How to Write a Powerful Statement of Purpose (SoP) for Graduate School Admissions
What is a Statement of Purpose (SOP)? Why do the universities and colleges ask for SOP? How important is SOP in the admission process for foreign universities? How to write SOP? What to include in a SOP? What should be the ideal format (and flow) of an effective SOP? We will tackle these questions in this post.
How to Write an Effective Statement of Purpose (SOP) for Graduate School
It’s early September. So, I assume you are gearing up for the application round of the foreign universities and colleges. While preparing the application kit, most of the applicants struggle to write a good statement of purpose (SOP), which is a mandatory component of the application process. Although the SOP is required mainly for the MS, MBA and PhD admissions, colleges sometimes also ask for SOP for undergraduate admissions. Some institutes also ask for Personal Statement, Application Letter or Letter of Motivation. Although there are few minor differences, statement of purpose, letter of motivation and personal statement - they all serve the same purpose.
So, what is a statement of purpose (SOP)?
The statement of purpose is an application essay a student applying for a graduate program at a foreign university is required to write in order to be admitted to the program. It’s possibly the best way to express your goals and achievements impressively to the admission officers and faculty members of your discipline.
Why do universities ask for the SOP?
The SOP helps colleges and universities to decide if the applicants are really interested in the program that they have applied for, their ability to pursue the program and completing it successfully, and whether they will be able to contribute significantly to the Institute.
Just like a good cover letter or job application letter helps candidates present themselves successfully in the job market, a good SOP helps applicants to highlight their strengths during the admission process abroad. A good SOP attracts the admissions officers who wade through hundreds of applications.
Attending a graduate school is an important part of your higher education. You should have a goal and you should know how you are going to get to your goal and why do you want to get to your goal too. Universities treat SOP very seriously and they read your SOP. So, you better take it very seriously.
Importance of SOP in the Admission Process
The SOP is considered to be one of the most critical components of your application; perhaps the most important part of the entire admission process. The SOP portrays the most significant impression of yourself to the admission officers. Your SOP will say a lot of thing about you silently that a strong profile might never be able to speak out. The SOP tells your attitude, your ambition, your clarity of thought and your personality; and carries the potential of leveraging low GPA and/or average test scores (SAT, GRE or GMAT). While the GPA and test scores are essentially objective in nature, the SOP is the subjective aspect your application. The SOP gives you the real opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
What to include in an SOP? Here is an ideal checklist of a Good SOP:
- What do you want to do (study or research?)
- Why this program?
- Why this university?
- Why did you choose to study in this particular country? What do you like about it?
- How much and what kind of experience you have in your field?
- Specific classes, special courses or projects you have taken, that are related to your field of interest.
- Any community service or leadership experience while in college.
- Why should you get admitted to this program?
- What values will you bring to the institute and to your peers?
- What do you understand about the student community and college culture? Why do you think you will fit in?
- What are your career goals?
- How will this program help you to achieve your career goals?
- Your extracurricular activities, hobbies, and interests
- What is that one unique aspect/characteristic about you that the admission officers should know? Why does it matter to the admission officers and/or to the fellow students of your class?
How to write a good SOP for MS?
You need to start with introspection and recapitulating all the important events in your life that have influenced your thoughts, personality, and actions. You need to spend a lot of time looking inwards (well I am not suggesting meditation of Yoga though). For the majority of the MS applicants (without any work experience), there’s hardly anything outside the academic world. So, it would be best to talk about motivations, aspirations, interests, vision, values, mottos, career goals, hobbies, strengths, weaknesses, and even failures.
Tell the Purpose after performing thorough Research
When you are applying to a university, you are aiming for an academic upgrade in a specific domain. Then, it’s not only a foreign degree, there is a bigger purpose – getting a job (unless you plan to attend a foreign university just for traveling foreign locations). You need to tell clearly about your expectations from your intended program and the university. Have a look at this example below.
The candidate has spoken his/her heart out. But, this is actually quite vague. Harvard University cannot change your life when the candidate is blaming the destiny. Here comes the research part. You need to research the university, the department, the curriculum, the professors, the university culture and the current students and alumni. Now, take a look at this one below.
Might not be perfect, but this candidate is talking about specifics, and it’s more credible. The candidate has tried to connect the dots – the life events that influenced his/her thoughts and actions. It shows that the applicant has done research about the university and the faculty members.
Demonstrate Passion and Potential
Don’t just tell, you need to demonstrate your passion. You can excel in a field, only if you have a passion for it. The reader must know that you are genuinely passionate about the particular field. So, it is critical to express in an interesting and convincing manner.
Your potential is your ability to excel at something. You should discuss the relevance of your recent activities and achievements, and summarize your undergraduate career. You need to demonstrate your potential to pursue the intended program and complete it successfully. You need to talk about accomplishments in the academic and co-curricular activities. It needs to show that you are well-prepared for the program.
Add Some Uniqueness to make it Personal
The SOP is rightly called a Personal Statement as you need to give an indication what type of a person you are and express your suitability for the particular program. Don’t shy about adding some failures, if applicable. The admission committee will accept or reject your application on the basis of your GPA, test scores, recommendation letters etc. Usually, MS admission process doesn’t involve interviews, unlike MBA or Undergraduate admission processes. This makes the SOP very critical in the MS admission process.
Read the full blog on Strategies, Tips, Common Mistakes and Real Examples of Writing a Powerful Statement of Purpose (SoP).