Why do we write Statement of Purpose?

The Statement of Purpose is certainly one of the most misunderstood aspects of graduate applications. Naturally, students consider this as another essay to introduce themselves and that generally result in a monotonous write up that fails to stand out. That is why it is extremely important to understand what universities expect in this regard. This essay, usually of 1000 words, attempts to understand the candidate’s life, his or her career goals, and how the particular course in that university is going to help the student to proceed in his or her envisioned career.

A Statement of Purpose or commonly known as SOP has many elements. At times, a university might specify certain format. However, if not specified, an SOP must contain your goals, delineation of the career path you have chosen so far, and the academic progress you have made till date. You must also highlight the personal motivation behind choosing the course/university you are applying to.

More often than not, a well-written SOP holds the key to a successful application. Obviously, meeting other eligibility criteria are important, but an SOP being truly a subjective aspect could very well make your application stand out from the rest. This is the best chance for you to express what uniqueness you bring on to the table and why it should be valued.

How to write a top class SOP: Even though an SOP should as individualized as possible, one needs to follow an overarching structure like the general word limit, and the overall structure. The point here to note is that SOPs for different courses would vary significantly from each other. However, the following points can very well be included in a top-class SOP:

  1. Personal/Financial Background: University is always looking for finding the special traits that you possess. If you have overcome financial odds, then do include that in your story. This will provide your application with a real edge and might eventually help in becoming successful.
  2. Extracurricular activities: Universities often look for well-rounded personalities and thus you should highlight the extracurricular aspect of your candidature. However, you should remember not to mention things everyone does as part of their schooling, focus on real interests and persuasions.
  3. Your Failures: As university life is mostly much more demanding than previous academic challenges, universities prefer if you include a short paragraph on what were your failures and how you have learned from them. Remember to focus on how you have turned your failures into success, as this ability holds true for any successful person in the world.
  4. Work Experience: Mostly, universities prefer candidates who possess some work experience, particularly for professional courses such as MBA. Do list all the different work experiences you have had. Try to provide some justification to why you changed certain jobs, if you have.
  5. Published Work/Paper Submitted: In academia, publications are considered as the best way to measure scholarship. So if you have some publication, then do mention, even if it is not in a peer-reviewed journal or not even in a journal. Popular writing for newspapers, blogs should also be listed. If some of your write up is currently under consideration in some journals, then mention that as well.

What not to include in an SOP: Once you have some clarity on what to include, it is equally important to understand what not to include in an SOP.

  1. All your accomplishments: It is important to highlight accomplishments, whether academic or extracurricular, but remember to be judicious in listing them. Always remember the achievements either should be very relevant to the particular course/university you are applying to or should possesses the potential to make your application stand out.
  2. Family history: Words are limited in an SOP. So don’t waste them on describing irrelevant family history.
  3. Financial Details: As most universities require a separate document for obtaining financial details, avoid including them in the SOP.
  4. Details about Academic jobs and projects: While it is important to list them, you should not delve into too much details of what was the project about and what were your roles. Remember, it is important to stitch a narrative of yourself in an SOP, the things you did and how that made you who you are currently.

Sample format for statement of purpose: Now when you have understood what an ideal SOP should and should not contain, it is time to start writing your own. Remember that the format and the points highlighted above are to provide a scaffolding to help you write the document and ensure that you should not digress into elaborating one aspect without doing justice to others. However, you should always strive to make your SOP entirely your own and should exercise your liberty to innovatively improvise. As you will start writing as per the process, you will realize that writing SOP actually makes you a more confident person and act as a mirror to see yourself more clearly.