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4 Tips on Writing a Great Statement of Purpose + Bonus

by May L

Writing a Great Statement of Purpose

Lesson Summary:
What is an SoP?
Why is Your SoP Important?
How NOT to Write Your SoP
Why is a Good SoP a Better Idea?
What do Colleges Look for in the SoP?
How to Write a Good SoP
1. Check Your Fit
2. Don't Lie
3. Self Knowledge
4. Don't Overkill
Polishing Your SoP
Bonus- Tips on Recommendation Letters

What is an SoP?

The Statement of Purpose (SoP) is the single most important part of your application that will tell the admissions committee who you are, what has influenced your career path so far, your professional interests and where you plan to go from here.

As the name signifies, the Statement of Purpose is your personal statement about who you are, what has influenced your career path so far, your professional interests and where you plan to go from here.

It need not be a bald statement of facts; several successful SoPs address these questions through anecdotes, stories or by describing their hero. But whether your SoP is subtle or to the point, it must be well written to be successful.

Why is a Statement of Purpose so Important?

This is because the SoP is the only part of your application packet over which you have full control. Your academic and extra-curricular records are in the past. Most people only take one or two shots at the GMAT, GRE or TOEFL, and these scores could be adversely affected by conditions on the test day. It is important to choose recommendation letter writers carefully, but while you hope they give you the best possible recommendation, this is not within your control.

The SoP is your chance to talk directly to the admissions committee. To make yourself stand out from among a multitude of similarly qualified candidates. To convince the committee that you have the spark, the thirst for knowledge that could add value to your class.

How NOT to Write Your SoP

Most of us work hard for the standard tests - the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL and others. We attend classes or peruse study aids. We give practice tests and do everything within our power to aim for the highest possible score. We know that these test scores, while not a perfect tool, are crucial to our chances of gaining admission and even a scholarship or assistant-ship.

The SoP or essay, on the other hand, is put off until the last possible moment. It scares us when we look at those oh-so-perfect essay examples in the admissions guidebooks and wonder how we can ever write so well. Or how to pick our way through the minefield of endless Do's and Don'ts. Finally we write something, because time is pressing and we have to meet the application deadline. We do our best, juggling the writing process with the last-minute paraphernalia of applying-checking forms for errors and completeness, collating the application packets, making sure transcripts, recommendations, work samples and resumes go in their right envelopes, worrying about transit times. We feel thankful when the essay is over, do a quick scan for obvious mistakes, and send it on its way.

Why is a Good SoP a Better Idea?

%{font-family:verdana; font-size:13px;color:black}If you do a lousy job on the SoP, you are practically throwing away your chances of admission. A good SoP will certainly improve your chances of getting admission to the school of your choice, and even compensate for weaker portions of your application such as less-than-perfect grades or test test scores. A bad SoP, on the other hand, has the potential to drag down an otherwise strong application.

If you plan correctly, you can give yourself enough time to submit a well-written, thoughtful, polished essay that will boost your chances for admission. Equally important, this is a great opportunity to look inside yourself and be rewarded by a better understanding of who you are. Writing a reasonably good Statement of Purpose is not an impossible task. It requires care, attention and patience. And enough time for you to be able to write several drafts, show them to people and polish the essay until you get a version you are happy with.

Done right, this will even turn out to be an enjoyable process. And your chances of getting admitted into a great program or getting a scholarships will be much higher!%

What do Colleges and Universities Look for in a Statement of Purpose?

The primary question admissions committee members ask themselves when they read a Statement of Purpose is: What does this essay tell me about the person who wrote it?

Put yourself in an admission officer's shoes. From among thousands of applications, you have to choose the fraction of students that will comprise next year's incoming class. A mix of interesting, confident and enthusiastic people who will make the class a stimulating place. Academic achievements and good test scores are important. But in an era where the majority of applicants have good academic records, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between individuals and decide who gets the offer of admission.

When you apply, each of the items in the application packet: - recommendations, extra-curricular achievements, work samples - adds an extra dimension to your personality.

But it is the SoP that brings you to life. Which is why each essay is read carefully by at least two and often four or five people before a decision is taken on the application.


Does this mean that the SoP is the main deciding factor? No. Your academic record, grades and the courses you took - are the first section admission committee members turn to. Standardized test scores are useful to know where you stand in the applicant pool. For graduate schools, relevant work or academic experience is important. Being from a reputed school or college confers a distinct advantage. What your teachers or boss think of you goes a long way towards the school's opinion. A good work sample can show your creativity, skill and professionalism.

However, only the SoP or application essays can bring out your uniqueness. And therefore make or break your application. An applicant who does not take the essay seriously is throwing away the best opportunity available.

