How to Apply: Statement of Purpose

Post by: Natalie Solis, MTS 2020, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant

This article is part of our How to Apply series, which answers common questions about the application process and includes these articles:

How to Apply: Test Scores  

How to Apply: Letters of Recommendation  

How to Apply: Reapplication 

How to Apply: Writing Sample 

How to Apply: Résumé 

This post was originally written in 2018 but has been updated to reflect accurate application information in October 2021. 

Please note that MRPL applicants do not need to submit a statement of purpose. A separate blog post covering the MRPL Project Proposal is coming later this Fall 2021. 

This webinar from October 2021 also provides some helpful information about crafting your statement of purpose: Statement of Purpose, Project Proposal, and Writing Sample Webinar.  


To provide additional insight into this section of the application, we’ve included a short video with our former Admissions Graduate Assistants where they discuss their experience writing their Statement of Purpose, from the initial outlining process to final edits.  


What does the Admissions Committee look for in a statement of purpose? 

Generally speaking, a coherent SOP should demonstrate who you are, why you want to attend Harvard Divinity School (HDS), which resources you hope to pursue at HDS, and what you want to do with your HDS degree and experience upon graduation. 

Below is some additional information from the HDS website

“The statement of purpose (1,000 words) is an integral part of the application and is evaluated with great care by the Admissions Committee. It should include your general background (education, work experience, volunteer work, and/or relevant personal experience) and how this background has prepared you for graduate theological study, specifically at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). It should also include your vocational or career objectives and why you believe your desired program at HDS will aid you in achieving those objectives.” 

Ultimately, your statement of purpose should authentically reflect you and your goals and give us a chance to understand you better.  

How long should my statement of purpose be?  

Your statement of purpose should be double-spaced and no more than 1,000 words. Please be mindful not to exceed this word limit. We want to use your statement of purpose to learn more about you, so it should be your original and independent work. 

How should I approach writing my statement of purpose? 

Since the statement of purpose (SOP) is one of the most important components of the application for admission, it is crucial to spend a significant amount of time outlining, drafting, and revising your statement. 

There is not one specific way to write the SOP. Since the degree programs at HDS are flexible and self-directed, it is important to be clear about your intentions in attending HDS, whether it is taking classes with specific professors, participating in specialized field education opportunities, or getting involved with research centers. While your plans may change while you are at HDS, expressing how you currently see HDS fitting into your larger path is important for a competitive application. 

When should I start working on the statement of purpose? 

You should start working on your statement of purpose as soon as possible. It often takes multiple revisions to write a compelling statement of purpose. Since the SOP asks you to detail multiple aspects in a limited word count, striking a balance entails a commitment to the writing process. 

I am unsure about my graduate degree goals. How should I proceed with the statement of purpose? 

Starting the discernment process by reviewing admissions materials and selecting a degree program that suits your specific goals is necessary for submitting a strong application. While we understand that the discernment process continues in grad school and that your goals are likely to change, it is important that you are thoughtful in preparing your SOP. Any graduate program is an investment of time and money, so it is important that you articulate how a graduate degree at HDS fits into your long-term goals. In other words, grad school should not be the goal in and of itself but should be a steppingstone within a longer path. If you find that you are unable to express these goals, you might want to spend some time reflecting on why you are applying to graduate school now and have conversations with your mentors about your discernment process.  

Any final tips? 

Edit, edit, edit! The SOP is your chance to make an impression on the Admissions Committee, so make sure to double-check for any typos. Each year we receive SOPs where people have forgotten to change the name of another graduate school to HDS. On occasion, applicants will even upload the incorrect document, like an SOP intended for another school. To avoid mistakes like this, we recommend that you review your application materials item by item before submitting the application. After it is submitted, we cannot make exchanges or substitutions even in the case that you have a spelling error or uploaded the incorrect document. We understand that many people reuse parts of their SOP from other schools, but it is crucial that you customize your SOP specifically to your goals at HDS. 


We hope this information assists in writing your statement of purpose. Please reach out to us if you have any additional questions as you complete the application for admission at admissions@hds.harvard.edu. Good luck with your statement of purpose! 

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