If you are applying for a master’s degree at a university abroad, you will be busy preparing your application package over the next couple of months. Organising letters of recommendation, preparing an up-to-date resume, sitting for your GRE/GMAT and writing your Statement of Purpose (SOP) are all equally important components of your application.
Your resume gives the admissions committee an overview of your academic profile, your extracurricular activities, and work and/or volunteer experience. The recommendation letters corroborate what is in your resume and highlight specific qualities and skills. But, the statement of purpose is your voice in this process. It is the only aspect of the application over which you have full control. It is a powerful opportunity for you to tell your story in your own words.
The master’s programme to which you are applying might provide detailed instructions on what should be included in the SOP. But before you start writing, you should be aware that admissions officers want to know:
- What programme do you want to study at graduate school
- Why do you want to study the programme and why that university
- What experience (educational, work, volunteer, project, research) do you have that is related to your area of interest
- What do you intend to do post completing your degree
So how do you go about writing an impactful statement of purpose? Here are some useful guidelines:
Begin the SOP in a way that draws the reader into your story. The opening paragraph could highlight a particular incident or series of events that have helped shape your interest in the field. While some students like to begin their SOP quoting a famous personality, we do not recommend this approach. The desire to use quotes is understandable because they inspire us, but your SOP should be your ideas reflected in your own words.
2) Discuss academic experiences and achievements:
As a graduate student, you will be expected to engage with difficult coursework and research. Discuss your academic experiences. Highlight relevant undergraduate subjects, projects and research experiences that have improved your knowledge of the field.
3) Work experience is important:
Work experience isn’t compulsory for admissions to most programmes though it is valued by many and a requirement in some. This is because applicants who have work experience gain a level of maturity and can manage complex situations that exist outside the domain of education. Discuss the scope of your role in the organisation and how it relates to your goals. Discuss how your work experience fuelled your interest in pursuing your intended postgraduate degree and the technical/soft skills you developed through a job or internship, such as teamwork, leadership and problem-solving. Your challenges and accomplishments and the lessons you learned from these give the admissions team insights into your personality and fit for the programme.
4) Career goals:
Articulate your career goals and talk about all the experiences and activities that have influenced the development of your goals. Highlight the current gaps in your knowledge and/or skill-set that are key to achieving this goal and how the postgraduate programme will help you address these gaps.
5) Relevant extracurricular activities:
Some graduate programmes want applicants who are multi-faceted and have interests beyond academics whether in sport, art, music, contribution to the community, etc. For these programmes, it is important that you can showcase your experiences outside the classroom or workplace.
6) Why university X
The last paragraph of the SOP is generally the WHY US paragraph. Research the programme you are applying to and talk about why you want to study at a particular university. It isn’t enough to talk about the ‘university’s good resources and excellent faculty’. Be specific. Highlight courses and faculty that inspire you, exciting research that caught your attention or clubs/organisations in which you want to be involved.
While it is alright to repurpose some of your SOP material for multiple programmes, please do not copy-paste. Make sure you understand each programme, address their specific questions and customise the presentation of yourself to fit each college’s culture.
Writing a statement of purpose takes time and introspection. Many applicants get caught up preparing for the GRE/GMAT/TOEFL/IELTS exams and then rush through the SOP, ending up with a poorly written statement. An SOP generally requires several drafts. Our advice? Reflect and focus on writing your story so the reader can form a connection with you. And, don’t forget to check your grammar, punctuation and spelling before you submit!
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