Research Proposal or Statement of Purpose

Second only to the Personal Statement, is your Research/Project Proposal or Purpose Statement, which you can also expect to include in nearly every national scholarship or fellowship application.  And, you can certainly anticipate some variation of this particular kind of statement to be an expected part of your graduate school applications as well.  As with your Personal Statement, it needs to reflect something of you but with a much more specific focus on your academic plans and preparation.  A Purpose Statement will also be relatively short, at most two-pages in length, and is your opportunity to make a well-substantiated case for what you are proposing to do in the future. Most students will find the Purpose Statement, Research or Project Proposal surprisingly comfortable to write as opposed to the Personal Statement because it is expected that your Purpose Statement is written from a largely academic focus.  Your statement should include the following:

  1. A clear, early (as in the first sentence or two) introduction of what you intend to do and/or study;
  2. A well-substantiated (through your CV, transcripts, other essays, writing sample, and letters  of recommendation) case for your exceptional preparation for what you are proposing to pursue and/or study;
  3. A description of the institution, program, department, research group, faculty and resources that you are interested in being a part of and engaging with in your advanced studies.  Note: the more specific, the better.  It is appropriate, perhaps even expected, to name the individual faculty you would like to work with and make every effort to contact those individuals in advance of submitting your application.  Keep in mind that you are making a case for the following:
  • Why you have to be at that particular location or institution;
  • With whom you must study in order to be most successful in your efforts;
  • What resources will support and sustain your efforts (research and lab facilities, archives, special collections, field-work opportunities, etc.

In short, try to convince your reader that what you are proposing to research or work on can only be done in that particular part of the world and that you, simply, must be there to be the most successful. 

As with your Personal Statement, the more time you devote to careful planning, thought, and writing, the stronger your Purpose Statement will be.  Make sure to ask your faculty mentors and advisors to review your Purpose Statement and/or Research Proposal as they will be able to best guide you in refining your subject and even providing you with further contacts and resources.  Give yourself time to revise, edit, and revise some more. 

NOTE: Some national scholarship and fellowship opportunities require an actual Research Essay (Goldwater and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship).  In this case, expect to submit a very detailed description of your undergraduate research efforts and how you expect to see the work continue in the coming years.  Successful Goldwater research essays often include graphs, charts, notes and bibliographies to give evidence not only to the quality of the research but also to the quality of the students’ ability to put it in writing. 

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program’s research- and study-grants also requires a similar effort in crafting a highly specific project-proposal based on what an applicant intends to pursue in a foreign country.  The proposal needs to be a specific and targeted articulation on research and project plans while still attending to the Fulbright’s ultimate concern of cultural exchange.