How should one frame a narrative if they’ve got broad or intersecting interests, unlike a more channeled approach when targeting grad schools?
Ooh, that’s a great question. Thank you.
My gut response is this: focus hard on the point of intersection. For example, if you’re an English major applying to a master’s program, but really want to use Big Data to illuminate literary texts in some new way, then you might frame your intro/narrative around the assignment or project where you first discovered this quirky new path. (In my guidebook, I actually did exactly this in my own fictional SOP, describing the moment when I discovered my quirky academic interest comparing musicology and classical poetry.)
Then, in your Why This Program section, you want to lay out exactly how you plan to probe this intersection at your target school. Maybe the grad program in Literature will allow 16 units of electives that you can take in the Data Science department. Maybe they have a professor who dabbles in computational analysis of literature, like Franco Moretti (formerly) of Stanford. This section should literally explain everything you plan to do to pursue that intersection of different fields.
Now, you COULD indicate that you have broad interests in an SOP, though I really advise against it. This can work at the master’s level, but not really at elite universities or in PhD programs. I never recommend it either way. There are just too many competing applicants who DO have focused interests. With so few spots, and such little funding available, programs just don’t have the freedom to give students a year or two to figure out what they want to study. There needs to be some semblance of a niche going in. At the PhD level, it’s expected that your interests will change and evolve as you go, but still, you have to have some direction, some pointed research question you want to explore.
Does that help? I feel like I’m rambling. Apologies if so!