What is a Statement of Purpose?
A statement of purpose (SOP) is a document required by graduate schools to judge the suitability of candidates for admission in their programs. As the name implies, a statement of purpose reveals the purpose of applying to a particular program. The basic purpose of SOP is to introduce the candidate as the best fit to the intended program by showing his/her academic qualifications, achievements, interests, work experience, technical skills, and motivation to undertake graduate studies.
Importance of SOP:
An SOP is the first opportunity for the candidate to express him/herself and to make a good first impression in front of the graduate admission committee. It is the most important component of graduate application because it is one of the few components, which is controlled by the candidate. On the other hand, a candidate has no authority over other components of his/her application, such as GPA, GRE score, IELTS/TOEFL score, and letters of recommendation, etc. A well-written SOP has the potential to cover up the weak points of an applicant, such as low GPA or GRE scores, low IELTS/TOEFL scores, lack of relevant research work and work experience, etc. A poorly written SOP may put a candidate’s chance of selection in jeopardy despite a brilliant profile. An SOP should be well-thought-out and well-written to improve your chances of selection. Inability to write a good SOP means that you have not put in enough effort in school selection, you would need to go back and re-evaluate your interests, reconsider your background and your perceived potential.
How to write an Impressive SOP?
Writing an SOP is extremely simple and we recommend that you write it yourself and then get someone else to proofread it for you. To write an effective SOP you need to answer the following questions.
- Why do you want to pursue graduate studies?
- What are the events, circumstances, incidents, and people who motivate you, directly or indirectly, to choose the current field of study?
- Why did you choose your major at the undergraduate level?
- Why have you chosen your current school/program? What are the features that led you to select this school?
- What skills, achievements, and credentials do you have that make you a suitable candidate for this program, and how will they help you in your graduate degree?
- What are your career plans? Where do you see yourself in the future and how this degree is going to help you in achieving your future goals?
- How do you justify any discrepancy in your profile such as bad GPA, low GRE score, study gap, etc.?
- How can you contribute to the overall betterment of the school/department? What teaching, research, managerial or other skills do you possess which will benefit the department?
- Most importantly, what makes you stand out from the crowd? Why are you a good match for the current program and what characteristics distinguish you from other candidates?
- Are there any other motivating factors to apply to that particular school? Did you meet the faculty of that school at a conference and discuss their research work? Have you ever got a chance to talk to faculty members by email about their research? Did you follow any of the research groups of that school during your BS or master’s thesis? Did your professor get a Ph.D. in the same field from that school? Did you attend an online course from the professor of that school? Did you attend their keynote speech/lectures online or in-person?
- If you are applying to a specific school only because your family member or a friend also got an education from that school, you must reconsider your school selection. Avoid quoting reasons like this for school selection anywhere.
- SOP can be for a school, scholarship, research grant, fellowship, or any other prestigious award. Did you read the guidelines carefully before formulating the structure of your SOP? Does your program of application (like Fulbright, DAAD) weigh cultural diversity, underrepresentation, or any other factor?
- Did you talk to the school/program (coordinator, admission office, career assistant, DAAD/Fulbright advisor, etc.) about your choice of school/program? Did you discuss your study objectives and opportunities available at the school/program? Did you ask about past successful candidates?
Ask yourself these questions and then draft a response, which expresses important points in a logical and coherent manner. If you are unable to answer most of these questions you need to re-evaluate your selection.
Pay special attention to the opening paragraph and the opening statement of each paragraph. They should be compelling enough to capture the attention of the reader(s). Remember that a dull or an ordinary opening paragraph may seriously lower the worth of your SOP and your seriousness to apply.
Your SOP should be grammatically correct with proper spellings, punctuations, and capitalizations. Use correct English and avoid using words that are not completely known to you. Use short and simple sentences instead of complicated ones and try to avoid flashy language. Impress the readers by the content of your SOP and not by an unnecessary complex vocabulary. Your SOP should be coherent and concise i.e. the ideas should be organized in a logical order and there should be a smooth transition between ideas – in the form of paragraphs. The SOP should be devoid of any ambiguity and it should give its reader a clear picture of the candidate and what message he/she is intending to convey.
Possible Content of SOP
Why do you want to do the course/research?
Try to convey your enthusiasm and motivation for study/research. Don’t try to write what you think they want to hear, write your real reasons. Write about any projects dissertations or extended essays you have done if they are relevant or demonstrate relevant skills. Mention any prizes you have won, also travel or study abroad and relevant employment. Describe anything that shows creativity, dependability or independence.
Why this subject?
Be clear about why you have chosen this. Is the programme noted for a particular emphasis, specialty or orientation? When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it? What insights have you gained? How have you learned about this field – through classes, seminars, work or conversations with academic staff?
Why this university?
Are there specific academic staff, you want to do research or study with?
What academic skills have you got to offer?
Computing skills, knowledge of relevant scientific techniques etc. If your “A” levels were poor (or you didn’t do these, try to show an upward progression during your time at University).
What personal skills can you offer? e.g. ability to work in a team, with little supervision.
Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework about the course/research and that you’ve seriously considered your strengths and weaknesses for postgraduate study or research. If you have done vacation jobs, what skills have you learned e.g. team working , communication, working under pressure? Have you had to overcome any obstacles or hardships in your life? This may show evidence of determination/resilience.
What are your strengths?
In what ways are you better than other applicants? If you can’t answer this question, don’t expect the selectors to answer it for you!
What is the relevance of your first degree to this study?
Point out any circumstances that may have affected your academic results, that you think should be considered by the selectors.
What are your career aims?
You may not have a very clear focus on what you want to do afterward, but you should have some ideas. A clear direction will strengthen your commitment to do well in your studies and selectors will know this. Your desire to become a lawyer, lecturer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience in your content statement.