Any student aspiring to study abroad would have come across the term ‘Statement of Purpose.’ Yes, we are referring to the ‘SOP’ that every foreign university requires you to submit. Let us see what an SOP is and discuss how to write an effective SOP for higher education.
What is an SOP?
SOP is an essay, usually about 800 to 1000 words long describing why you seek admission in the particular university and what makes you the most suitable candidate among the thousands of other applicants.
Remember, the SOP is the only channel available to the student to connect to the Admission Officers and the university and make a lasting impression on their minds. Many universities require you to follow a specific format in the form of a questionnaire. However, most of them ask for a regular statement of purpose.
What does an SOP usually consist of?
SOP usually consists of the following.
- Your brief background
- Your achievements in brief
- Your career goals
- The career path you have chosen and why
- Personal motivations that led you to choose the career path
- Reasons why you preferred the particular university and course over the others
- Reasons for selecting the country when similar opportunities are available in India (your home country)
- How to propose to put the teachings of the course into use
The SOP is the only document that enables you to correspond directly with the foreign university. It is your only opportunity to prove that you have unique qualities that make you stand out from the crowd. The SOP plays a vital role in determining your admission to the university.
Points to note when you write a winning SOP?
You know the importance of the SOP. We now come to the vital part as to how to write a winning SOP. Remember, the Admission Officers have to peruse thousands of applications. They do not have much time to go through each SOP in detail. Therefore, the trick to writing a winning SOP is to grab the attention of the Admission Officers and hold them for a sufficiently long time. Keep the following points in mind.
- Adhere to the format and word count
- Remember the course you are writing the SOP for
- Keep your personal profile short and crisp
- Do not go deep into the marks you obtained in school and college. The information is already available with them.
- Concentrate on the points that influenced your decision to choose the particular country, university, and course
- Explain why you do not wish to do the same course in India
- Focus on the career prospects the intended course has, both in the foreign country as well as in India
The process of writing a winning SOP
- Prepare a list of all the points you wish to include
Writing an SOP requires a lot of preparation. List out everything you wish to include in the SOP. Make a note of all the details. It should consist of your short-term and long-term goals. Write down everything that comes to your mind. Do not worry about what not to include in the SOP at this stage. We are in the preliminary stage at present. Your SOP will have a lot of editions before you finalize it.
- Have a theme in mind
Your SOP should have a theme. There should be a specific thought process at work. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece should fall into place automatically. Have a correct and cohesive flow of thought. Have a goal in mind and work towards achieving that goal. Your SOP should be like a story. One sentence should lead to the other. You should talk about the incidents in your life that prompted you to take up a particular course in your undergraduate studies. Similarly, you should link to your prospective course by quoting anecdotes. You should be able to highlight the turning point in your life that influenced your decision to pursue higher studies.
- Revisit your list and start pruning down
You have a lot of information on hand now. All these points need not go into your SOP. Sit down and revisit your list. You will find many irrelevant points and duplication of items. Eliminate such things from the list. By now, you should know what goes into the SOP because you have a theme in front of you. Every point you include in the SOP should be consistent with the theme you have in mind. You should also know the points that should not go into the SOP. We shall dwell on the aspects that should and should not go into the SOP at the appropriate time.
Understand that your SOP depends on the course you wish to join. An SOP for MS in Engineering will be different from the SOP for an MBA. Prune the list according to the course and your theme.
- Research about the course and the University
Do your research about the culture, the alumni, the university, the faculty, the courses on offer, the electives, and so on. You need not go very deep into the details for the simple reason that the Admission Officers know more about their university than you do. The point is that you should attempt to understand the culture of the university and should be able to blend with it. However, if you are pursuing your Ph.D., it is better to include the names of the faculty members and the respective on-going research projects. The Admission officers appreciate such details. Include details about the country and its culture. Explain why you would not prefer to do the same course in India. Research the job opportunities available to you after completion of the course, both in India as well as abroad. Be accurate in your assessments of the salary levels and do not feel shy about stating that you would love to serve their country.
- Write, edit, rewrite, edit, and so on.
Write everything you have noted down in the proper format. Go through the draft a couple of times. Remember never to send the first draft of the SOP. It will contain a lot of irrelevant information. Edit the SOP and remove the items you feel unnecessary. It is better to have someone else read your SOP to suggest changes. You get an independent view. You might have missed out various points. Some of your points might be unnecessary. A third person view always helps a lot.
What to include in an SOP
You write an SOP to prove your credentials to the Admission Officer of the university. Your SOP should supply information that they cannot find elsewhere. Therefore, you should be aware of what to include in an SOP.
- Personal and Financial Background – Keep it short
Universities are looking for the extra spark in you, a spark that separates you from the rest. Keep your personal background as short as possible. Focus on how you overcame all odds and completed your graduation. Do not stretch it too much.
- Extracurricular activities
Not everyone in the world is a national or state level performer in their fields. However, you can highlight achievements in your life that showcase your leadership qualities. It can be events like participating in debates, conducting quiz shows, compering events in college, and so on. The universities look at what kind of a leader you are and not whether you are a leader or not.
- Your failures in life
No one is perfect in the world. Of course, no one likes to talk about failures, but including a couple of instances should not do you any harm. It shows the Admission officers your capacity to rebound from such failures and succeed in life. It showcases a different side of your personality. It not only indicates your honesty but also shows your confidence levels in bouncing back from adversities. Admission officers like to see such traits in candidates.
- Work Experience
Not everyone has work experience to write about in the SOP. However, courses like MBA and others require the candidates to have work experience. If you have any work experience, never feel shy to include it in the SOP. Universities always love to have students who have experience in dealing with people and situations. It is an additional qualification.
- Published works
If you have some published works in your name, highlight the same with the relevant web links. The Admission Officers would love to check them out. It is critical for students pursuing research courses. Having work experience and works published in your name can go a long way in clinching the admission.
What not to include in an SOP
Remember, you submit a host of documents to the university. It includes your marksheets, certificates, degrees, diplomas, and so on. This information is available with the Admission officers. Hence, there is no need to include them in the SOP and cause duplication. It is more important to know what not to include in an SOP rather than what to include.
- Your academic accomplishments
Your academic accomplishments are available for all to see. Duplicating them in the SOP is not going to help you. Remember, the Admission Officers want to know things that they do not know about you. Hence, including that you have a centum in Mathematics is not necessary. The Admission Officers know that already.
- Your family history
The Admission Officers want to know more about you and not your family. It does not make any difference to them whether your parents have a royal background or not. They show more concern about the value you bring to the university. Your family history has nothing to do with it. Your family should not find more mention than a single sentence.
- Financial details
You have to prove your financial capability to complete the course. The Universities seek this information through a separate documentation procedure. Repeating the same information on your SOP is not necessary.
- Details of your academic projects
You should mention the projects you did during your academic career. However, you should not go to extreme lengths to explain the project to the Academic Officers. Highlight the critical points like your innovativeness, leadership qualities, and what you learned from the project instead of going into the details. The same logic applies to your work experience.
Seek expert opinion
Show your SOP to someone who has the knack of preparing them. They can point out the details you have missed out. They can also help you weed out unnecessary information.
Other points to note
- Pay attention to the grammar and choice of words.
- Do not use jargon that requires your Admission Officers to refer to the dictionary.
- Use simple words and correct punctuation.
- Never try to bluff your way through the SOP
- Be sincere and precise in your thoughts
- Respect the word count
We have just seen the essential points that you should know while writing a winning SOP. Use it and prepare your SOP with full confidence. If you deserve the admission, no one can stop you from getting it.