I recently raised the general question of how we should discuss the possibility of graduate school in philosophy with interested students. Like many other people I have spoken to, I feel obligated to warn students of the substantial risks involve, and to inform them of relevant facts--particularly, facts about the state of the academic job-market, and the performance of graduate programs. However, like many people, I still have students who wish to pursue graduate work in philosophy--and here I encounter a new series of questions: questions regarding how to best advise them in the grad school application process itself.
Having gone to graduate school myself (though it has been a while now), I feel decently well-acquainted with the application process from the student's side. I know one typically has to take the GRE's, submit a writing sample and statement of purpose, etc. But, what I am less well-acquainted with is the best way to advise them on these issues from the faculty/admissions side. What, in particular, does a good statement of purpose look like? I suspect, next to the writing sample, that this is one of the more critical parts of a student's application, but I'm not entirely sure what to advise. Offhand, I would suspect that a good statement of purpose would show show, clearly and concisely, that the student has relatively clear, well-defined philosophical interests (interests in specific philosophical problems, showing some familiarity with authors and arguments on the topic). On the other hand, might a statement of purpose run the risk of being too narrow? Also, should a statement of purpose address specific faculty that the student might be interested in working with in the program?
I'd be very appreciative for any helpful tips!