How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Grad School

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The Statement of Purpose (often referred to as the SOP) is one of the most important and yet often misunderstood components of your application. It is not just another essay about your key achievements or your resume in a running form. It is the backbone of your entire application and ties together the story conveyed by your test scores, academics, work experience, and your career goals. This is often the best opportunity an admissions committee has to get to know you and for you to make the case for how you’re a perfect fit!

What is a Statement of Purpose?

The Statement of Purpose is an essay of roughly 1000-2000 words, unless otherwise specified by the university, summarizing your intent behind applying to a particular university graduate program. It provides you an opportunity to showcase why you want to study at the university. Use your SOP not only to showcase your professional achievements and academic background but also to highlight why you are interested in the specific program and how you will add value to it. The admissions committee also uses the Statement of Purpose to understand whether their graduate program is a good fit for you at that stage of your professional career.

Why is a Statement of Purpose So Important?

Top universities across the world require a detailed statement to assess who you are as a person and what distinguishes you from the rest of the applicants. It is critical to write a Statement of Purpose that is unique to you and ties well with the other aspects of your application.

Because the competition for admission to prestigious international universities is fierce, your SOP should be well-researched and compelling enough to make an impression on admissions authorities.

What Should a Statement of Purpose Include?

While there is no fixed checklist to follow and create an exceptional Statement of Purpose, it is necessary to cover some important aspects of your past journey as well as future goals. You need to package all the information in a way that clearly explains your academic and professional background and gives a brief overview of your desire and purpose to study in the specific program.

While each individual should write their Statement of Purpose in their own unique and authentic style, a few broad sections that can help you structure your SOP are listed below.

  1. Introduction

    The first paragraph of your Statement of Purpose can include a brief overview of you and answer a few basic questions about yourself, including academic qualification and reasons why you choose to apply to the program.

  2. Academic Background.

    Further, you must include information about your previous education(s). You can choose to mention other highlights like major projects or extracurricular activities that showcase the skills you are trying to highlight through your SOP.

  3. Professional Experience

    One of the most critical parts of your SOP is your professional experience and key learnings from it. Use this section to showcase your overall professional maturity rather than simply boasting of your achievements and accomplishments. Soft skills like leadership and work ethics or global exposure and versatility can also help you stand out from the crowd.

  4. Career Goals and Vision

    Your academic and professional experience should ideally be followed by your future goals and aspirations. Try to briefly discuss your long-term and short-term career goals and make sure that they logically fit the story laid out by your academic and professional background.

  5. Conclusion

    Finally, it is important to summarize your SOP by clearly highlighting how the particular university and the particular program will help you with your career goal and why you would be a great fit for the program.

Tips for Writing a Great Statement of Purpose

Start Early

Writing a great Statement of Purpose is a time-consuming process. It involves a great degree of self-introspection and contemplation to settle upon the story you want your SOP to showcase. It also involves writing multiple drafts and getting ample feedback from friends, colleagues or experts. Different opinions and perspectives on the style and substance of the essay will help you ensure you’re putting your best foot forward in your applications! Hence, start early and make sure you spend time brainstorming the core ideas and life events that project you in the correct light.

The Statement of Purpose also requires thorough research of the program and the university that you are applying to so that you can answer the ‘Why this university’ and ‘Why this program’ questions authentically. This is why we strongly recommend dedicating at least 6-8 weeks to write your statement and get feedback from half a dozen different people. When I was applying to grad school, I spent 2 – 3 weeks brainstorming and putting my first draft together and then 3 – 4 weeks getting feedback and reworking my essay!

Show Your Journey Beyond University

Graduate program candidates are expected to be mature and clear about their career objectives and how the graduate program fits in their career journey. It is critical that your past experiences and accomplishments, as well as future expectations and aspirations, align with the graduate program. In a nutshell, you need to convince the university that you have already set off on the professional career journey, and their graduate program will help you accelerate and reach the destination faster!

Be Authentic Yet Unique

An important aspect of your Statement of Purpose has to be its uniqueness. It has to stand out from among the thousands of SOPs that the admission committee will go through, and the best way to do that is by being personal and authentic. Statements like “I am honored to apply to this program to expand my skills and boost my career.” don’t tell the admissions committee anything about you! Instead, paint a picture for the reader and use concrete examples and stories to showcase the skills and qualities you’ll bring to the program. The Statement of Purpose is supposed to provide a sneak-peek into your personality and professional life. A generic SOP leads to a generic image that quickly gets lost among the thousands of other applications.

While you’re drafting, I recommend writing ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ on a post-it note and keeping it near your computer as a reminder. And, instead of telling the admissions team that you are passionate about technology, talk about a recent work project and how technology played a critical role in its success – or why a certain technology makes you really excited for the future!

Research the Program

The core objective of your Statement of Purpose is to convince the admissions committee of a particular university that you are the perfect candidate for them. That can’t happen unless you thoroughly understand what kind of candidate they are looking for. Make sure to customize your SOP to the requirements of the university as well as the program you are applying to. Spend ample time on the university’s website. Reach out to alumni and try to learn more about their experience at the university. What is the culture like? What sort of relationships have they had with their professors? What are their classmates like? Learn about research facilities on campus and interest areas of faculty members that align with your career goals.

The more you know about the university and the graduate program you are aiming for, the better equipped you will be to write a good Statement of Purpose, showcasing the skills and qualities the school is looking for.

Be Formal

Be respectful to the process and write the Statement of Purpose in a cordial, yet formal language. While it is good to show a command of the English language, avoid unnecessary jargon or acronyms. In your desire to come across as knowledgeable, don’t write sentences that are unclear or hard to follow. Use vocabulary appropriate to your field, and don’t unnecessarily go thesaurus hunting to impress the admissions team with your words. A good rule of thumb is to only use words you’ve said out loud before!

Proofread and Edit, Over and Over Again!

Once you have written the first draft of your Statement of Purpose, forget about it for a few days and then come back to it with a fresh mind. Check for clarity and trim down excessively long sentences. Share it with at least half a dozen people, including a few friends and colleagues or professors if possible, to get different perspectives and feedback. It’s particularly helpful to get feedback from people who are in or have completed a similar type of graduate program!

Make sure to format the document professionally. Your content should stand out, not its font style or color!

Finally, before pressing the send button, read out your Statement of Purpose aloud and ensure that you are on board with the overall picture it portrays. Ultimately if your words feel genuine and authentic, and you are proud of what you’ve written, you’re ready to submit!

Author

  • Ayush Verma

    Ayush is a Test Prep Expert and Application Coach actively involved in the Test Prep and Application Consulting space for several years now. He is a GMAT 99 Percentiler and has extensive experience in delivering private tutoring sessions for GMAT, GRE, and SAT exams. Ayush has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and an MBA in Strategy from the Indian School of Business. He is an ardent ManUnited fan and when he is not helping students understand that tricky GMAT question or write that dreaded Why MBA answer, he would be likely cheering for his team at Old Trafford (GGMU). To connect with him, feel free to reach out to him via LinkedIn or his website Test Prep Buddy.

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