GradApps: Tips for the Statement of Purpose


Hi people,

We are back with our 5th post of the GradApps series. This time we are going to give you an in depth idea about writing a Statement of Purpose (SOP). If you have missed the earlier posts of this series do not forget to check them out here.

Without further delay, let's start our discusion.

What is SOP ?

As described earlier in the recent post on graduate application components, SOP is arguably the most important factor for graduate schools in terms of  evaluating an applicant. Hence, you should be extra careful while preparing the same.  An SOP is a 2-3 page long essay you have to submit as part of the application process.

Before getting into how and what you should write in the SOP let's look at what the application reviewers want from an SOP:

  • Why the student is interested in the field of study he is applying to and his/her depth of knowledge regarding the same.
  • Why this particular graduate school is best fit for the student.
  • Personal/Cultural background and mentality of the student i.e.if the student will be fit to work in a research group environment.
  • How does the applicants analyze his past experience. Remeber, your CV is a list of your past experience. But, your SOP should reflect what you think you learned from that experience and how it is affecting your current endeavours.
  • If you have any plans/ research ideas/potential supervisors you want to work with, SOP is a good place to reflect that. That does not mean you have to worship the prof you want to work with. Just stating the interest and the reasoning behind may be good enough to get you an interview with the said prof or someone from a similar field of study.
  • Last but not least, your English writing skills. Although TOEFL and GRE reflects the same too, but they are standardised tests and they can be fooled sometimes. But, an independent writing like SOP opens up a separate evaluation criterian.

A Hand-Holding Guide to Writing SOP

Now, let's worry about writing the same. The first thing to accept before writing your SOP is no matter how good in English you are, your first SOP is going to be bad or at least not upto the mark. Therefore, start early with it as you shall need to invest good amount of time in it. The first step is:

Do the Background Study:

  1.   Before writing any sentence about the school/program you are applying to make sure you have read and understood all of it's website content inclding FAQs. There is nothing worse than writing wrong information about the program itself (like: "I am eager to do my thesis work.." for a program with no thesis work). On the other hand, this will help you in showcasing your interest in program in a substantive manner.
  2. Find out about the specific research interests of the group/department you are applying to. Find out recent developements of the field and how the field reached there. Also, ponder about what are the big questions the field asks.

Reflect upon Yourself:

  1.  Think about your personal intellectual development. What are the major moments in life that propelled you to your current aspiations ? 
  2.  Why did you chose the research topic you want to work on ? 
  3. Why did you choose your undergraduate major ?
  4. What are your career goals ? What is your motivation for the same ? 
Do not be afraid or think less of yourself if you do not find answers to some of the above questions. Instead try to captialize upon the aspects which you found. aThey shall help you writing an honest and attractive SOP.  

Prepare a Rough Draft

  1. Using the results of the previous step find out a central theme of your SOP. A central theme is generally based on some events/experiences of your life which led you to your current aspirations and reflections upon them.
  2. Work on making your central theme viable. Give specific examples of your experiences and build upon them. But DO NOT make things up. It is easy to catch. Moreover you may be asked about anything from your SOP in the interview which may give you problems there if you make things up.
  3. Your sketch should roughly cover the following areas in about this order:
  • What aspects of the school appeal to you ?
  • What are your research innterests and how are you preparing to tackle the issues in that area ?
  • Your future goals and how the grad school is going to help you achieve them.
  • What are the positive things that you think you will be bringing to the department/group.

Write First Fair Draft

Using the rough draft it is time to write your first fair draft of the SOP keeping the following point in mind.
  1. Always use positive language while refering to yourself. Do not write things like "I was unable to complete that project on time". Instead you could write "I had to draw an early conclusion to the project during the time constraint of".
  2. Give detailed yet concise examples. This one may seem contradictory. But, it is doable. It simply means do not go into too much experiential detail but do not forget to put out the main message in detail.
  3. Use proper essay writing skills like using transition words, avoid using same words repeatedly, avoid using same paragraph starters consecutively, put a line gap between paragraphs.
  4. Don't  use a word that you are not master of.
  5. Avoid repetition. 
  6. Have strong opening and closing sentences (not too dramatic, it may make the reviewer think you are making stuff up) and stay within the page limit (the reviewers read 100s of applications!)
  7. Before closing thank the admission committee for taking there time to review your application. 

Revisions

Now it is time for revisions to the first fair draft. 
  1. Remove all possible spelling mistakes,  bad indentations etc. 
  2. Read the whole thing and see if any part feels too forced or does not conform to theme of the piece or may be speaking something negative about you directly or indirectly.
  3. Contact seniors who have gone through the process and ask them to review your SOP. It is not absolutely necessary if you found yourself comfortably sailing through the points above but there is no harm in doing it too.

Conclusion

This post heavily draws from the following guide on SOP writing. However, we have given elaboration on various points and removed some which we think are repetitions.

Hope it was helpful to you. Next up on our agenda is a separate post on Letters of Recommendations. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. Bye Bye ! See you in the next post.

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