GRE Statement of Purpose (SOP)
Well done – you have decided to apply to Graduate School. The application process involves a long checklist which will require collecting and organizing quite a few documents. There is, however, one requirement that doesn't need the collection of documents but more of – collecting your thoughts and ideas and penning them on paper – it's your Statement of Purpose or SOP. In the tens of thousands of applications that a university receives, the SOP is the individual factor, which is distinctly you. It has been known to sway a lot of admissions between people with similar test scores and academic achievements. Writing an informative and interesting Statement Of Purpose is vital to having a successful application.
So what is an SOP?
The SOP is your Statement of Purpose. It is a document in which you write about yourself and make the first impressions to the admissions committee. An SOP should be between 500-1000 words long. And have the ability to stand out from the others. The Statement of Purpose is your personal statement and should highlight your dreams, aspirations and personality to the admissions board. Remember the admissions officers read hundreds if not thousands of SOP’s and can quickly analyze your Statement Of Purpose with the skill of a psychologist. Your Statement Of Purpose is your handshake and your chance to make a first impression without a face to face interview. Make it distinctly yours, be honest and try and as tempting as it maybe keep the faff out of it.
What should an SOP contain?
Your SOP should give a distinct idea of you as an individual to the university admission committee. This Statement of Purpose should be able to tell in a compelling manner – what drives you to seek graduate study, your chosen field of study, why you have chosen this subject, have you any work experience in this field – if yes then what kind of experience have you had, why you are applying to that college, or why are you applying for the specific program, is it the facilities – or the faculty or something else, what do you hope to achieve with the education you will gain.
And also, on a personal vein – what are your interests, hobbies, specific skills, etc., what do you know about the university’s culture – and how you see yourself fitting in, anything unique about yourself, If you bring something to the university as an add on skill or ability, then do mention that as well as any different or difficult circumstance you have endured to bring you to the point of understanding your goal in life.
Why is a Statement Of Purpose needed?
It is your introduction, your application, your referral – all in one. When the admissions officer considering your application for admission to the university reads your Statement of Purpose, he must first know who you are – as you introduce yourself, then he should be able to glean your abilities, research interests and accomplishments based on which you are applying to the university. The professors reading your application, read hundreds of applications every year. Your Statement of Purpose should stand out in their minds. It should convey the depth of your desire to attend the university as well as highlight your abilities to cope with the course and be hardworking and organized enough to do the same. An expertly crafted Statement Of Purpose can very well help you secure admission to your dream school.
How to write a successful Statement Of Purpose?
So now you know what a SOP is – and what it should include. Is this enough – for you to start writing a Statement of Purpose which is successful at making that important first impression? You may peruse and find Statement of Purpose Formats and Statement of Purpose Samples. There are some interesting points below on how to write an SOP in a compelling way, that you could well keep in mind while you write your Statement – to avoid making the usual errors and to write a truly excellent SOP.
A random example (in brief) of a sample statement of purpose may be as follows:
“I am Mr or Miss X. I love the field of Engineering. I have always wanted to be an engineer for as long as I can remember, and have worked with several organizations where I was a valued employee. I have studied Bachelor of Engineering at ABC University and my scores were always good. I was also a part of the track team. I look forward to being a part of your esteemed university as I have dreamt about this for many years and it has been a life-long goal to be called an alumnus of this exalted university."
This ticks off most of the must do’s but does not in any way stand out or interest the reader. At best this is what your first working draft should read like. Let us build upon this in a step by step manner – you’ll find some tips on how to write an SOP with examples. Start with:
Your Introduction: A normal introduction reads like a biodata. For uniquely introducing yourself, try writing it like a story versus a bullet point list. You can say:
"I am Mr. X – born and brought up in a traditional household with 15 plus family members. My earliest memories are of all of my family members of different ages and personalities – living, working and helping each other. Since early on, the emphasis of being a working unit and helping all others has become a part of my working DNA as we do not have the philosophy of only sticking to your own subscribed tasks, but have always experienced the benefit of working together of a diverse group, while withstanding the challenges of different temperaments.” In case you have had a problematic background or family history or events, you may mention these in brief. This is not for seeking sympathy but more so for explaining your roots. Any such events that have affected your scores then these are all the more relevant.
"When I was in the first year – my father passed away. Suddenly I had to shoulder the responsibilities of the insurance paperwork, getting nominations enforced on the assets and providing support to my family. As a result of this, you may have noticed that my grade for the year shows as a C+ but I would request you to note the grades before and after – as crucial things were vying for my attention that particular year. This experience made me stand on my own feet sooner than expected but taught me nothing is impossible. I have applied to your graduate program as I am committed to fulfilling my dream which was also my father's and that is one of the reasons for my application to your university."
Reveal your passion for your chosen subject – rather than stating it: Show rather than tell is always a compelling argument. A way to do this is to dig deep within yourself and bring out incidents and instances that have shaped your interests. Example:
“Despite being a businessman – my father loved repairing the household electronics himself. He would open out the offending gadget and understand its working whilst slowly taking it apart. The first time I saw the television set being lovingly taken apart – I sat transfixed by the synergy of all the parts – and the skill required in creating and building a whole of so many components. It was while I sat gaping – completely still with my mind focused on the little screws being opened and circuits being disengaged – that I had my epiphany. At the young age of 8, I knew I had to be an engineer. This passion has stayed with me all my life."
