Statement of Purpose
What is a statement of purpose?
A statement of purpose (SOP) is a document required by graduate schools to judge the suitability of candidates for admission in their programs. As the name implies, a statement of purpose reveals the purpose of applying to a particular program. The basic purpose of SOP is to introduce the candidate as a best-fit to the intended program by showing his/her academic qualifications, achievements, interests, work experience, technical skills and motivation to undertake graduate studies.
Importance of SOP:
An SOP is the first opportunity for the candidate to express him/herself and to make a good first impression in front of the graduate admission committee. It is the most important component of graduate application because it is the one of the few components, which is controlled by the candidate. On the other hand, a candidate has no authority over other components of his/her application, such as, GPA, GRE score, IELTS/TOEFL score, and letters of recommendations etc. A well-written SOP has the potential to cover-up the weak points of an applicant, such as, low GPA or GRE scores, low IELTS/TOEFL score, lack of relevant research work and work experience etc. A poorly written SOP may put a candidate’s chance of selection in jeopardy despite a brilliant profile. An SOP should be well thought-out and well written to improve your chances of selection. Inability to write a good SOP means that you have not put in enough effort in school selection, you would need to go back and re-evaluate your interests, reconsider your background and your perceived potential.
How to write an impressive SOP?
Writing an SOP is extremely simple and we recommend that you write it yourself and then get someone else to proof read it for you. To write an effective SOP you need to answer the following questions.
- Why do you want to pursue graduate studies?
- What are the events, circumstances, incidents and people who motivate you, directly or indirectly, to choose the current field of study?
- Why did you choose your major at the undergraduate level?
- Why have you chosen current school/program? What are the features that led you to select this school?
- What skills, achievements and credentials do you have that make you a suitable candidate for this program, and how will they help you in your graduate degree?
- What are your career plans? Where do you see yourself in the future and how this degree is going to help you in achieving your future goals?
- How do you justify any discrepancy in your profile such as bad GPA, low GRE score, study gap etc.?
- How can you contribute to the overall betterment of the school/department? What teaching, research, managerial or other skills do you possess which will benefit the department?
- Most importantly, what makes you stand out from the crowd? Why are you a good match for the current program and what characteristics distinguishes you from other candidates?
- Are there any other motivating factors to apply in that particular school? Did you meet faculty of that school in a conference and discuss their research work? Have you ever got a chance to talk to faculty members on email about their research? Did you follow any of the research groups of that school during your BS or master’s thesis? Did your professor got PhD in same filed from that school? Did you attend an online course from the professor of that school? Did you attend their keynote speech/lectures online or in person?
- If you are applying in a specific school only because your family member or a friend also got education from that school, you must reconsider your school selection. Avoid quoting reasons like this for school selection anywhere.
- SOP can be for a school, scholarship, research grant, fellowship or any other prestigious award. Did you read the guidelines carefully before formulating the structure of your SOP? Does your program of application (like Fulbright, DAAD) weighs cultural diversity, underrepresentation or any other factor?
- Did you talk to the school/program (coordinator, admission office, career assistant, DAAD/Fulbright advisor, etc.) about your choice of school/program? Did you discuss your study objectives and opportunities available at the school/program? Did you ask about past successful candidates?
Ask yourself these questions and then draft a response, which expresses important points in a logical and coherent manner. If you are unable to answer most these questions you need to re-evaluate your selection.
Pay special attention to the opening paragraph and the opening statement of each paragraph. They should be compelling enough to capture the attention of the reader(s). Remember that a dull or an ordinary opening paragraph may seriously lower the worth of your SOP and your seriousness to apply.
Your SOP should be grammatically correct with proper spellings, punctuations and capitalizations. Use correct English and avoid using words that are not completely known to you. Use short and simple sentences instead of complicated ones and try to avoid flashy language. Impress the readers by the content of your SOP and not by unnecessary complex vocabulary. Your SOP should be coherent and concise i.e. the ideas should be organized in a logical order and there should be a smooth transition between ideas – in the form of paragraphs. The SOP should be devoid of any ambiguity and it should give its reader a clear picture of the candidate and what message he/she is intending to convey.
General Tips for writing a good SOP
Step 1: Start Early
Writing a good SOP requires much time, effort and patience. Give yourself enough time to draft an effective SOP.
