The Best SOP Format For MS – SOP Writing Tips
Graduate school is hectic, competitive and intense, and it is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The Statement of Purpose, essentially an essay testifying to your academic acumen and skills, is one of the key documents used to filter out the achievers from the slackers, and as such, is crucial to winning that coveted offer letter. Essentially, university admission committees are on the lookout for candidates who are intellectually sound, academically rigorous, and passionate about their chosen discipline. Keeping that in mind, your SOP must reveal not only your past achievements but also your future goals and dreams, and portray you as someone who’s in it for the long haul. With the help of an SOP format, we have tried to explain how an SOP should be written which would open gates to your admission in your desired university.
Think of the SOP as a brief personal interview: it must not only be all-encompassing, but also persuade your reader of your suitability for the challenges of graduate school. In fact here’s how Carnegie Mellon University requires the SOP to be for Computer Science Department.
Image Source: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/masters-admissions
What is the recipe for a winning SOP?
There’s a huge difference between a well-written, detailed SOP and one that is a mere copy-paste of SOP samples, and it often comes down to the format followed while writing the Statement. Many aspirants tend to get daunted by the SOP, and end up rambling about irrelevant details while missing out on some crucial points.
There is a simple way to not fall into this trap, and that is to follow a tried-and-tested formula while writing your SOP. Doing so will allow you to clearly and concisely talk about one aspect—such as academic achievements—at a time.
SOP Format and Tips
Great novels and stories have one thing in common: a memorable opening line. Similarly,
the first paragraph of your SOP must be powerful and reel your readers in. A good way to do this is to begin with a quote that is pertinent to your dreams and vision, before you talk about the event or person who inspired you to pursue your discipline. This allows you to show that your choice of discipline is not arbitrary, but one that is rooted in something more meaningful. For example, here is the opening paragraph written by someone who won admits to both Cornell and Texas A&M University:
This paragraph in powerfully acknowledging the erstwhile (negative) employment of science, allows the student to make a grand case for his determination to change that narrative, for which his studies at that university will be crucial. Here, the student is both demonstrating his ambition, and explaining how that justified his choice of an unconventional undergraduate degree.
Body Paragraph 1: Academic Achievements
The paragraph preceding the introduction must delineate your achievements in the classroom and lab. It’s not enough to merely say that “I excelled in XYZ subject”—every claim you make in your SOP should be substantiated, so instead consider something like “my passion for XYZ subject reflected in me being the top scorer in it in my third semester.” Take a look at this paragraph from the same SOP:
Note that while the candidate admits to his passable GPA, he doesn’t project it in negative terms. Instead, he uses it as a springboard to demonstrate his ability to apply the skills learned in the classroom to broader, practical problems.
This reflects a strong theoretical knowledge of the subject, along with the skills learned over the course of the project.
Body paragraph 2: Extracurricular Activities
In this paragraph, talk about your activities and achievements outside the classroom: be they in the form of athletics, music or art, and any awards and accolades you may have won in these areas. This not only portrays you as a well-rounded individual, but also gives you opportunity to showcase your ‘soft-skills’, which could include traits like dedication, leadership, team-building, and perseverance.
Here’s how an aspirant, with admits to SUNY Buffalo and ASU, described his extracurricular experiences:
In a brief yet meticulously described para, the student has managed to convey his impressive range of extracurricular experience, as well as how such experiences have taught him invaluable skills that are otherwise not taught inside the classroom. Internships, voluntary or community work, training programmes and research experiences must also find a mention in this paragraph, along with skills learned from them.
Body paragraph 3: Goals and aspirations
Now that we are nearing the end of the SOP, you should talk about your plans for the future, and how your chosen program and university can help you achieve your goals. Perhaps your dream university has some reputed professors and researchers you’d like to work with, or maybe it is home to cutting-edge infrastructure that could help you with your own research. Be sure to mention these: it not only proves that you’re someone who has done proper research before applying, but also that you are serious about your future. Let’s take a look at how we can do this effectively:
This is a succinct, yet powerful paragraph since it effectively combines a mention of the aspirant’s future dreams and goals, and how the people and facilities in his chosen university can aid in making these dreams a reality. This is a great way to show that your grad school dreams aren’t merely arbitrary: you are someone with a vision and a mission.
