A well structured Statement of Purpose can help increase your chances of admission into your dream university, says overseas education consultant Syam Chandra.
The Statement of Purpose (SOP) is a vital tool in your application toolset.
In all likelihood, it is the first thing that will be read by an admissions counsellor!
It aims to set an initial impression of who you are; who you want to be; and -- perhaps most importantly -- how the programme that you are applying for will help you get there.
In this article, I will share the strategies that will help you land a strong and favourable first impression!
What is an SOP?
Many students are often clueless about what exactly they are supposed to put in an SOP.
Unlike an application essay, which comes with a well-defined prompt, an SOP has a much looser format.
It might help to see it as a cover letter for your application.
However, always remember that just like the relationship between a cover letter and a resume, an excellent SOP is not useful without depth -- be it in terms of academics, test scores and relevant extra-curricular activities.
That cautionary note put aside, let us begin breaking down what a typical SOP should contain.
The primary content in an SOP should revolve around the reasons for which the programme and/or school you are applying to should accept you.
It's vital to explain how your past academic credentials relate to what you are applying for.
Provide all relevant experience details -- including past jobs and extra-curricular activities -- you might have, as well as evidence of important skills (e.g. certifications).
All of this hints at your suitability for the programme.
Note that this is not the same as simply listing down all your accomplishments, as one might see in a CV.
Instead, you must view yourself through the very specific scope of what you are applying for.
Ask yourself the question: what makes you a good candidate for that particular field?
It is not to say that all your hobbies, interests and achievements in other areas should not be included in your SOP.
However, given the limited attention span of readers, it is important to focus on your most relevant qualities.
In a nutshell, the primary content of your SOP should revolve around identifying the specific characteristics -- including your work experience, academic achievements and extra-curricular activities --you possess that makes you the ideal candidate for the programme/school you are applying to.
Once you have master the art to write the primary content, you will be able to use it in a variety of different situations -- like drafting SOPs for different schools and programmes.
However, the secondary content that needs to be included in the SOP cannot be used in a similar fashion, as it must be highly customised to one’s application.
Why did you pick a particular school or programme?
What are some examples of courses that you wish to take and why?
Are there any specific reasons you would like to live for an extended period of time in that city or country?
These are all questions that can be answered in your SOP, which will provide counsellors with an understanding that your SOP is not a mere 'cut and paste job' from the Internet.
It also lets you leave a more personal impression on the reader.
Now that you have a fair understanding of the key points to be included in your SOP, let us look at some steps you should take in order to write one.
Structure and format
The crucial part here is the preparation.
Just like a chef who first lays out all the ingredients required in a dish before beginning to cook it, you must outline everything that you want to include, and provide a framework for your SOP.
This step includes researching on the programme/school that you are applying to; reading any available material you might have on the criteria and qualifications that they are looking for in the ideal candidate; and making a list of your personal qualifications that best matches their expectations.
After you have constructed this framework, draft the SOP, and get feedback on it from people you trust to critique you properly.
The structure of an SOP is similar to that of an essay, and it usually has an impressive introduction, and a conclusion that summarises all the important points you have made.
Proof read your SOP carefully to avoid any spelling and grammatical errors. These errors will reflect poorly on your application.
Finally, remember to follow the specific technical rules of the SOP you are writing, which normally include a character limit or a word count.
To conclude, an SOP is about presenting a concise, relevant and attractive portrait of yourself by presenting the various qualities you possess, and the honest (and ideally interesting) reasons you have for applying to the programme/school.
Lead image used for representational purposes only. Image: Francisco Osorio/Creative Commons
The author Syam Chandra is consultant at Trans Web Global, an international admissions counselling company.