Writing a Statement of Purpose is one of the most important steps on your way to applying for an MS. There are countless factors to consider and it is critical that you write a compelling and well-thought-out SOP.
If you’re applying for an MBA, you have an opportunity to bring up things you haven’t written while being interviewed. In an SOP for MS, you have to mention everything that is relevant. You don’t have an interview in which you can give further details during MS applications.
An MS admission decision is going to be made entirely based on your SOP.
If we start off on the mistakes to avoid while writing an SOP, this will need to be an e-book. Or maybe a series of e-books – that’s how many things can go really, really wrong with your MS application.
So, we came up with an all-new technique on things you should do, just for you!
Here’s what we’ll discuss in this article:
- What is an SOP?
- What is the BARN technique for SOP writing?
- How to use the BARN technique to write your SOP
- SOP samples
Let’s get to it, shall we?
What is an SOP?
An SOP is a Statement of Purpose that you are supposed to submit along with your transcripts and other documentation while applying for MS. As the name suggests, a Statement of Purpose is supposed to be a limited-word essay explaining what you want to do, why, and your reasons behind choosing whatever school and course you have chosen to apply to.
SOPs are written as responses to questions that universities pose to prospective students.
There are three types of SOPs, depending on what question they’re answering.
The first type is a personal background SOP. This is typically written as an answer to a question that is aimed at getting to know you better as a person. It may seem frivolous to some but this type of SOP is critical for an Admission Committee to help ensure that they don’t end up with a homogenous batch.
Most universities around the world look to maximize diversity in the classroom in every manner possible. People from the same or similar backgrounds don’t have much to teach each other, but if the batch is filled with people from different cultures, interests, and walks of life, then the whole class can gain from the perspectives every individual provides.
For this reason, a personal background SOP is highly valuable and should not be taken lightly.
The second type is a career goals SOP. In this statement of purpose, you are expected to write in detail about the trajectory you want your career to take. Once again, people with different aims are likelier to have different perspectives on the same topic and will, therefore, stand to learn a lot from each other.
Moreover, the AdCom wants to understand and measure how likely you are to succeed in the field of your choice. Every university’s rankings are affected by the size and caliber of their network of alumni, which is why this type of SOP matters, too.
The third and final type of SOP is one that looks to understand why you’ve selected the courses and universities that you have. The idea here is to figure out whether there is a good match between your expectations and the University’s aims.
What is the BARN Technique for SOP Writing?
No matter what kind of an essay you’re dealing with, there are a few important things you’re expected to write about. The framework to approach every kind of statement of purpose for Master’s remains more or less constant.
The BARN technique is created with all these variants in mind to help you craft the perfect SOP.
Here’s what the acronym stands for:
Once you’ve understood these four steps, for all practical purposes, you know exactly how to write an SOP.
Given the highly subjective nature of SOP questions posed by universities around the world, it’s not easy to create a standardized SOP format that works for everyone. Universities look for originality as a primary factor no matter what question your SOP is answering.
A template-based approach is best avoided. Here’s what you can do instead:
Step #1: Brainstorm
The key to writing a great statement of purpose is to know your purpose.
You have to have an understanding of what direction you want your career to take, why, and how the program you’re applying to will help you do that. When you know your story clearly, you’re free to restructure it, to include or exclude things that strengthen or weaken your case.
For example, let’s say you’re a 27-year-old software engineer and you want to become the VP of your company by the age of 40. You will need to talk about how the MBA program will help you achieve that goal.
You could elaborate on how it can give you the business knowledge you need.
But you will need to be more specific. Don’t say generic things that could apply to any MBA program.
Once you can see what you have to work with, it becomes easier to picture what you can make out of it. So, use this step to make a list of every notable thing you’ve done in your life. Highlight what you’d like to focus on.
We’ll get into more detail about each of these steps in just a bit – for now, all you need to understand is that this step is about putting all your cards on the table.
Step #2: Aim for the AdCom
This is where you go cherry-picking through the facts to pick up what you want to show.
Okay, we know, it sounds really unethical when we put it that way but it really isn’t so bad. The idea here is to step into the shoes of an AdCom and look through your profile to find out what they might like to see. These are the things you’ll want to highlight through your statement of purpose for Masters.
Word of caution: Do not try this right now.
Stepping into the shoes of an AdCom isn’t as simple and straightforward as it sounds. You’ll first need to understand what they’re really looking for, which we will discuss at length later in this article.
For now, let’s proceed to the next step.
Step #3: Reconcile
Now, you have two perspectives on the table: what you want to show and what the AdCom wants to see. More often than not, SOPs tend to be a mish-mash of these two perspectives, resulting in a haphazardly built Statement of Purpose that does not sound convincing.