Step 2: Don’t just tell them – show them
Don’t just mention what you’ve done in the past, let them know what you learned from those past experiences and how these experiences have shaped you into a better person – both personally and professionally. In a similar way, don’t just state that you are hard working, motivated or mentally strong etc. Give examples that show that you have these qualities. Show by example; you are just the part of a crowd where each person says that he/she is motivated, hard working, and strong. Put yourself in the position of a judge. Why should you believe that a candidate is strong and motivated?
Step 3: Do proper research
Before you write an SOP, collect relevant information about the school/program you are applying to. Highlight features of your intended program/school that fascinates you the most, such as, research facilities, teaching quality, funding opportunities, work environment and job opportunities etc. If your research interests match a professor’s research work, mention it and correlate your work with that of the professor. Use university’s website and individual professors’ webpages to collect this information. You can also email the graduate school and ask them for any information you may need. You must have a clear idea about the expectations of admission committee and faculty members.
Step 4: Follow the directions
Graduate schools generally mention specific directions about the length of an SOP. You must follow these instructions and the SOP must be kept to the specified word limit. If no direction is given, keep your SOP to 1-2 pages; the length of your SOP in this case should be such that whatever you have written could not be written in less amount of space more effectively. If some specific questions are asked, try to focus on those questions more in your SOP.
Step 5: Write specific SOP for each school
If you are applying to more than one schools, do not use the same generic SOP. Tailor your SOP as per the requirements of each school.
Step 6: Stay positive, optimistic and humble
Your tone while writing an SOP should represent you as an optimist rather than a pessimist. Choose your words wisely because they reflect your motivation for a graduate degree and your willingness to take on the challenging roles during your study. Even if you are talking about your failures show them how you as someone has learnt from your mistakes, show them you are not easily demotivated by failures or challenges. Please note that there is a thin line between being confidant and being over-confidant. Your essay should project you as a confident and aspiring young person but it should not give even a slight hint of arrogance or self-conceit.
Step 7: Be realistic, not Idealistic
Never brag about your potential or future goals. Never make statements like, “I will introduce revolutionary ideas which will change the course of history” or, “My research work will completely eradicate a global problem.” Instead, make statements like, “I will try my best to contribute to the research efforts in my area of interest;” however, you can wish to play your role for eradicating global problems and you may wish to become fellow of prestigious societies in future.
Step 8: Avoid Clichés
Never use vague, meaningless and overly used words and phrases. The best example of an overly used and meaningless sentence is, “Since my childhood, I wanted to become a doctor or an engineer or a PhD.” Moreover, even avoid reading such example SOPs as soon as you encounter such words, you need to be unique you need to be a blossoming flower in an arid land, you need to be a glimmer of hope in the receding skies.
Step 9: Keep improving
From the initial rough draft to the final submission, keep improving your SOP constantly. For this purpose, ask your teachers, friends and family members to read and critically analyze your SOP. If you have time, give yourself a break and then re-read your SOP again. This will help you in pointing out mistakes, which went unnoticed earlier. For better proof reading, print your SOP on page and then revise speak it as a speech in front of admission committee, instead of reading it on your computer. Listen to your SOP by considering yourself the admission committee and the faculty members you wish to work with. Look at your transcripts, GRE, TOEFL/IELTS, work experiences, and SOP as a whole and judge if you will give yourself admission and funding in that particular school. You must also judge the grounds on the basis of which you will not give yourself admission or funding. While judging yourself, keep the application and SOP instructions, the interaction with program coordinator, program reputation, and profiles of past successful candidates in your mind (see program website, student google sites, LinkedIn, US News statistics, etc.). Then improve your SOP accordingly.
Only after above process, you can seek for expert opinion. While sending your SOP to anyone for feedback, you must send the application instructions, historical data of the school/program, program expectations, your credentials, and relevant material. Keep on improving your SOP and application package.
Some students can write good English but majority needs more support and iterations. So make sure you follow this process continuously till it becomes perfect. You need to find at least 4-5 experts, who can proof read your Personal Statements.
Write → review yourself…modify → review yourself → follow this process few times
Once it’s in good shape → Reviewed by 2-3 experts…
→ Till it’s a PERFECT SOP
Follow the same process for at least 4-5 times or as long as it takes to make it a perfect statement.
To study more about Possible Content of Statement click here, and to study more about Common Mistakes in Personal Statements click here.