So are the admission officers looking for specific personality sorts? Well, yes and no. Creativity, curiosity, pride in your work, an enthusiasm for learning, a capacity for teamwork, the ability to think independently and so on are all good attributes, and most of us share these in varying proportions.

"What schools look for is a mix of individuals that form a well-balanced class"

How Do I Write a Great SoP?

1. Check Your Fit.

It's a good idea to go through the school's brochures or web site, speak to people about it, visit if that is possible; get a feel of the student mix that they look for and decide if this is the school for you. Some things are obvious- if you're a guy, don't try and apply for a women's college. However, finding some subtle things can give you a great boost- for example, if you're a great basketball player and the school prides itself on having a great basketball team, mentioning your skills on the court in your SoP can certainly give you an advantage.

2. Don't lie.

Trying to tailor your SoP to reflect what you think the school is looking for is dangerous business. The people who read your application have been doing so for years and are skilled at spotting fakes. They are likely to know soon if a particular author is saying something for effect or if an essay does not ring true. And that means almost certain rejection.

Now, you might be asking, what am I supposed to do, impress and lie or be honest but not look as good? Of course you want to have a positive effect on the admissions officers. The important thing is to do so without appearing dishonest. If, for instance, you talk about your deep desire to make society a better place, your application should reflect it. Have you done anything about this desire? Can you talk about your actions and experiences? A small example of something you did, not necessarily spectacular, can do more towards boosting your chances than the noblest platitude can.

Don't try to be something you are not. Don't try to tell the admissions committee what you think they want to hear. Be honest, look inside yourself and do your best. Which brings us to the next point:%

3.Self-knowledge.

The people who read your essay want to be convinced that you have thought long and hard about who you are, what are the things you appreciate, what inspires you. What you want out of life, and where you are going from here. Make sure you do just that- think. Take time to plan your SoP by writing down all the important points you wish to discuss, the various activities, skills, and personal goals that make you stand out. You're the only person who knows these things, so analyze yourself before you start writing.

4. Don't overkill.

It is not necessary to have all the answers. After all, several admirable people have no idea where they are going even at age 40 or 50. And there's no need to talk about every single thing that makes you special just because there's a small chance it might look good. Admissions officers ask for a short SoP, not a 5-volume autobiography. Pick only the things that you believe make you the right candidate, and remember- less is more.

Polishing Your Statement of Purpose

So now you have a coherent essay put together. You think the structure is more or less right, the ideas flow, and the language isn't bad. What next?

The 'In their shoes' check

Put your essay away for a day or two. When you take it out, lay it face down for two minutes while you put yourself in the admissions committee's place. Imagine yourself to be a professor or graduate student who is going through a few hundred applications and classifying them into 'yes', 'maybe' and 'no' piles. Think of how you would look at SoPs and try to read yours through a stranger's eyes. Judging your own SoP will show help you identify its quality, although of course you do have some bias in the matter.

Showing your stuff around

It is essential to show your SoP to a few other people whose opinion you respect, as they won't have the same bias you have and they can provide important feedback. You can ask an English teacher from school, a professor, an older friend, a parent or a relative. Include among these, 2-3 people who know you well, and can judge both the quality of the paper and the truth of what you've written.

Bonus Tips:

Letters of Recommendation

Recommendations are meant to provide a third-person perspective on you as an individual. While your grades/scores are supposed to represent your intellectual capabilities and your essay allows you the opportunity of presenting your point of view, recommendations by those who know you give the university an independent assessment of your skills and qualities.

Unfortunately, a number of applications ask for elaborate recommendations that are frequently a burden on faculty and superiors. It's not uncommon to hear of faculty asking the student to write his/her own recommendation and then editing them for effect. This is even more likely to be the case in a work environment, where few would like to waste their time answering often absurd questions.

I strongly deter the practice of applicants writing their own recommendations. It puts many students in a position they'd rather not be in. But the sad fact is that many applicants have little say in this matter. And even if you are fortunate enough to have people around you who are prepared to write up their own recommendations for you, there are certain aspects you could try to keep in mind.

Tips on Getting Good Recommendation Letters

Selecting the right people to recommend you%

Ask yourself the following:

Do they know you well enough to describe your proficiencies? How much credibility are they likely to hold with the university? Are they likely to give you a positive and honest recommendation?
Get some variety into your recommendations and co-ordinate your recommendations with the rest of your application.

How to go about doing it

Invest in the following:

Make a list of persons you are going to ask to recommend you, and then ask them whether they would be willing to do so. Make sure you give them the specific instructions the college provided (if any), let them know when you need the letter at the latest, and make sure to thank them both when they agree to write you a letter and after they have done writing it.

Good Luck writing your Statement of Purpose!

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Last Updated At Dec 26, 2012
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