SOP Preparation Tips – Things to consider or Avoid
An SOP is one of the most important documents that can make or break your chances of getting enrolled into a University of your choice. It is usually a 1200 or more-word document, as prescribed by the University that gives a detailed overview about your past experiences as a researcher or student, highlighting the points that are in line with the course that you are applying for. It shows your interest in the particular discipline you wish to study, the reason for you choosing a particular country or the University.
- Who you are?
- What you’ve done professionally and academically so far,
- Who or what has been your major influence, and
- Where you plan to take your career from here.
It isn’t necessary to riddle your SOP with cold, hard facts; it can have anecdotes and short interesting stories describing your influences and academic achievements.
Either way, you need to write your SOP very well.
A good SOP can make your profile, while a bad one can mar it.
Why is SOP important?
Your SOP is your chance to make yourself stand out from a crowd of people with similar educational qualifications as yours. It gives you an opportunity to portray your intent and desire to learn, prove your worth, and convey why you are the perfect candidate for the respective course.
Ways to make your SOP stand out from the crowd:
As mentioned earlier, your SOP can greatly influence your chances of being into a particular University, thus it is extremely important for you to design the SOP in a manner, which reflects your goals, your views, how interested you are for the course and also a brief outline to your background.
One important thing that you explain in your SOP is the reason why you chose the particular country, for example, the USA, Canada, Germany, Australia for your further studies over other countries like the US. There will be two aspects to this i.e. why you chose the country and why you chose that particular university. You must give valid, convincing reasons for both in your SOP in order to satisfy the admissions committee of your intent.
Under Grad aspirants must highlight their overall personality while writing about their experiences in the past. For an undergraduate, it is important that you write about how your school and participation in extracurricular activities has helped develop your overall personality. It is not only academics that play an important role in a student’s life, especially at the undergraduate level. Most universities expect their students at the undergraduate level to be involved in events and clubs outside of the classroom. Hence, they are usually looking for students who have had similar experiences in the past.
MS/PhD aspirants need to have a strong background in research. What sets you apart from the pool of students from all over the world applying for a seat at the university? This is where your experiences in college in terms of all the project work and research work that you have done will play an important role. Masters/PhD courses are research intensive. Universities are looking for students who have had experience in conducting research work in the past, knowing that they will be able to handle the rigors of their meticulous curriculum. Pro tip: make use of personal pronouns like ‘I’, ‘me’, in your SOP. Even when talking about group projects that you may have worked on, speak about only your contributions to the same. That is what the university is interested in learning about.
MBA aspirants, before writing your SOP, make a list of all those experiences that will bring out the following aspects of your personality: leadership qualities, team skills, diversity in education/occupation, professional and personal achievements, communication and interpersonal skills, basic understanding of business, presentation skills, and motivation, among others. The above mentioned keywords will help shape your SOP and convince the admissions committee of your candidature. In your case, school time information is not required to be exaggerated on.
Lastly, for everyone aspiring for admission into a foreign university, it is important that you write in simple and correct grammar. The use of embellished words makes one sound pompous and pretentious and it is not the route that one should take. Short, crisp sentences delivering the exact message will make your SOP an enjoyable read.
Every GRE aspirant works hard to score high in GRE. But that is often not the case with SOP.
The problem of delaying : People tend to put off writing the SOP or essay and delay till the last minute. They often wind up with the near-perfect essays found in admission guidebooks. After countless sessions, finding the one distinguishing factor for your SOP can be very difficult. Not to mention, struggling through an ocean of Dos and Don’ts. Then come the first, second, and umpteen drafts for the SOP, which could quite tire you out.
The problem of hurrying : When the admission deadlines rapidly approach, aspirants hurry up with their SOP. This step of drafting SOPs shouldn’t be hurried at all. Proper planning is required to draft an SOP, as it determines how you present your achievements before the admissions committee.
Will your SOP be interesting enough to make it stand out of the hundreds of others processed each day during the admit season or will it get buried under the weight?
Proper planning can give you enough time to create and submit a well-written and carefully put together SOP. Starting early gives you the opportunity to get the SOP proof read a couple of times before sending it across.
What to include in your SOP (SOP Format)
- Your Academic Goals: You must understand that there is a difference between your academic goal and your professional goal. In the SOP for Masters, it is of utmost important to write down your academic goals. For example, you may just wish to pursue masters in the subject out of your love or passion but your career interest might be in some other field.
- Your Professional Goals: Be vivid and clear while mentioning about your professional goal, whether you want to pursue research in this field you have chosen or maybe looking for opportunities for a job in the IT sector. The most important question you should aim to answer while writing your SOP is – What is it that I want to do in my life and how.
- Your Final Project, in detail: Remember, the people recruiting students from all over the world do not know you personally, the kind of experience you have speaks a lot about your experience and knowledge. Write down about the dissertation or project you had worked in during your graduation or diploma, give a detailed account (crisp) about your objectives and the findings.
