Writing a Statement of Purpose (SOP) – what is it?
It is important for every applicant to know what it takes to write an internationally well-accepted Statement of Purpose (SOP). This definition summarizes what an SOP is:
The Statement of Purpose is your statement or essay expressing your motivations, reasons and academic and professional qualifications to the admissions committee for applying to a particular higher education programme. (Keywords in bold)
The Statement of Purpose is also called the Academic Statement, Statement of Motivation, Letter of Intent and sometimes programs ask for a Personal Statement)
An SOP is one of the most important parts of your application. WHY?
Imagine this situation: You are playing cricket for your state’s Ranji Trophy Team, and your goal is to get selected for the national team. Your team has reached the final, and there are selectors from the Indian national team watching. There are at least 21 others being watched. But to get selected, your performance must shine.
Similarly, YOU are your SOP. It is the same as your role as the athlete in the above example. It is your chance to show why you are worth being selected by the admissions committee. How you are different from the rest of the applicants. Most SOPs are the same – when I was 3 years old I touched the first computer, machine, chemical, etc., I did this in college, that project, so many internships, I worked on so many projects in my job(s), this university is the best and flattery. This is the case with most SOPs I come across. Imagine admissions committee members reading hundreds of such SOPs. Were your thoughts along these lines? If yes, then these guidelines will most certainly be helpful to you. Even if your thoughts differed from the above, a read-through of the guidelines will be useful. I am sure you will leave with at least two noteworthy points.
The SOP is meant for you to talk about your recent academic and/or professional experiences that have led to your decision to choose a particular graduate program. You must emphasize the details of that program (do not copy and paste the same SOP in all your applications), and why you are a suitable candidate, to say the least. This is how you and your application will be judged.
**Disclaimer: This page contains Amazon affiliate links. If you are looking to buy any products on Amazon, please click on any of the links that have been provided at the end of this page (you can search for any product once redirected to Amazon). As this content is freely downloadable, I would really appreciate your support tremendously. Thank you!**
One-on-one session to improve your SOP
I have edited and written over a hundred SOPs over the past five years. My clients have received offers of admission from some of the best universities in the world across programs, from engineering to biology to fashion design. In this interactive one-on-one, 1-hour session, I will converge my experiences and knowledge from several sources and explain how you can improve your SOP. Straightforward, concise and effective.
All attendees will receive exclusive offers indefinitely!
@ ₹499 only!
Structure of A Strong Statement of Purpose
Before that, never forget these three points
I agree that as international applicants, English is most often our second or third language. We tend to make grammatical and spelling errors, despite having it as the medium of instruction throughout school and college. However, there are tools (such as grammarly.com) and professionals such as myself who can craft an error-free statement which will matter a lot! Use Grammarly to improve all your writing, as it checks and suggests improvements to your words, sentences, tone, and of course, grammar!
A concise story
An SOP is meant to be YOUR story. It should be written in such a way that highlights of your academic and professional life are captured (similar to the highlights of a cricket match). The readers should get a good sense of who you are and why you chose the particular domain for higher education and your career. You must cover the strongest points of your previous academic and professional experiences and link them with the program. You should also describe how higher education will benefit you and contribute to your career goals.
Note: For research-oriented programs, especially PhD applications, your SOP is more of a research interest statement than a story of your life. Talk about your ideas, even if they may not be likely to succeed, or may not be entirely realistic for the research topic. Discuss a couple of key questions that you would want to answer, and provide a logical path for focusing your research on those questions. Real-world questions, logic and clarity of thoughts are more important than your story.
Length and format
Needless to say, you must mention all the above within the WORD LIMIT. For example, if the word limit is 1000, you simply cannot have even 1001 words. Often, the application portal may not allow you to cross the limit. A good length I stick to unless specified is 800-1000 words. Use Calibri or Times New Roman, 11-12 size font with 1.15/1.5 spaced (unless mentioned otherwise).
Structure (an example of a captivating structure)
Your SOP should clearly have several sections. It should include an introduction, a body that builds up your most relevant skills, strengths, achievements, and it should seamlessly lead to your decision to choose the program you are applying to, and a conclusion. However, a good SOP is also clever. This means that as you progress, your purpose for applying should not be lost at any point. A great SOP doesn’t have to use complex language, it can be very simple and straightforward. It should not be a detailed version of your resume.
The following structure has been compiled from different sources (including my experiences), such as the University of California, Berkley and Cornell University.
For alternative structures which can be equally engaging to the reader, feel free to get in touch with me.
Part 1: Introduction (1-2 concise paragraphs)
Introduce yourself, your interests and your motivations. Your main motivation could be the theme of your entire SOP, and hence, dictate the narrative you would like to focus on. A challenge, real-world issue, or a personal experience could be the opening of your narrative. Be specific, and add an anchoring sentence about why that particular program.
The introduction should be short and to the point. Do not use valuable space writing an autobiography reminiscing childhood details.
Part 2: Previous training and experience (1 paragraph)
Summarize the most important undergraduate and previous graduate or career experiences.
