SOP - Parameters

Did you know there’s a huge gulf between a mediocre Statement of Purpose and a stellar, admit-winning one? Curious about what the difference is? It’s fairly simple: an excellent Statement of Purpose ticks all the parameters that the universities are on the lookout for, whereas a subpar one doesn’t. So, what are these parameters, really, and how can you incorporate them in your Statement of Purpose? To illustrate these parameters, we’ll be giving you examples of SOPs that do adhere to them, and wherever applicable, those that don’t. Let’s take a look:

Content

Your Statement of Purpose must not be simply a copy of your CV, written in paragraphs. Whereas your GRE scores, transcripts and CV are factual and mechanical, your Statement of Purpose should tell a story of who you are as a person and an academic, and help bring a fresh perspective to your application. For instance, say you graduated with a modest GPA of 6.5. Now, though your CV will merely reflect this GPA, your Statement of Purpose can help show how despite this, you have excelled in other areas, or the odds that you've encountered and successfully overcome, proving that your GPA is not the be-all and end-all of things. For instance, take a look at the way this Statement of Purpose tells a story:
“My fascination with programs and software has been on a perpetual upswing ever since my father bought me my first computer in high school. With a few lines of programming using BASIC, I was thrilled to be able to make my computer perform an array of different tasks. Over the next couple of years, programming became a passion for me. It was, therefore, only natural that I chose Computer Science as my elective course as early as in Class X. Subsequently, having started with BASIC, I went on to pick up high-level programming languages, training myself in web development, while also exploring the domain of object-oriented programming models. By the time I completed high school, it became clear to me that I wanted to build a career in the computer science sector. To prepare myself for it, I enrolled in the B. Tech program in Information Technology at the prestigious National Institute of Technology (NIT), Raipur.”
Now, note this Statement of Purpose that sounds flat and mechanical:
“I am honored to apply for the Master of Science program at the University of ABC because for as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with science. Since I was a kid in school, I have known I wanted to be a scientist/engineer.”
What’s the difference? Whereas the first Statement of Purpose tells a gripping story of how the applicant discovered and nurtured his love for the subject, the second one is merely making a generic statement without backing it up with evidence. Stories are engaging, whereas statements aren’t.

Flow:

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. Remember, your SOP must move gradually from your present to your past and then back to your future. For instance, let’s look at this SOP which moves seamlessly from academics to co-curricular activities and skills:
“A large part of one’s success in rigorous academic pursuits like a Master’s degree hinges on one’s potential at the undergraduate level and the affinity developed for relevant areas of study. My favorite theoretical courses in the undergraduate program are Artificial Intelligence, Digital Image Processing, Computer Graphics, Distributed System and Parallel Processing. My favourite lab courses include Artificial Intelligence, Computer Graphics, and Internet & Web Technologies. I have maintained excellent performance academically, especially from the fourth semester onwards, and kept scoring better GPAs with every subsequent semester—8.0 in the fourth semester, 8.34 in the fifth semester, 9.06 in the sixth semester, and 9.7 in the seventh semester along with an overall 2nd rank. I scored very well in individual courses, coming second in Digital Image Processing and Artificial Intelligence. I was also among the top five in Computer Graphics and am the only person in my branch to have published a research paper, which I have outlined later.

I have undertaken three research projects and an internship so far. All of them have one thing in common–their basic orientation towards Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. My first research project involved the exploration of a subset of the RMSTitanic passenger manifest to determine which features best predicted whether someone survived or did not survive. I gleaned germane information from the internet and research papers provided by my professors. Using Random forests to classify various passengers, my program was able to attain 86 percent accuracy. This project helped me develop my ability in data exploration and visualization, data cleaning, feature engineering, feature selection, parameter tuning, and programming in R language. This exercise also taught me patience and vigilance—two key qualities required for the effective application of Machine Learning techniques.”

Language:

It’s an unfortunate, yet common belief that in order to write a good SOP, you must employ grandiose phrases and vocabulary. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Stick to a simple, yet persuasive vocabulary: an excessively flashy one will not only wear out the reader, but make it seem like you’re using such language to make up for a weak profile. Also, avoid using the passive voice unless it’s absolutely necessary. For instance, note how difficult and jargon-laden this paragraph is:
"As a new company in a new space, we need to exceed client expectations and take their businesses to the next level, so first and foremost by thinking outside the box, I drive client projects in the healthcare and telecom verticals. But my job requires an internal focus as well, and I spend a ton of time both building and updating scalable systems, from knowledge management to invoicing and payroll.”
Not only is this difficult and boring to read, but it can also be off-putting for your readers. A more lucid translation of this para would look something like this:
"As a new company entering a new market, we need to impress our clients with outstanding performance. I personally and creatively manage projects for clients in the healthcare and telecom industries. But in addition to serving our clients, I am striving to build our business by ensuring that all our systems from personnel to invoicing support our growth.”

Knowledge:

Your SOP must demonstrate your keen academic knowledge and intellectual vigour, and an impactful way to do this is to mention any internships, research assistantships 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:
“I worked on academic projects through which I put my acquired knowledge into practical use. Pursuing my interest, I have developed a project *****. It was industry collaboration with *****. The bubble formation is one of the issues that are encountered in pipes. Therefore, with the aim of finding an industry drawback which would facilitate in exploring larger depths and a challenging atmosphere, I developed XX. Another project was the "****". Thrust Vector controlling is a new topic in the field of Aerospace Vehicles. It aims at providing alternate ways to manoeuvre the craft except for control surfaces like rudder and elevator. For this project, I developed XX and worked on___. These academic projects enhanced my knowledge of XX and XX. In addition to this, I worked on a non-academic project at ****. This project was based on the “*****”. I successfully achieved the project objective of XX.”
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. A bad SOP would be one that neglects to talk about how you have sought to bolster your knowledge of and skillset in your discipline through certificate courses, internships, research assistantships or training programmes.

Authenticity:

No Statement of Purpose is perfect: even the high performers have some aspect that they’re not proud of or happy about. Regardless of how embarrassed you are of your passable GPA or your backlogs in the fourth semester, don’t be tempted to lie or exaggerate about it on your Statement of Purpose. Not only is this dangerous, since your referees can be contacted to verify, but can also lead to an instant rejection of your application. No matter what, always maintain a spirit of truth and honesty, and when talking about setbacks and failures, 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. For instance, note how this applicant discusses his moderate GPA:
“The theoretical subjects that were my favorite during my undergraduate studies were Fluid Mechanics and Machining and the Mechanical Workshop and SolidWorks Lab were among my favorite laboratory courses. I was one of the best academic performers in the above subjects, consistently ranking among the top 25-30% in my class. While my CGPA is a modest 6.5, my technical skills are far beyond my peers as I concentrated more on the practical aspects of education and that is precisely what I feel matters in the professional field.”
Although he recognises his modest GPA, he doesn’t try to gloss over it. Instead, he talks of how, notwithstanding, he has mastered skills that are otherwise not found in his peers, and therefore how his GPA is not the only thing that matters.

We hope this article was helpful and illuminating, and we wish you warmly on your MS journey. If you are keen on reading more on nailing the perfect Statement of Purpose, click here. All the best!
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