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.
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 things 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 of 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 an Effective 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 doing 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, but there is also 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.
Source: MBA Crystal Ball
The candidate has spoken his/her heart out. But, this sounds too vague. Harvard University cannot change your life when the candidate is blaming 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.
Source: MBA Crystal Ball
It 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 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 of what type of 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, the MS admission process doesn’t involve interviews, unlike MBA or Undergraduate admission processes. This makes the SOP very critical in the MS admission process.
Tips for Writing a Good SOP for Graduate School
- Start early and spend good enough time on introspection and brainstorming ideas and life events.
- Put the focus on self-motivation, passion, competence, and potential.
- Write in an active voice, and not passive voice.
- Use a formal, but conversational tone.
- Write persuasively.
Unless the specific program says otherwise, be concise; an ideal essay should say everything it needs to in the word range of 500 – 750 words (1-2 single-spaced pages in 12 point font).