What is a SOP?
Applications for study abroad are a complete package of documents (Resume, Statement of Purpose and Letters of Recommendation) which showcase the applicant’s qualities, marks, interest as well as future plans to the admission committee.
A statement of purpose i.e. a SOP is one of the most important application documents. While the resume and transcripts showcase the current knowledge status of the student, a statement of purpose shows the intent. It is an essay application for students vying for Masters or PhD program in foreign universities. It clearly outlines the academics, interest, future plans as well as the basic information about the university of the student. A well written SOP helps applicants highlight their strengths which would not be possible by the transcripts and resume alone.
How to write a winning SOP! – The basic rule of a statement of purpose is to understand what to include in a SOP and how to write it. Like every individual, the statement of purpose is also unique in a lot many ways. Needless to say, your experiences would be your own, your thoughts and ideas would be your own and your aspirations would be unique and different too. But when it comes to writing them down, there are a few basics that everyone must follow. We look at them in these 5 basic steps on how to write a winning SOP.
A)What to include?
1. Personal/ Financial Background
What students ought to understand that when universities are screening your applications, they are looking for areas that highlight you. If you are a story of beating all odds, do include that in your essay. Again, do not go on and on about how humble your background was. State it, as a matter of fact and focus on how you overcame the same. For instance, if you belong to a rural area, mention it and highlight that in spite of poor facilities you managed.
2.Your extracurricular activities
It does not matter that you are not a national level hero or a state level champion…what is important is to mention the activities you have participated in. Sports is an ideal way to highlight your leadership abilities. So are debates, clubs and other activities. Working individually or more importantly in a team are important aspects of your personality. The universities wish to understand how much of an individual you are and also…what kind of a leader you are, or rather, whether or not you are a leader.
Apart from that, your participation also highlight your ambitious personality and your determinations. It is also an interesting way to lay focus on things you are passionate about.
3. Your Failures
That’s right. In fact, it is a must!
Many students wish to hide behind the trophies they have won and never talk about the failures that have made them what they are. If you flunked a paper or lost a tournament or any personal accidents…don’t be ashamed to talk about them. The idea is to lay stress on your ability to rebound from situations and personal/professional failures. They are interested in knowing how confident you are about winning and more importantly, how positive you are to failures and criticisms.
4.Work Experience – part time, full time, voluntary, etc.
While MBA aspirants are required to provide a mandatory work experience, the same might not be the case with other bachelors or masters courses. But if you have any work experience, even voluntary – you can include it. Do not think that it was only a two month summer job. The point is that you must have learnt something during that experience – the universities would be interested in knowing all about that.
5. Research about the course and the University
You would know a lot about the course and the university. This time around, research about the culture, the alumni and find out how the culture and the success stories of the university chosen fit with the theme you have chosen. This would help you greatly customize your SOP and sync your goals with your chosen path. For research-based programs, it would be almost necessary to include the names of the faculty members and their respective research projects that are currently on-going. Remember, even if it is not categorically asked, it would bode well to do your research about the faculty members who would be taking up the course you are planning to take up. A thorough research about the program is highly appreciated by universities abroad.
B.) What not to include?
Statement of Purpose, or SOP as commonly referred, is easily the most important 1000 words that stand between your application and admission to that dream program. And as important as it may be to know what all you should include in your SOP, what is equally or perhaps more important is to understand what not to include in your SOP.
Often Universities come across a lengthy statement of purpose and yet they reject it. Even when you cannot find one grammatical error, the seemingly excellent SOP would be rejected. And the primary reason is – too much unnecessary information. For instance, just because you might want to talk about your family, does not mean you go on and on to talk about only your family. This is not because the candidate is not aware of what to include…what he/she fail to understand is what not to include.
Here are a few pointers to help you write a winning SOP by focusing on what you should not include:
All your accomplishments!
Yes, we understand that you were an ace in your academics and a star hockey, tennis and volleyball player. We also understand that you were the lead vocalist of your college band and have at least 50 medals and endless recommendations from your teachers, etc. The point is…while your SOP should be a brag sheet, it should be a brag sheet with a substance. You need to pick and choose what to include. Pick a theme and mention the accomplishments that make the most sense to your candidacy.
Your Family History
We say, don’t waste too many precious words to describe your maternal and paternal family to the admission committee. They have no consideration if your forefathers descended from royalty – until that has something to do with the personality that you wish to highlight! They are interested in understanding you as a person – period. Don’t go on and on about how hard working your father is or how your mother was a devoted mom. A small sentence, if absolutely necessary, should be enough to wrap up about your family. And remember – no history!
C) How long should the SOP be? –
The SOP should be in an easy to understand language and direct and to the point. Students should understand the admissions team, which monitors these applications goes through hundreds of applications every day and it is very important to ensure that the SOP is well-structured. Each institution has specific instructions on the length of an SOP. Ideally it should be between 800 and 1200 words that’s roughly about one to two pages in length.
Students should remember not to repeat the information already listed in their CV or mark-sheets; and should focus on why they wish to apply to the course that they have chosen. This is a question that is asked to all MS applicants. Applicants to business programs are usually asked questions about prior work experience if any and their job-roles.
An ideal SOP should be crisp and concise and should attract the reader’s attention giving a clear picture of the applicant’s professional and educational goals and ambitions.