These are, however, relatively short-term aspirations, so be sure to conclude this paragraph with a more general statement of your long term goals. For example:
Concluding paragraph: Reiteration of your suitability for grad school
Your concluding paragraph must make as memorable an impact as your introductory one. A great way to do this is to discuss how you will be an asset to the university, and help carry forward the legacy through your actions. You can also express your eagerness to study at the chosen university, and how you will make use of the facilities afforded by them, as was done by our Cornell friend:
The above given SOP format is ideal for drafting the Statement of Purpose. Needn’t stick to the SOP format to the word. Keeping this holistic approach to the drafting of the SOP would be apt.
What are some common parameters by which SOPs are evaluated?
Now that we have figured out what a good SOP is supposed to look like, let’s ponder over the criteria that we believe are used by admission officers to evaluate the quality of your SOP.
The people who are reading your SOP are experts in their respective fields, so it bodes well to talk passionately about your research and specialised work in that discipline, since it is bound to make a favourable impression on them. At the same time, it shouldn’t be overloaded with jargon: use it only when the need arises. Importantly, your SOP must not be a mere rehash of your resume: while the resume is factual and mechanical, the SOP will be more narratorial.
Drawing on the example of a modest GPA discussed above, we can see how the SOP can help bring a fresh perspective to your application. Where your resume would merely state the 6.0 GPA, your SOP can help show how despite this, you have excelled in other areas, proving that GPA is not the be-all and end-all.
The transition between paragraphs must be smooth and seamless, and make for an effortless read. This ensures better readability and ease in understanding your SOP. Stick to the flow discussed previously, which will allow you to maintain a chronological sequence. For further clarity, consider this immensely helpful diagram suggested by CMU:
While there is no pressure to precisely outline what your future research will entail, it is in fact very important to demonstrate how your past studies have influenced your current work, and how this in turn will be expanded to further studies in the future. If you are doubtful about how you will do so, you should at least mention how the work could potentially be developed. The last thing you want is for your research to sound like it sprung out of the blue, after all! Your emotional and intellectual investment in your work needs to be satisfyingly proven in your SOP, and this formula is a foolproof way to do so.
Another grave mistake that students make is to think that using obtuse, flowery language is the only way to succeed at getting an offer letter. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Using such language will not only wear out the reader, but also make it seem like you are using grandiose words to make up for a shallow academic profile. Keep the language simple yet coherent, and do not forget to faithfully heed traditional grammar and syntax rules. For instance, note how simple, yet detailed this sentence is:
Additionally, be sure to use an active voice: avoid the passive voice unless absolutely necessary.
Your SOP must demonstrate your keen academic knowledge and intellectual vigour, and an impactful way to do this is to mention any internships, research assistant-ships or training workshops that would have helped you hone and perfect your knowledge of the subject. Remember, universities are on the lookout for students who possess a strong grasp of their discipline, so be sure to highlight these. For example, take a look at this para:
Here, the applicant is making a strong case for his knowledge and skillset by talking about the various projects and ideas he worked on to enhance the same.
Lastly, and this goes without saying, do ensure you are honest and do not include anything that may be untrue or fabricated. Do remember that anything and everything in your SOP may be cross-checked with your referees and university, so maintain a spirit of authenticity. While a low GPA or mediocre performance in a semester may be embarrassing, you can always show how you overcame it. This way, your readers see you as someone who doesn’t dwell on failure, but uses it a stepping stone to future success.
We hope you found this article helpful and illuminating. If you have any questions or suggestion, do leave a comment below so we can get back to you. We wish you all the very best for your MS dreams!