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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Explainer: How to Write an Awesome Personal Statement (SOP)

A Statement of Purpose (SOP), is a reflection of your personality that portrays you in front of the admissions or selection committee as the right candidate for graduate research or graduate teaching assistant position.

An awesome SOP is your chance of impressing the committee by presenting your profile strongly through an essay that describes your personality traits, which are not covered in your academic documents.

Writing an impressive personal statement or statement of purpose is not rocket science but definitely requires efforts, awareness and most importantly, oodles of patience. It is imperative that applicants keep sufficient time to come up with multiple drafts and refine them till an awesome version is eventually obtained.

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What is a Personal Statement

A Statement of Purpose is a long essay in which your motivation and purpose behind applying for a particular graduate programme. The more convinced you are about attending a specific programme, the more persuasively you will be able to write your SOP.

The document seeks to understand the candidate’s life, the motivations for the chosen career path, and his/her goals. Hence, you should also discuss the past incidents that have influenced your career path in a specific domain wherein you aspire to grow by joining a course/college. 

Objective of a Personal Statement

The goal of your Statement of Purpose (SOP) is to outline your suitability to pursue a graduate program. You need to highlight your past technical achievements, current interests and work experience, and future directions you’d like to explore.

Additionally, you need to justify why you’d be a good fit for the program, and how it’ll help you achieve your future goals.

The SOP is the only document in your application that gives you the opportunity to prove that you have something unique that makes you stand out from the crowd. As such, it is the document of your application docket that can hugely determine your admission.

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How long should a statement of purpose be?

A Statement of Purpose should be 1-2 pages long, ideally wrapped in 800-1000 words. However, the length of this document may vary as per university-specific requirements. Some universities have a fixed length and pattern of SOPs required, which is fixed to 500 words only, even 200 words in some cases. Most of the universities accept generic length, which is 800-1000 words, which may go beyond 1000, but not exceed 1200 words, in some cases.

It is generally easy to write a story of your life explaining the importance of each incident in shaping or moulding your character. However, when it comes to defining your SOP within the communicated word limit by some universities, the challenge is to portray your best within limited words. In such cases, it is better to mention the major achievements from every place you have been to such as school, college, office, etc.

Some abroad universities do not require SOP, they rather give you Essay Prompts along with a word limit. In order to learn the importance of word limit in an SOP, you may refer to this Importance of Word Limit in Essay.

What You Should Know Before Writing Your SOP

You must have a clear idea about the programme you intend to pursue. This includes the degree in question, curriculum, research opportunities, faculty, profiles of graduate students, opportunities for career expansion and achieving career goals.

Once you are able to identity all these, you will be able to weave an awesome SOP.


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Writing Your Introductory Paragraph

Your introductory paragraph should describe your general areas of interest (eg. Machine Learning) and your area of specialization (eg. Computer Vision for healthcare). This will route your application to the appropriate faculty and grad students for review. You should also describe why you find these fields exciting.

Sometimes, applicants begin with stories and scenarios that motivated them to choose the said field of study/research. 

Previous Work and Research Experience

The next 2-3 paragraphs of your SOP should be describing your previous projects and internship experience.

Elaborate on your approaches to tackle these projects and describe the skills you acquired and the results (eg. published a paper). Make sure you connect these projects to the area of the interest you described in the introduction.

Prioritize high-impact projects such as bachelor’s thesis, volunteering activities, research experience, and other relevant skills which are most relevant to the course you wish to pursue.

If you’re a student, this is a great opportunity to talk about your thesis or final project. If you’re a working professional, describe how your work is connected to your specific interests.

If you’re switching disciplines (eg. Mech -> Computer Science), your past work may not be as relevant, so dedicate a good portion of your SOP to your current work (eg. Software Development).

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Future Goals

Your SOP should not only be about the skills you have gathered or about the grades and experience you have pulled up. There should be a connection between your past and future goals.

What do you see yourself doing a few years down the line? What are your short- and long-term goals? How are they related to your interests? Describe how going to grad
the school will help you reach them. Talk about the skills you hope to acquire in university.

Note that it’s totally okay to have multiple possible careers in mind! No one expects you to have everything figured out right away. This is why multiple drafts are important.

Program Fit

A very concrete part of your SOP should describe why a particular university and program would be a great match for you.

Describe classes, research, and other specific factors about the university which excite you. Then highlight why you’d be a great fit for the program – how has your undergraduate life and work experience prepared you to excel in grad school? Additionally, the works and research of a particular professor should be stated to show that you really have possible supervisors for your Masters or PhD Thesis already. Connect this with previous paragraphs.

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Things To Avoid In Your SOP

  • Do not repeat information that is already listed somewhere in your application, even though they are laudable achievements
  • Do not talk about controversial issues such as Religion and Politics
  • Outlandish and Unconventional views that are not related to your subject matter should be avoided
  • You are not also expected to talk too much about high school years achievements; they are obsolete and not related directly to the position like undergraduate successes.
  • Do not be generic; your SOP will be reviewed by seasoned examiners who are experienced enough to know you have plagiarized.
  • Do not just focus on achievements, they should be accompanied by motivations, takeaways, and learnings as well as future plans
  • Do not try to project yourself as someone you are not. Do not fake stories and write-ups. At the same time, you do not want to reveal upfront anything negative about your application such as poor grades.

Sample SOP Templates For You

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