You must certainly discuss the research you conducted. Always indicate the name(s) of supervisor(s)/advisor(s), the title or overarching goal of your relevant work, what your main contributions and responsibilities were, and the outcome. Include some level of technicality, but don’t fill this portion with technical jargon. The best is to write in the style of your discipline, as professors often read these statements. Always write about what you gained, not abstract skills such as teamwork or project management – but impactful skills, such as conducting research, technical analyses in a certain domain, troubleshooting, etc. Always back it up with an example.
You can also talk about a certain research paper or thesis project, especially how it prepared you better for graduate study. Include specific skills that you gained.
Include professional experience (may include internships if you are still early in your career). Discuss your responsibilities in an area similar to what you wish to study in graduate school. Again, be specific, avoid jargon and abstract skills.
Part 3: Current work and career goals (1-2 paragraphs)
Tell the reader about what your current role is: whether in a company or non-profit, your team, responsibilities, and what you learned. You can also indicate here how this helped your motivation or focus to study further.
A very important part of your SOP is your career goals. You can write it before discussing your academic interests and then weave those in. Talk about short and long-term goals, and how graduate study will help you achieve those.
Part 4: Academic and/or research interests (1 paragraph)
The previous sections should convince the faculty that you understand the scope of the field enough, and are skilled enough to do well in graduate school. Here you can indicate what you would like to study and specialize in. Include enough detail to convince the reader that you know what to expect from the program.
In terms of research interests, you could pose a couple of questions, define a problem, or indicate a theme that you would like to focus on, and also discuss certain ideas or findings from contemporary research. Your thoughts must be clear, logical, and should help the reader understand your perceptions of the issue. Do elaborate and prevent the usage of jargon!
Part 5: Demonstrate your interest in the school and program (1-2 paragraphs)
Study the programs and departments you’re interested in, including professors and their research. You must convince the reader that you have done your research about the program, and are not simply recycling the same SOP in all your applications. Talk about overlaps in your interests and ongoing work, particularly professors and research groups whose work fits your goals. You may be required to name professors you want to work with.
You can also get in touch with current students or alumni to discuss more about the program.
Part 6: Conclusion (1 paragraph)
End your statement in a positive manner, indicating your excitement and readiness for the challenges ahead of you.
What the admissions committee will read between the lines: self-motivation, competence, potential as a graduate student.
- The above is one way of structuring your SOP. Always refer to the university’s guidelines and/or prompts before preparing the SOP for that program.
- Emphasize everything from a positive perspective and write in an active, not a passive voice.
- Demonstrate your strengths by example. Such as, do not just say that you’re a persistent person, show it.
- Minimize the use of abbreviations, including contracted pronouns. Write I am instead of I’m, I have instead of I’ve, and so on.
- If there is something important that happened to you that affected your grades, such as poverty, illness, or excessive work, state it. Write it affirmatively, showing your perseverance despite obstacles. The SOP is where you can explain any information that may raise questions such as low scores, a gap year/semester, etc.
- Make sure everything is linked with continuity and focus.
- Unless the specific program says otherwise, be concise; an ideal essay should say everything it needs to with brevity. Use approximately 800 to 1000 well-selected words (1-2 single space pages in 11 or 12-point font). This is better than more words with less clarity and poor organization.
- You should ALWAYS write a different SOP for each application. The SOP should match with what the specific program and university offer. It should include specific work of the professor you are interested in, relevant grants that you could apply to/assist with, research labs or groups, etc. Certain portions such as the introduction, your work and achievements, etc. can remain more or less unchanged. However, portions that deal with the particular program have to be different.
- It is good to display a certain amount of praise about the program and the university. But overdoing it can seriously harm your chances. Stick to a sentence or two at most.
- Always mention a couple of sentences about how you can contribute to the program/university. This could be as a teaching or research assistant, participating in annual conferences, competitions, or simply by giving back as an alumnus.
- You may mention certain extra-curricular activities: achievements in sports, volunteering during college, involvement with student chapters, involvement with college festivals, etc. This would show time management and indirectly displays certain social skills that you might have. However, do not use too much space (about 2-3 sentences wherever applicable).
Editing your Statement of Purpose
Once you have prepared your first draft (hurrah!), you should get your SOP checked by friends, family and colleagues. You may understand the content very clearly, but what about others? Receiving honest feedback from others will certainly improve it.
However, people are subjective, and each person will provide their own opinions, which can be overwhelming. You could also take help from an expert such as me and get your SOP edited so that it adds value to your application, and matches the program’s requirements. My experience allows me to judge the content of your statement to maximize the impact!
**Disclaimer: There are many factors that are considered when providing admission to graduate school applicants. These guidelines do not guarantee the receipt of an admission by the program, department or university. Please consult the program, department or university for any questions before submitting your application.**
Recommended Amazon Products
The following are certain products that students will definitely need for getting through graduate school!
The ASUS Zenbook 13 is my personal laptop, and I would recommend it as your daily driver: Buy it here!
When I was studying, a note-taking tablet is something that I always wanted, but could not afford. If I could, the iPad Air 10.5″ would have been my top choice: Buy it here!
I have also been using a silent clicking mouse, which is so many levels better than a regular clicky mouse. This is the one I use: Buy it here!
(You can search for and buy any other product once the link redirects you to the Amazon India website)