As you prepare to apply for graduate/postgraduate school, one of the most important steps will be to write your statement of purpose (SOP). It is an opportunity for you to explain why you are pursuing a particular program, what attracts you to it specifically, and what makes your background and skills a good match for this particular school.
Your SOP will have to convince the admissions committee that you are a good candidate for their program. Your approach should be similar to your preparation for an interview. It should help the committee get to know you as a person and demonstrate how you would contribute to the course and the university.
But, what is a SOP and how to write one?
A statement of purpose is a brief essay explaining why you want to pursue a program in that particular school. Typically between 500 and 1,000 words in length, it should be succinct yet compelling. Your SOP may be one of the few opportunities that some programs give applicants to help them stand out and get into their program.
Your SOP should demonstrate your personal investment in the program. To show this, you will need to include many of the same skills that are necessary for succeeding in graduate school. These include professionalism, critical thinking, good study habits, demonstrated interest in a particular area and strong communication.
How to Write a SOP – 15 tips to get you started
Weave Your Personal Narrative into Your SOP
You should begin your statement with an explanation about why you want to get your doctorate and what sets this program apart from others that might interest you. Then transition into a narrative about yourself and how you arrived at this point. The narrative should be honest, concise, and include all relevant details.
Remember the Details
Don’t Just Say It, Show It! Think about an experience that demonstrates why you are interested in graduate school (e.g., a research opportunity or leadership position). Describe it in detail, and explain why it is important and what you learned from it.
Avoid the Overused
Your statement of purpose (be if for undergrad or postgrad) should not sound like everyone else’s – this means avoiding overused phrases and buzz words (e.g., “diverse population,” “great opportunity for networking”). You can even look at other statements of purpose on the graduate school’s website or ask your advisor for some examples.
Use Active Verbs
The verbs you choose are important, so think about which ones will best communicate your experience. For example, “I am interested in learning more about…” is better than “I am interested in the field of…”
Choose Whether to Quote Your Undergraduate Grades
Unless you received stellar grades that are far above the average of admitted students, there is no need to mention your undergraduate cumulative GPA or test scores. If your GPA is low, explain why this did not reflect on your academic ability (e.g., illness/injury) and how you have improved.
When it comes to your experience, be honest about what you did and did not do. If you are new to research but really interested in becoming a researcher, then say that! Admissions committee members will appreciate the honesty and candor over someone who seems like they might be trying to hide something.
Spend Time on the Introduction and Conclusion
The introduction sets the tone for your statement, so you should spend a little more time here crafting an effective opening sentence(s). Your conclusion is important because that’s where you have another chance to summarize why you are interested in their program and how they can expect to benefit from your being there.
Convey your enthusiasm
The best way to do this is to show how your background, experiences, interests, and skills are a good match for the specific graduate program you are applying to. Make sure you prove that you’ve done your research—be familiar with the program’s strengths and highlight how they align with your own long-term career goals.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
It’s not just about how to write a SOP but also about editing it to perfection while sending it. Make sure your statement is free of grammatical errors and typos before sending it to anyone! Better yet, have someone else proofread it as well. You’ll want to be confident that you are sending out the best draft possible so avoid being careless. This is your chance to show the admissions committee that you are serious about their program.
Ask Experts You Know for Feedback
A good way to make sure your statement is well-written and highly detailed is to ask someone who has strong writing skills to review it. They might even be able to give you helpful feedback in terms of how to structure your statement or provide you with suggestions for more effective vocabulary.
Keep It Under Two Pages
This might seem obvious, but many students have trouble editing down their drafts. Admissions committees are busy, and they want to get a sense of you in the least amount of time possible. Make sure that you are not only saying what needs to be said, but also doing it concisely.
Don’t Go Overboard With Your Personal Statement
It’s important to remember that the personal statement is not an autobiography. Admissions committee members want to know what motivates you, the experiences that shaped who you are, and your career goals (in detail), but they don’t need every detail of your life story. Pick out the most relevant themes and major events to focus on.
Don’t send your final draft without reading it over one more time because chances are you’ll discover something you want to change or add. Being mindful of what you’ve written is important so that you can make sure no key points are missing from your statement. Make sure your final draft is polished and ready to go!
Personal statements are an opportunity for creative writing, so take advantage of it. Even if you aren’t the most creative person, there are lots of ways to make your statement stand out. For example, you can try anecdotes, quotes, and metaphors to express your thoughts. Most importantly, convey why you are a good fit for this program and how it will help you achieve your career goals.
Show Understanding of the Field
If you are applying to do research at a university, you will likely need to show that you understand what they do and how their research contributes to the world. Make sure you can discuss their work intelligently by taking time to familiarize yourself with it. This might mean reading the most recent papers they published or watching video presentations of their research.
The personal statement is just that—personal. You’ll want to write one draft and then edit it so that you’re saying what you really want to say. Keep your target audience in mind as you write, and remember that different programs will be interested in different things. Aim to create a compelling narrative that shows admissions committee members why you are the best fit for their program.
Did you learn how to write a SOP?
Writing a SOP can be challenging. But if you focus on the right aspects and follow the rules, then it is not that difficult at all. Just make sure that you follow the above tips and you are good to go.
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