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. 

A Statement of Purpose or SOP, thus is your personal statement about:

  1. Who you are?
  2. What you’ve done professionally and academically so far,
  3. Who or what has been your major influence, and
  4. 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.

Things to include in an SOP

SOP Preparation Tips:

SOP Format

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.

Common SOP MistakesSOP Common Mistakes

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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

Tips to write a good SOP

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.Expert SOP Tips

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.

You may also like...

6 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Hey! Thank you sooooo much for this piece!
    I was reading another article with tips for writing a sop (here it is: ) but I was searching for something that will motivate me and I have found it in your article. I was really afraid that my sop will be just plain and boring but then I read this words in your article: “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.” and it just made my day. I don’t have tragic life experience or something like this to show how I was influenced by it but I guess now my work won’t be just another statement of purpose noone wants to read.
    I hope I will do great.
    Thanks again!

    • Shruti Ganesh says:

      Hi Rachel,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! I’m so glad we could help!
      Yes, making your SOP personal and honest will surely catch the attention of the admission officers. It is after all the closest thing to interviewing you.
      All the best for admits and let us know how it went! Good Luck!

  2. Maillot Inter Milan says:

    I am so grateful for your article.

  3. Vineet Kumar Singh says:

    I was having some problem while writing SOP for a student. Anyways, i managed to complete it after reading these tips. Thanks for writing this amazing blog.

  4. kartik says:

    after having work experience in both IT industry as well as a freelancer nutritionist, should i pursue sports analytics or sports managment is good choice or should i pursue with data analytics and that too is canada a good option?

  5. Arpita Deshmukh says:

    Arpita Deshmukh Northeastern University
    Fall 2018
    Statement of Purpose
    Hello, I am Arpita from India, the world‟s largest Democracy. I have completed my primary, secondary and Junior college from Mumbai, the financial capital of India. I will be graduating from Pune University, Pune, the Oxford of the East and also a historical center where the great Maratha warrior and Ruler Shivaji Raje established his Empire when almost the whole India was conquered by non-Indian. I am proud to be from Pune University which is named after Savitribai Phule, a woman who started the first school for girls in India in 1848 and recently the students of one of the affiliated colleges launched their own satellite “Swayam”. For further studies, I wish to pursue my masters from the USA, the land of opportunities. At the first India Mobile Congress, one of the leading industrialists said, “Data is the new Oil”. The importance that Oil had decades ago will now shift its focus on data. Computers are ubiquitous and so are data and the technique of storing this data is gathering importance. Before the advent of computers, data storage was a problem. As data started increasing, this problem began to multiply. After „data storage‟, another important concept is „usage of the data‟ i.e. converting the relevant data into useful information. Thus, data is gathering more importance and hence I decided a program which centrally focuses on data and information systems.
    In August 2014, I started with my first year of Engineering in Information Technology at Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT), Pune. I was hell-bent towards achieving the title of being a “topper” at my college. However, I realized that focusing only on studies and not engaging in other activities would not lead to my all-round development and it would be an amazing experience as well. I decided that I had to manage my studies as well as my co-curricular activities. So, in my second year, I joined as a member of the organizing committee in two major events of our college i.e. Summit and Texephyr. Summit is our sports event, and Texephyr is the technical event. Organizing these events educated me with something which cannot be found in the books. Talking to people personally, encouraging them to participate in our events, getting sponsorships from different companies and businesses etc which was the main financial source of our events. What is this and why should one follow this? This is exactly what the employers expect in the corporate world. Such experiences imbibed in me qualities like teamwork and increased my confidence which I believe will help me in my career.
    My final year project is titled as “Energy Efficient Dynamic Street Lighting System.” Dynamic street lamps are not widely used in India; hence I wish to implement this system in India which would help in effective utilization of available energy resources and result in a reduction of costs. This will eventually benefit the country in monetary terms. This is my short-term goal which I wish to achieve. Moreover, my paper based on my final project has been accepted for publication in 2nd IEEE conference on Electronics, Communications and Aerospace Technology (ICECA 2018) for which I have received an acceptance letter as well. Furthermore, I would also like to do research in relevant fields under the guidance of the esteemed professors at the university. I strongly believe that before applying the techniques, you should know the techniques well. Before choosing the program MIS, I was sure about one thing, that I wanted to pursue higher studies which included an amalgamation of technology and its utility for the organizations. After learning about different graduate programs, I figured out that this program would be an appropriate option for me. This is my first milestone in achieving the higher goal.
    Career options like Business analysts, Database Administrator, Database analysts interest me. However, as for my IS degree, I would remain open to other options as well. My first long-term goal is learning to use the concepts which would help the organizations in solving challenging business issues which will not only benefit the organization but also help me to increase my learning curve.
    Similar to my short-term goal, I intend to make it as my second long-term goal as well i.e. using the trending technologies for the betterment of the people which would make their lives simpler because that is what science is for. I firmly believe that once you have a goal in your mind, you can certainly achieve it.
    Arpita Deshmukh Northeastern University
    Fall 2018
    I learnt that the co-op program provided by Northeastern is older than 100 years and one of the best. I have realized that making a strong network is very crucial for professional advancements and I learnt that NEU deeply focuses on this area. Another feature which I found interesting about NEU is that it also promotes experiential learning which is also essential because one should be able to put one’s knowledge into practical usage and this would help to solve various business-centric problems. Moreover, such hands-on experience in the industry would enable me to learn more about the global economy. I also like the fact that the college of Engineering Graduate Cooperative Program is available on a competitive basis to selected students. This instills a sense of commitment and competition and the students realize that one has to put in efforts to be a part of the co-op program.
    The all-inclusive, flexible and industry-aligned curriculum is one of the best I have come across. Moreover, the basics of the courses have been covered/to be covered in my engineering degree which would act as the foundation for learning the courses in depth offered by the program. I am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *