Statement of Purpose
The Statement of Purpose is an important part of the online application and is given careful consideration in the selection process. Be concise and specific in preparing your statement: give information that will aid the selection committee in evaluating your potential for completing a graduate program of study at UCSD. Check the department directory listing for specific content requirements.
The online application allows you to upload your Statement of Purpose file. This file must be in PDF format and no larger than 2MB in size.
Focus your Statement of Purpose on the reasons you are interested in attending a specific graduate program at UCSD. Check the department requirements for the Statement of Purpose. The statement should be well organized, concise, and completely free of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Before submitting the statement, seek constructive comments and criticism from friends and advisors.
Five primary topics to cover in your statement of purpose:
- How did you become interested in this field? Establish that you have had a long-term interest in the field and that you have taken positive steps in pursuing your interest. Give the committee members a sense of your particular talents and abilities and their relevance to your academic interests.
- What experiences have contributed toward your preparation for further study in this field? Demonstrate your interest by providing examples of research experiences, internships, work experience, community service, publications, or life experiences. Briefly describe what you did in each experience. Also, make sure to articulate what you have learned about the field and how those lessons stimulated you to pursue an advanced degree.
- What are your future goals? Specifically state your degree objective (Master's or Ph.D.) and specify what subdisciplines you are interested in pursuing. For example, if you are applying in political science, the committee needs to know whether you are pursuing American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory. Let the reader know that you are planning a future career as a university professor, researcher, or consultant, or in public service or private practice (or whatever your goal happens to be).
- What are your research interests? Within your subdiscipline, you should be able to identify one or two topics that are of interest to you. When possible, be specific about your research agenda. Remember that you will be working with professors in research; therefore, your research interests should parallel those of the faculty. (You will usually not be expected to know exactly what you want to research; faculty know that initial interests often change.)
- How are you a "match" for the program to which you are applying? Explain what attracts you most to the institution/program to which you are applying. Align your research interests with those of one or more of the affiliated professors. The better the "match" with the program/professors, the better the chance that you will be admitted.
Other factors to weave in (remember these are secondary factors):
- Give examples of personal attributes or qualities that would help you complete graduate study successfully.
- Describe your determination to achieve your goals, your initiative and ability to develop ideas, and your ability to work independently.
- Describe background characteristics that may have placed you at an educational disadvantage (English language learner, family economic history, lack of educational opportunity, disability, etc.).
- Leave the reader believing that you are prepared for advanced academic work and will be successful in graduate school.
Maria Lofftus, manager of the admissions office at the UCSD School of Medicine, had just finished explaining to an irate father why his son's application had been rejected. She has a repertoire of responses to all kinds of complaints — for the angry fathers whose dreams have been dashed, the sobbing mothers who think their child's life has been destroyed, the bigots who say UCSD admits too many colored folk, the people who deliver their "I'm a taxpayer, so you gotta let my kid in" spiel, and so on. Lofftus is usually pretty good at calming them down. But this fellow persisted.
"Come on, how much does it cost?" he said.
"You don't understand, sir, it doesn't work that way," replied Lofftus.
"Just tell me who I have to payoff. There's got to be somebody I can pay off." Lofftus assured the man it couldn't be done.
"Okay, listen, I'll tell you what. You let my kid in and I'll donate my body to UCSD. I'll pledge my body to science. What do you say?"
Everybody, it seems, is trying to get into medical school. Charles Spooner, Associate Dean of Admissions at the UCSD School of Medicine, is in charge of the committee that selects new medical students. He has a big job. This year 3777 young people from across the nation pushed an application across his desk, each having invested untold hours encapsulating his or her entire life in a small file of documents, building a case for acceptance. The competition these applicants face is intense, and their jury is smugly discriminating. It can afford to be, confronted as it is with a brigade of eager and ambitious young minds, thousands strong — all charging after the coveted knowledge and power of medical science. Why? Many reasons. Medicine is a challenging and dynamic field. In the hierarchy of American professions, it is the king of the hill. Medicine is one of the few professions in which realism and idealism can exist in harmony, in which you can earn a great deal of money making people feel better.
"I'm looking for young people who have integrity; you can usually spot it," says Spooner, a professor of neurosciences at the medical school. "I look for those who know how to and aren't afraid to take risks. I'm looking for the reasonable adventurer." An apt term. Apt because for so many, medical school is the goal at the end of an arduous quest. The applicant who wonders "Will 1 be chosen?" is asking the same question legendary knights must have asked when they dreamed of Excalibur, the enchanted sword embedded in a stone, awaiting the chosen knight who could wrench it free. The scalpel is the modern-day Excalibur, the blade that symbolizes knowledge, status, and power in this more reasonable age. Small wonder that each year as many as one-third of UCSD's approximately 3000 incoming undergraduate freshmen hope that someday they will wield the magic knife.
But the UCSD School of Medicine has only 130 scalpels for its 3777 applicants, and they are secured not in stone but bureaucracy. They are defended, really, from the onslaught of applicants by a staff of four administrative assistants, by committee head Spooner, by the admission committee's faculty chairman Dr. Arnold Gass, by Special (minority) Admissions Committee chairman Percy Russell, by some forty other faculty who conduct interviews, and — perhaps most ominous of all — by a computer.
The admissions committee has devised a very elaborate selection process — it spends more than $100,000 per year — to bring a human element into what could be a strictly mathematical decision. The committee members spend hundreds of man-hours interviewing applicants a poring over letters of recommendation, personal statements, lists of extracurricular activities, and other elements of the application. Nonetheless, two factors rise above others in importance: grade point averages (GPA), and scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), the national examination required of all applicants. For far too many undergraduates who wish to become physicians, college is less a matter of learning than it is a matter of building impressive acronyms, high GPAs and MCATs. The result this academic tunnel vision is "pre-med syndrome," an unpleasant, often painful, always debilitating condition.
In their efforts to gain one of 17,200 spots in 128 medical schools in the U.S., pre-meds have taken on a cruel task. They have to measure themselves against the "ideal medical student," whom no one can define but everyone understands to be a cross between Picasso, Mother Teresa, and Louis Pasteur. Here is how this hybrid might look on paper: Sharp as a blade, he (or she) has a 3.8 grade point average (out of a possible 4.0) and scored 13 (out of a possible 15) on the MCAT: he's volunteered in a hospital for two years emptying bedpans for dying geriatrics: he's worked in a lab, washing test tubes and dissecting rats for a Nobel laureate: he strums guitar for fun but his true love is playing cello in the community chamber orchestra: he spent his junior year abroad in France, where he worked on a vendange for a month, harvesting grapes alongside Spanish and Greek laborers; he toured Togo and Upper Volta last summer to study health conditions there; and he was a history major with a minor in biochemistry.
What's incredible is that this standard is all too standard. There really are a lot of students applying to medical schools who have irresistible credentials, who look ... well, like young King Arthur might look in a white smock.
Nicole Moran, in charge of the Pre-Medical Advisory Committee, sees irony in the medical school selection process. "Medical schools say they want the guy who plays trumpet in the band, the champion surfer, the marathon runner, the symphony lover, and so on," she says. "But the reality is that the training they get in medical school robs them of these interests."
In one of Charles Spooner's medical school lectures, a second-year medical student stood up and made the same point, criticizing the UCSD medical school for being so "dehumanizing." Spooner says that he told her, "We choose people with high social commitment and altruism because we know their training is going to knock a lot of it out of them, and by the time they get through we want to be sure there's still some left."