Five steps to writing a great SOP!

Last updated on April 14th, 2013

Reading Time: 5 minutes

SOP is the acronym for Statement Of Purpose. It is essentially the document that talks to the admissions committee on your behalf and convinces them about why they should pick you over hundreds of other qualified candidates. As an aside, we’ve heard people pronounce this as ‘soap’ and ‘sope’ – it’s neither! Just say S-O-P 🙂

“Please send me a sample SOP! Or some SOP templates if you have any…”

This is a request that our Admissions Consulting team gets at least twice a week, especially a few weeks before important university deadlines when most of you are struggling with writing SOPs. You may have a multitude of questions on your mind when you sit down and look at the blank word document that will become your SOP – Do SOPs have a standard format? Are there any do’s and don’ts I may not be aware of? What tone should I use – Conversational? Professional? Friendly?

In this blog, we aim to give you a clear idea of what colleges expect from an SOP and share the Do’s and Don’ts you must keep in mind while writing SOPs. A good SOP must answer 3 basic questions – Who are you and what is unique about you? What are your career goals? Why this school & program? So, let’s get started on the five things you must do to ensure that you have an SOP that will do justice to your application!

1. Structure your SOP

Your SOP must not consist of long paragraphs with chunks of disconnected information. Ideas must flow smoothly from one to the next. Here’s a sample structure you can follow:

Part 1: The first part should run the reader through your profile. This part can be short but must also be able to effectively highlight your academic/professional learning and achievements.

Part 2: The second part should focus on why you want to do your Master’s. Here, you should talk about your post Master’s goals and how a Master’s program will help you succeed. Why this particular college and program?

Part 3: The third part should talk about what value addition you will add to the college. This part should talk about your extracurricular activities and personal qualities. Pretty much your objective is to tell the college that you are a giver and not just a taker, and make them feel proud of having you as a student and later, an alumnus.

2. Tell a Story!

Imagine the plight of the admissions committee members who have to read hundreds of essays within set deadlines – after a point, most essays begin to sound boring and similar and like replicas of each other! So how do you get yours to stand out?

By telling them a story 🙂

How can you do this? Here are some ways –

• Have a dramatic opening

• Share anecdotes

• Use an active, conversational tone

• Talk about personal perspectives

• Show emotion and influences

Read on for a great example of a computer science engineer trying to tell the admissions committee about his love for financial mathematics:

It was in the summer of 2009 that I read Michael Lewis’ book ‘Liar’s Poker’; this was my first glimpse into the brave new world of finance, and I was fascinated by it. Eager to learn more, I consulted a friend (currently pursuing a degree in Mathematical Finance) who suggested John Hull’s ‘Options, Futures and other Derivatives’. This book was not a light read at all, but with the help of my math professor and some good old determination, I completed it, learning about various financial models employed in investment banks, commercial banks and hedge funds.

A word of caution though – don’t turn your SOP into a soap opera script!

3. Keep it simple – Don’t exhibit your GRE vocabulary!

You wouldn’t want the admissions committee to review your SOP with a dictionary in hand right? 🙂  It is not necessary to exhibit your mastery of vocabulary while writing your SOP. A good GRE score has already done that.

The SOP is your unique voice – so keep it simple and straightforward. Don’t try to use big words or fancy terms just because they seem impressive to you – admission committees are great at spotting fluffy writing that doesn’t sound authentic.

Here’s a thumb rule: can you read out your SOP to a friend without feeling that it’s pretentious or boring? Will your friend be able to understand all of it in just one hearing? If so, you are good to go!

4. Don’t Be Boring!

“I am Rajiv Khandelwal, and I completed my B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Surathkal.”

This is a terrible way to begin your SOP!

First, you are telling them stuff that they already know from your applicant profile. Why would you repeat all of this?

Second, you are missing the chance to make a great impact and tell them new and interesting things about you.

So avoid repetition of ideas. Just because your editor or friends have asked you to write two pages, don’t rehash the same points over and over again. Remember that you are filling information about you elsewhere – on your resume and the applicant profile.

While the resume will give the admissions committee a good idea of the highlights of your profile, the SOP must tell them the HOWs and WHYs – why did you make certain choices? Why do certain things interest you? How did you achieve something? How did you grow as a person and as a professional? These are questions to answer while writing SOPs.

5. Stick to the word limit!

Most universities give you a word limit for your SOP. It is highly recommended that you stick to it. If you overshoot, your SOP maybe cut off beyond the word limit. Even if this doesn’t happen, you may be seen as someone who cannot effectively plan an essay this important.

To answer the obvious next question, what if there is no word limit specified? In that case, stick to 2 pages and a maximum of 750 words. Anything longer than that would no longer be an SOP, it would become a mini-dissertation.
We hope these five tips have given you a good idea of how to write an awesome SOP.

Do you think there are any other best practices to writing SOPs? Leave your comments in the comments section below and our SOP experts will respond!

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