Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Dylan B. Dryer

Second Committee Member

Ryan Dippre

Third Committee Member

Charlsye Smith Diaz

Additional Committee Members

Steven R. Evans


This study emerges from the author’s personal experience of interacting with unfamiliar genres as she prepared her application for a graduate program in English. In a liminal space between graduating from her undergraduate program and applying for admission to a graduate program, her interaction with graduate admission genres was fraught with tension and a lack of the assumed knowledge that would inform her on how to strategically interact with these genres. This lack of tacit knowledge and absence of scaffolding lead her to compose a “statement of purpose” that did not adequately demonstrate that she was a “promising” graduate student, possibly indicating that facets of the “statement of purpose” genre might affect some populations of candidates for graduate admissions. Thus, in an effort to better understand this experience, she studies graduate matriculation genres and asks (1) what genres are most commonly asked for in matriculation assessment examinations?, (2) what kinds of writing does the “statement of purpose” genre promote?, and (3) what are the hidden or occluded tensions that might then hinder student performance with the “statement of purpose?”

122 public institutions are studied to reach a consensus on the current canon of matriculation genres for graduate English programs. The genre of the “statement of purpose” is further analyzed through a recursive coding process and analysis of these codes to cultivate an understanding of what conventions this genre consists of and what kinds of writing this genre promotes. This knowledge will then give stakeholders a better understanding of this genre and how it functions, informing their future interactions with this genre. The author finds that five genres are most commonly required in application for graduate programs: GPA/Transcripts, Letters of Recommendation, GRE General Test, Writing Sample, and “Statement of Purpose.” After her analysis of codes used in “statement of purpose” prompts, she finds which codes are most commonly used, indicating that length-driven writing is promoted and asking candidates to most commonly discuss her/his purposes, goals, and interests. She further finds that there is a tension around the inclusion of the “personal” in a “statement of purpose,” indicating an invisible tension that candidates might encounter when applying to graduate programs, creating another possible barrier to their composition of this text.

The author ends with a discussion on the lack of scaffolding in these prompts, which suggests prompt designers assume that candidates have a understanding of expectations and tensions when some populations of candidates (such as candidates from low SES or from racial minorities) may not have this tacit understanding, leading to these candidates being in a position in which they are unable to construct a “statement of purpose” that adequately reflects their “goodness of fit” and “potential” to be a successful graduate student. As a result of this assumed knowledge, these candidates’ texts might potentially lead to qualified candidates being turned down for admissions.