If I’ve noticed any single trend in grad admissions over the last few years, it’s this: public health is blazing hot! Before COVID, relatively few students applied to MPH programs. Now, it’s easily the most popular (and thus most competitive) field I encounter among STEM students. Brown’s applications more than doubled last year. Claremont’s increased by 66%. Hence, with so many applicants clamoring for spots in Biostats and Epidemiology programs, it means your MPH statement of purpose is more important than ever.
Luckily, I’m about to tell you how to blow your competition away…just the way Yichen did.
A Model Student with a Model MPH Statement of Purpose
When I first met Yichen, he was a senior at a respectable East Coast state university. An Applied Math major, he had fantastic quantitative skills. Yet, he had a glaring weakness in his candidacy:
He’d taken zero Public Health classes and claimed little experience with advanced statistics.
Not exactly a shining quality for a student applying to Top-10 Biostats MPH programs.
Fortunately, Yichen had a few things working in his favor: 1) he’d had multiple great research experiences, 2) he had a huge heart and big goals, and 3) he was an unusually thoughtful writer for an international STEM student. His first draft did have the same problems most students have: lack of structure, and a difficulty explaining WHY his dream school would be uniquely beneficial for him. Yet, he had humanistic goals and the ability to explain why they were important – a very rare quality.
Once he found an SOP structure that works, and learned how he could turn his weaknesses into strengths, Yichen’s MPH statement of purpose transformed into something profound.
Honestly, Yichen only received one offer…because he was immediately accepted to his #1 target school and then happily canceled the rest.
(Hot tip: be like Yichen. If you get into your top program, and aren’t fishing for scholarships, cancel the rest of your applications so other students have a chance!)
Let’s read Yichen’s sample essay to see what made him so competitive. Then, let’s break down all the qualities that make it profound, and see what tips we can extract to make your SOP equally awesome.
A Successful Sample MPH Statement of Purpose
When considering the state of healthcare in China, my home, I think of my own grandmother. She grew up in an ordinary village. Like many who suffered the ravages of longtime high-intensity farm work, her reward has been nearly intolerable arthritis and osteoporosis. When young, she endeavored to pull her family out of poverty. Now, she has to endure the unbearable pain of illness herself.
Her case is not rare. After four decades of reform and development, aging and elder-related diseases are the primary obstacles facing the Chinese medical community. This will require more long-term care facilities, and more people processing the increasing amount of data on health. Perhaps more worrying is how the younger generation has not learned from these lessons. Today, millions of driven workaholics pour their hearts and souls into their work, believing that modern health insurance will be their panacea. They believe they can exchange health for income when young, and income for health when old. Now, they too have begun to age, and the lack of awareness about health and hygiene have become equally serious public health concerns. High blood pressure, mental illness, and office-work-induced orthopedic issues are increasingly appearing in young people. Though the pathologies are different from our elderly generation, the result is the same: an unhealthy population and a healthcare community not fully equipped to treat it. Therein lies my desire to study in the Biostatistics program in the Gotham University School of Public Health. I hope to play a role in analyzing the complex health issues my country faces, to better support public initiatives to treat our aging population.
Fortunately, I believe that my education in Applied Mathematics at Stark University has given me excellent preparation for the focused study of Biostatistics. I have excelled in coursework such as Applied Linear Algebra, Differential Equations for Applications, Partial Differential Equations, and Numerical Analysis. This latter course was particularly beneficial, as it helped me achieve competence with MATLAB and deepened my understanding of the generation and propagation of numerical errors, stability, and the computational speed of algorithms.
Even so, I admit to a weakness in general understanding of the public health field, and a lack of advanced courses in statistics. For this reason, I am eager to enroll in coursework such as Longitudinal Analysis of Public Health Data and Categorical Data Analysis at Gotham. This will be the best way for me to bolster my background in public health. Furthermore, I am doubly eager to take Global Environmental Health and Global Issues in Social and Behavioral Health, because these will directly showcase public health problems and solutions that other countries have faced, and provide references for future problems in China.
Luckily, my research experiences have already given me a useful introduction to the programming and analytical skills required of such work. Since August 2020, I have worked as a research assistant under Professor Ororo Munroe on a project titled: “Image Analysis with Neural Network Modeling for Cyclone Damage Estimation.” This ongoing project seeks to help insurance companies more effectively estimate damage caused by megastorms, and as an assistant, I help Professor Munroe verify the validity of established neural network models, and explore how to apply collected data toward achieving research objectives. The experience increased my proficiency in Python, as well as and my ability to analyze practical research problems.
I have also received health-focused research training with Professor Otto Octavius, Director of the Health Management Center from Empire Orthopedic Hospital in New York. Starting in July 2020, I joined his online research project titled: “Analysis of Intervention Modalities in Bone Health Status of Menopausal Women.” In this project, I was responsible for arranging bone-mineral density data into logical categories within visual tables. In Excel, I classified iron, ferritin, and transferrin examination results from blood samples of 100 female testers, and communicated with my supervisor frequently to ensure that I was correctly prioritizing key data packets and setting up data relationships. To be more specific, I analyzed the relationship between serum iron and bone mineral density results (negative/positive) by using age as a dependent variable. Admittedly, when involved in Professor Octavius’s research, I did not fully understand many of the medical nuances, nor what the data ultimately represented for a professional in the field of health. This, however, is why I want to study at Gotham. I want to fully participate in public health research, and thus become a health statistical analyst capable of contributing to real population-wide change.