To avoid sounding over-eager or boastful, which is what you’ll end up doing if you jump to writing your SOP at this point, you need to reconcile these two perspectives.
All you have to do is this:
Consider yourself to be the mediator between the student and the AdCom. Getting this neutral third-person perspective will more or less show you how to write your SOP right then and there.
Now for the final step.
Step #4: Narrate Your Story
At this point, all that’s left is the actual writing of your Statement of Purpose for Masters.
This step is deceptively simple. Once you get down to actually writing your story, you may begin to feel like there’s too much or too little content for you to write about. At that stage, you will need to know some basic rules of creative writing to produce a truly impactful SOP.
We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of the writing process in the next section.
At the moment, a quick recap:
Step #1: Brainstorm – place all your cards on the table and pick out what you want to highlight
Step #2: Aim for the AdCom – consider what the AdComs would like to see in your SOP
Step #3: Reconcile – Strike a balance between what you want to show and what an AdCom would like to see
Setp #4: Narrate Your Story – construct and write your SOP
And finally, it’s time to get down to the details.
How to Use the BARN Technique to Write Winning SOP for Masters
Let’s examine each step of the BARN SOP writing process to understand the nuances involved in each.
As mentioned before, the main purpose of this step is to put all your cards on the table and take stock of everything you have as raw material for your statement of purpose.
Very often, we think about things we’ve done and write down only those which we think are relevant to the point we’re trying to make. The issue here is that most of the time, we don’t know how the things we find ‘irrelevant’ may add to our story.
Think of this as making a nature-based documentary. Your story will emerge from the footage you capture, you can’t orchestrate or go in with a script. Similarly, the story for your SOP will emerge from the journey of your life.
Okay, we admit that sounds way too dramatic. But you get the point, right?
Just note down everything you can think of about yourself. Now is not the time to edit or think about whether things are relevant. For now, you just need to collect the footage. We’ll get to the story weaving later.
Aiming for the AdCom
This is where you step out of your skin.
For the sake of this step, you need to stop being you and try to understand what an AdCom would want. You have to try and get into their shoes, to gain their perspective and think like they would. You want to try and aim your SOP directly at the AdCom, and to do this successfully, you must understand your audience first.
An AdCom represents the University – their interests lie in the furtherance of their program but also in ensuring that their program benefits you.
Accordingly, depending on the essay type, there are some unasked questions that AdComs typically have in mind when they read your answers.
In a personal background SOP, an AdCom will be trying to see if there is anything unique about you that would add to the overall value that the batch gets to benefit from. They’ll be trying to understand whether you’re a trustworthy individual because they’ll have to decide how seriously to take your word based on this.
There are two ways in which you can respond to a career goals SOP question. Here are your options:
- Where you are
- Where you want to go
- How an MS will get you there
- What you want to do
- Why you are best equipped for that
- What are the gaps you seek to address through MS
Either one of these approaches should give you a comprehensive framework based on which you can write your Statement of Purpose.
You now have both sides of the coin before you – everything you’d want an AdCom to know and everything an AdCom will want to know. But there’s a gaping schism between the two and you have to bridge the gap.
In all probability, you’ll be feeling confident enough to start writing your essay now that you know everything you need to cover. Jumping to write your SOP at this point will most probably a waste of your time though.
Writing your SOP right now is like trying to cross a bridge that’s only half-built.
One of the most important aspects of writing a powerful Statement of Purpose is to weave a compelling story. We simply cannot reiterate this enough. The best way you can do this is to try and look at the entire situation as a third person.
A third-person perspective will help you weave together a well-balanced story.
Narrating Your Story
Once you’ve sorted out the right perspective for your story, get down to writing it.
It’s a good idea to sketch out a skeleton of your SOP before you write it out. Prepare an outline using the topics you want to elaborate on. This point of this exercise is to ensure that you’re covering all your bases.
Here’s a set of questions that a good SOP always answers:
For Personal Background SOPs:
- What is unique about me (things that are not covered in a CV)
- Why should you trust me (examples of achievements, personal traits)
For Career Goals SOPs:
- What my short-term goals are
- What my long-term goals are (only mention the impact you want to have – there’s no need to be specific about how you’ll achieve that)
- Why I am passionate about this goal
- Why I am best suited to meet these goals
- Why do I need a Master’s to bridge the gap between where I am and where I want to be?
- Why now?
- Why this specific school/university? (the one where you’re applying)
Now that you have an idea of what your SOP format should look like, you have pretty much everything you need to write a great statement of purpose for Masters.
As a quick demonstration of everything this post describes, here’s a collection of SOP samples.Download this EBook