Now quantify your experiences and achievements – instead of listing it: One may end up writing several pages, but fail to give an inkling about one’s experience. Let’s try:
“As I grew, I dedicated my weekends to observing various gadgets being similarly taken apart and brought together. I started attending weekend courses on robotics and technological innovations at the Nehru Centre for Science and continued to do so for 3 years. ‘AI' fascinated me and I realized I can be an innovator in the field of engineering and not just a builder. To that goal – I went to the ABC Engineering Institute. Professor J was an inspiration and stoked the flame of creativity and innovation within me. I was lucky to be placed at Schneider as an intern and have learned the process working for four consecutive internships of 4 months each under the guidance of Mr.G. I take pride in the laurels placed on me by this Company – in the internship phase, Best Intern, Innovator Award and Work Ethic Guru.”
Emphasise on your Co-curricular and Extracurricular activities: You should emphasize your extracurriculars predominantly in the field where you have applied. It helps the admission offer to understand that you were truly focused on your goals. While cooking a killer chicken casserole is definitely a life skill – you have only 1000 words to speak about why you are suited to the specific program you are interested in. Things of interest that can be mentioned in the area of extra-curricular activities are any sort of published work, or a blog with followers, conferences in which you have participated and community drives or donation of professional services to charitable organizations. These are all note-worthy and both character and knowledge building exercises that universities applaud.
“I have worked with the NGO known as E, we have traveled across 25 towns and villages, setting up the technological infrastructure for free. We also managed to tie up with vendors and provide computers for nominal costs. This encouraged me to write about the various ways we can be self- reliant and I have been a regular contributor to the newspaper “Good Living” which has a readership of 1 million.”
Be specific – as to the reason for applying to this particular university: Universal platitudes are a very convenient way of filling out the section of ‘why this university’. By saying phrases like your esteemed university, highly regarded and praise-worthy you cannot make an impression. There needs to be more. The admission committee already knows their university is all of the above – so why should you be chosen to attend. This is where your research would be handy. Talk about the specific points that interest you. These could be the infrastructure facility with top of the line equipment, research opportunities with cutting edge companies, stellar faculty – with specific professors and so on. You may argue that the colleges know they have these too, but the point here is you do, and you have a definite reason and goal for being a graduate student particularly in that university.
A point to note: this section requires rewriting for every individual application, make sure you take the time and customize this – and don't settle for a generic copy-paste activity.
Example: “Your university has been far and above others in the benefit that actual work can impart hand in hand with the best education. The internship opportunities at "Stark Enterprises" is a life-changing opportunity and one that I intend to earn on my merits as a graduate student at your university – which I hope to soon call my own."
Your contribution: Getting a graduate degree is certainly your short term goal – but the admissions committee would like to know about what you intend to do with this education once imparted. Let your dreams show – set ideas and goals. Sure life doesn’t follow set plans – but one must have a certain trajectory set in their mind to follow in. Whether your goal is innovation, research, product development, artificial intelligence, public service or running your own Company –be definite. Lay it out. Write from the heart. You should also speak about your past contribution to the organization and colleges that you are alumni of – as it speaks about you being an active and interested alumnus for the university as well.An example: “I have always felt a strong familial connection with my alma mater and have been a part of the advanced knowledge programs, discussion committees, mentorship training and fundraising programs for the college. I hope to be an active and worthy member of your university alumni should I be privileged to be a part of it.”
Evaluate your Statement Of Purpose empathetically: Do your research, look up the data and then write something that you think is perfect – then re-read it empathetically as the professor and think – is this something I would like to read, and having done that am impressed by. Evaluating your SOP empathetically in the professor's shoes will allow you to see it in a whole different light and elevate it substantially.
Ask your support group to evaluate your Statement Of Purpose: As we work over something writing and editing, the sense of ownership does not let us view the document critically. A fresh set of eyes of friends, family or professors will help you see it critically and get suggestions, corrections & insights. Remain open to their suggestions but evaluate for yourself how well that fits in with your image and incorporate those changes that sit right with you.
How long does it take to write a winning Statement Of Purpose?
An SOP will take several hours to write. Not due to its length – being within a 1000 words, but because of the introspection required to write an interesting SOP imbued with your personality.
The first step of a rough draft of penning down your reasons for choosing the university, the course, the professors, the facilities – takes a certain amount of research, but you would have conducted this research even while choosing where to send your applications. If your research is available handily – you can use it for writing your Statement Of Purpose.
The second step of the SOP is writing about yourself, this may be a little tougher and takes some alone time – as you would need to describe yourself in more qualitative terms than abilities and academic scores. You talk about the things important to you, the events that have shaped you as a person and your goals and your future aspirations – and what you hope to achieve. Here, you can truly stand out from the others, by painting a picture versus writing a cut and dried version. It’s anything but easy and any time invested in this is time well spent.
Thirdly, ask people who are close to you – to read your SOP and give their guidance. Your professors will be able to guide you on the technical points mentioned in your SOP and your family will vet the personality section. They may even come up with some stories or incidents about you that you could include in your Statement Of Purpose.
An interesting SOP is an absolute must for your graduate application. Think of the admissions professors reading SOP after SOP – and then they get to one which interests them, immerses them even. Resist the urge to copy and paste, the good university admissions committee have seen them all and read them all. A well-written SOP should be succinct yet keep the reader intrigued and engaged.