My long-term goal is to participate in research on genetics and disease in either orthopedic hospitals or the pharmaceutical industry. I am deeply interested in applying data analysis and modeling to the field of bone health, and hope to participate in research on prevention of long-term disease and occupational health issues. This is something that affects everyone. As China and all developed and developing nations face unprecedented public health problems, it will be necessary to design more proactive strategies by leveraging the power of data analysis with smart technology.
Studying at Gotham will be the perfect preparation for this. I am particularly intrigued by the work of Professor Barbara Gordon, whose research modeling population health, disease spread, and prophylactic social behaviors align with my goals in public and occupational health. Her studies of personally-generated data (using geospatial methods and social media data mining) seem particularly relevant to emerging global trends. These are precisely the types of projects I hope to engage in my future career, aggregating more efficient, smarter, and more detailed data that provides reference for health workers and makes it easier for the public to understand.
Health problems are inevitable for all of us, in every country, and we only have one life. Thus, the ultimate purpose of my education in biostatistics and public health is to serve life. To me, when I work with data, the numbers I face are not simply numbers; they represent the health of actual people, like my grandmother and many others. The numbers are alive. China’s health sector has yet to establish comprehensive health data to help the elderly, but people do not stop aging. By studying biostatistics at Gotham University, I will take an important step toward working as a statistical analyst in a hospital or health management center in the future, and thus play a role in bringing improvements to a public who desperately needs new and novel solutions.
What’s Great About This SOP
- Smart Questions: Asking big, humanistic research questions is one of the 5 traits of successful grad applicants, and Yichen did this wonderfully. Right from the start, he describes a macroscopic topic, but does so through the lens of his own personal experience and cultural values.
- Thesis Statement: His introduction concludes with a solid “Sentence of Purpose” that focuses on the elderly in one specific country. Note that it’s not particularly detailed, but after such a great introduction/frame narrative, it works:
“Therein lies my desire to study in the Biostatistics program in the Gotham University School of Public Health. I hope to play a role in analyzing the complex health issues my country faces, to better support public initiatives to treat our aging population.”
- Turn a Weakness Into a Strength: In paragraph 4, Yichen says honestly that he doesn’t have a strong Public Health background. But that’s no problem! By highlighting exactly which university resources will fill his knowledge gaps, he shows that he’s already got a thorough plan to succeed. This gives us serious confidence in him.
- Affinity with a Target Professor: In the next-to-last paragraph, Yichen discusses a specific professor whose research he wants to model in the future. He doesn’t go into excessive detail. He just describes her work with confidence (highlighting a few pertinent methodologies) and states how this ties into his own career goals.
- Specific Goals: There is nothing “general” about this applicant’s goals. He doesn’t just want to work in public health and save the world. He knows exactly which niche he wants to work in, and he gives us the sense that he’s considered his future deeply and envisioned it in granular detail:
“My long-term goal is to participate in research on genetics and disease in either orthopedic hospitals or the pharmaceutical industry. I am deeply interested in applying data analysis and modeling to the field of bone health, and hope to participate in research on prevention of long-term disease and occupational health issues.”
What’s Odd About This SOP
If you haven’t noticed already, this essay doesn’t entirely follow the structure I advise in the SOP Starter Kit. It does use a great Frame Narrative Introduction, and closes that narrative in the Conclusion. Yet the middle sections – Why This Program and Why I’m Qualified – are interwoven.
I don’t advise other students do this. It’s hard to pull off, and following the structure in the Starter Kit will be far easier, and equally persuasive. Yet, for Yichen, it worked. He’s a natural writer, and after many drafts, he embedded a smart logical flow throughout his paragraphs. If we outline the transition sentences, we can see how that logic plays out:
- I’m ready for this program because I am strong in applied math;
- But, curiously, I’m weak in public health;
- Fortunately, I’ve explored your coursework and found these uniquely perfect solutions;
- I can succeed in these classes because my past research has prepared me well;
- Finally, my long-term goals lie in a specific kind of research;
- So, working with this specific professor at your university will be the perfect preparation.
What You Can Learn
When drafting essays, many students just…word vomit. They stuff in all the information they can think of, especially in the Why I’m Qualified section where they tend to repeat items from their CV. They don’t contextualize. They don’t view their essay as an argument. They write to inform, and not to persuade.
Because of his weak public health background, Yichen knew he needed to make an argument.
As you draft your MPH statement of purpose, I suggest you extract the transition sentences between each paragraph. Put them in an outline, and see if it makes sense. If it feels clunky, then you aren’t really making an argument. Revise them until you’re certain the essay flows logically from sentence-to-sentence, and paragraph-to-paragraph.
Even though SOPs are a kind of hybrid creative/persuasive essay form, they still use the timeless lessons of structure that you learned in Freshman Comp 101:
- Introduction/topic sentence
The topic and conclusion sentences of each paragraph slot together. They weave a “golden thread” of logic throughout the whole essay. For the reader, it’s like floating on a boat down a gentle river. They don’t have to paddle furiously to get to the end. The current just carries them along.
Give your reader a gentle logical river to float down. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. And it will make you look like a rock star.
I’m thankful to Yichen for allowing me to post this sample essay. He put in the hard work, and he was rewarded for it with admission to his #1 target school, a top-10 MPH program. Learn from his example:
- Contemplate big, humanistic research questions in your essay. Figure out WHY you’re really doing all this, and what difference you can make in the world.
- Use a personalized introduction, but don’t be gimmicky or juvenile. Be professional, straightforward, mature, unemotional, and completely non-melodramatic.
- Turn your weakness into strengths.
- Present a logical argument that weaves through every sentence and paragraph of your essay. (The SOP Starter Kit will help!)
Want to write an MPH statement of purpose that stands out? Let me help!
How are you going to structure your essay to make it insanely persuasive?