Here are a few other things you may choose to include in your SOP for masters’ program
- Social Initiatives you are a part of
- Extra-curricular and co-scholastic activities
- Seminars you may have attended/ presented
- Papers published (if any)
- Internship/ work experience
- Your Personal Motivations: Give a brief outlook about your personal journey, what or who has inspired you to tread on this journey, why are you moving to a different country or is it simply because the subject fascinates you. How do you wish your future to be and What inspires you to walk the road. What change do you want to bring in this society and how? How does the course help you achieve your dreams? These are unique details for every candidate which could be extremely appealing while selecting you.
- Your Specific Reasons for choosing the University you are applying to
Most students tend to copy paste these general details in all the universities they are applying to. This is something you must take care of. Be particular about the choice of university and the country. The admission council would want to know what has impressed the students most about the university. It could be a certain faculty, or a research program or even the university’s proximity to your corporate of choice. It could also be the city that the university is located in. whatever be the reason, it is important to showcase what all reasons lead you to choose the university that you chose to apply to.
Tips for writing a good SOP that can help you get good admits
Tip#1 : Ideal Word Limit
The length of SOPs is generally specified by the respective university. Mostly it lies between 500 and 1000 words. If the university does not specify the world limit, try to keep it within 1000 words. In any case, don’t exceed 1200 words.
Tip#2 : Keep it simple
Bold, italics, underlined, unnecessary footers and headers, numerous highlights and font changes are a no! They hamper readability to a great extent. Keep it simple, clean, and professional.
Tip#3 : Begin with a catchy paragraph
The admissions committee wants to learn about you. They would like to see you, beyond the numbers and grades. Reveal your personality through your Statement of Purpose (SOP). The admissions committee reads more than 40 SOPs at a time. Catch their attention with the first few lines. Your SOP is your first personal contact with the admissions committee. Use it to distinguish yourself.
Here’s a small SOP example as to how you can distinguish yourself. It is taken from the 2008 heist Drama movie “21” starring Kevin Spacey, based on a real life story of the MIT Blackjack team.
Well those who have watched the movie know what I’m talking about! For those who haven’t here’s a quick run down:
The protagonist of the movie, Ben Campbell is a brilliant student from MIT and has received admit from Harvard Medical School. The catch is the tuition fee is too much for him to pay. While there is the option of a financial aid in the form of one “Robinson Scholarship” that will pay for his fees for the entire duration of Master’s. But in order to avail the prestigious scholarship he needs to dazzle the director.
Now here is where the story begins and he goes through a lot of experiences. some good and some not so much. But there is a life lesson in each of these experiences. Towards the end of the movie when he meets the director again he’s got a story to tell, a rather interesting one; one that has made him mature and aware of the way of the world.
The learning from this little anecdotal review of the movie is, whatever it is that you have done over the years at college and school level could make for a very interesting story. It might not be relevant to your field of study but if it captures your leadership skill and other soft skills go ahead and flaunt it!
But remember, these stories shouldn’t be elaborate or take up most of the space in your SOP.
Tip#4 : Don’t share too much
Avoid providing any personal details that are not asked for. Share data that is relevant to your MS, for example, talk about your chosen field of study, area of interest, etc.
Tip#5 : Use of extra-curricular activities
Whether it is sports, theater work, or administrative work at cultural festivals, mention why you participated in those events and how they helped in shaping your personality. If you have been part of the management committee at any of your college’s Technical or Cultural Fest that can also be mentioned and will certainly add more weightage to your SOP.
Make sure you mention the challenges you overcame and the life lessons/skills you learned.
Tip#6 : Use of co-curricular activities
Major paper publications, presentations, R&D experience, guest lectures, workshops etc., can provide a boost to your SOP. Apart from your academic skills, the admission committees look for leadership skills in the potential Master’s graduate.
Tip#7 : No unnecessary flattery
The professors and the faculty members are well aware of the quality of education they offer. What the university is looking for is to understand what your aspirations are and what you bring to the table. Remember your SOP is about describing you and not extolling the virtues of the university and its faculty!
Tip#8 : Appreciate more feedback
After you have settled on a draft for the SOP, make sure you get it reviewed from as many people as you can. You don’t necessarily need to take or include everything you’re told. Trim it according to what you feel is right and delete the parts that you don’t agree with.
Tip#9 : SOP can be improved continuously
Drafting SOP can be a long and tedious process. Taking advice, making changes, retaining some content, trimming out the rest, and the process continues . . . a process of continuous improvement will help you make a brilliant draft of your SOP.
I hope these 9 tips along with the sample SOP, has provided you a clear idea on how to draft a winning SOP. Ask any of your doubts by commenting below.