized SoP is a waste of time, unless you are applying to just three places (and then you are either overconfident, or just don't know what you are doing). If you've done a 1.5-2 page SoP, as JohnB suggested, just change a couple of paragraphs, and that should do it.

First paragraph: define yourself professionally ("I am a professional golf player who likes to deal with computers. I assembled my first PC at the age of 7, and hacked the school district network at the age of 12. Since then, I have been receiving straight As throughout the school")

Second paragraph: define where you want to be after Ph.D. ("I want to become a physicist to understand the nuances of friction between the golf ball and the air, and the ball and the grass. I also want to get involved with biology on the side, so that I could understand the ecology of the golf courses better.")

Two-three paragraphs: describe why this department is a particularly good fit. It's here where you describe the work you've done, and how it relates to the work other people in the department have been doing. ("I have found the work that Prof. Feynman has performed on the stability of beer foam as a function of ambient temperature and concentration of fine particulate matter (cigarette smoke) in pubs of Ireland to be very intriguing, and cited his papers on the topic in my own research on flotation of potato chips on beer surface, see Appl. Phys. Letters forthcoming in 2013").

Conclude with re-stating that you think this is a great program, and you think you are a great fit for it.


Just some clarifications that the other answers seem to have missed. No school needs you to tell them how awesome you think they are (I believe you are better than Harvard) or how much you love their location (I love being by the ocean / I've always dreamt living in Manhattan). Explain why they will not regret accepting you. Show them what you're good at and why you will be a good fit for their department. Describe your plans and ambitions for after you've graduated. Overall keep it short but well-written. Don't waste their time with long formal introductions and greetings. Don't be repetitive.

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