If a university asks for a statement of purpose as part of your application, seize it as an opportunity. Your transcripts and certificates say a lot about your academic performance, extracurricular track record, and work experience. But this essay can set you apart as a person and candidate. After all, you’re more than your grades and work experience. Knowing how to write a statement of purpose (SOP) lets your university get to know you as an individual.
Admissions committees are looking through thousands of applications every intake. So, a generic essay isn’t going to cut it. And you shouldn’t be trying to write something formulaic either. Your SOP gives you the prime opportunity to highlight why you’re the right choice for the university, out of hundreds if not thousands of candidates.
How to Write a Statement of Purpose (SOP)
Before you can write one, you’ll need to know what a statement of purpose is. Also known as a statement of intent, this document generally asks you to write about your motivations and goals when applying for a program. Some universities give you a specific prompt to write about. Others ask for a general write-up detailing why you’re applying for this program and university, and why you’re the right candidate.
The selection committee is going through sheaves of grades and extracurriculars. What can you say about yourself, your motivations, experience, and so on, that paints a more accurate image of you than a transcript can?
By its very nature, there’s no fixed “formula” for writing a statement of purpose. You’re supposed to set yourself apart, not follow a fixed method. There are, however, some rules of thumb and best practices on how to write a good statement of purpose.
A statement of purpose usually isn’t very long. Universities can ask for a piece that’s between 500 to 1000 words. In some cases, the word limit may be as short as 200 words.
The word limits can be challenging. You’ll need to stay focused, succinct, and precise. How can you write a statement of purpose (SOP) to spotlight why you’re the best candidate for the university under these constraints?
Statement of Purpose Do’s
Make Sure Your Writing is Completely Error-Free
Check your SOP thoroughly for grammar, typos, word choice, and so on. You’re going to be doing a lot of writing in university. Your SOP reflects your communication ability and writing quality more accurately than your English test scores.
Don’t start writing right away, and don’t go with your first idea. Jot down a couple of ideas as they come to you. Ask your family and friends for others. If your program gives you a specific prompt, build your ideas from this. Filter through your ideas and choose the one that best helps you demonstrate your personality, skills, potential, and motivation.
Research Your Program and School Thoroughly
The statement of purpose isn’t just about what you’ve already done, are doing, and are planning to do. It’s also about why this program is the right place for you. What about this program or school makes it the perfect match for you? What is it about you that makes you the perfect match for the school? Universities often detail what they’re looking for in candidates for specific programs. How well do you match the profile of the perfect candidate?
Review, Rewrite, Revise
Your SOP might be the determining factor for your acceptance into the program. So, it needs to be the strongest representation of you possible. Don’t just rely on your first draft. Review it. Ask for feedback from teachers and lecturers. Since they’re likely to have read similar SOPs, they can point out what you’re doing right and what you can improve. Rewrite, if you need to. When submitting your application package, you want to feel confident that you put forward the best representation of yourself.
With a limited number of words at your disposal, you can’t exactly write a full autobiography. Narrow down your most pertinent points and develop these in your essay. Stick to a single point per paragraph and build on it. You might have an achievement or experience you’re especially proud of that you want to discuss. But if this has nothing to do with your application or the program, hold off on writing about it. Shoehorning unrelated topics will disrupt the flow of your SOP.
Use the Appropriate Tone and Language
Don’t use informal or overly familiar language, colloquialisms, or slang. Keep your tone confident and positive, but not excitable and casual.
Statement of Purpose Don’ts
List All Your Grades and Achievements
Your application already includes your résumé and transcripts. All your achievements and grades are already there. Rehashing them in your statement of purpose doesn’t add anything new to the application. Pick out the achievements most relevant to the profile you’re presenting and elaborate on these. What do these say about you?
When you’re writing, use the active voice. Many great writers fall into the habit of using the passive voice, but this can hurt your writing. You want to present yourself as someone with initiative, purpose, ambition. Write as an active participant in your life and experiences, rather than a passive observer to whom things happen.
Get Too Descriptive
Remember, you’ll usually have a page and a half – at most two – for your SOP. Even though you might be an excellent writer, don’t get too verbose. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” as Shakespeare once aptly observed. So, stay focused and concise. The key is finding a healthy balance between engaging and precise writing. You need to both show a good grasp of vocabulary and grammar and avoid making it too complicated to read.
Copy Sample Essays
Looking through statement of purpose examples is a great way to get an idea of what yours should look like. You get a good idea of the tone, structure, and narrative style of good SOPs. But don’t make the mistake of trying to mould your SOP to ones you like or find impressive. If you overly rely on sample SOPs, you might end up constraining yourself to match yours to them. And this defeats the purpose since the SOP is supposed to uniquely represent you. Use statement of purpose examples to get an idea of how to structure your piece and what type of language to use.
Structuring Your Statement of Purpose (SOP)
Again, there’s no one fixed formula on how to write a good statement of purpose. Rather, there are basic guidelines to follow to frame your SOP. This gives you the room to express yourself in a way unique to you, while also hitting the beats the selection committee is looking for.
To help you understand how to write a statement of purpose (SOP), here is a general breakdown of the questions to answer.
1. Who You Are, and What Are Your Goals for this Program?
Generally, you don’t have to state your identity in your SOP. Your application package already contains these details. Unless the application requirements ask you to, you don’t need to start by identifying yourself.
Rather, introduce your background, interests, and area of study. And tie these to the program you’re applying for. For example, say you’re applying for veterinary medicine. You might want to discuss any experience you’ve had working in animal shelters, rather than, say, volunteering in soup kitchens.
What does the program or university say about the types of candidates they’re looking for? Frame your introduction along the lines of how you match that profile.
For instance, are you writing a statement of purpose for a master’s program in veterinary medicine? Talk about your medical degree courses rather than, say, the literature course you took. Are you writing a statement of purpose for a PhD program? Talk about the research you conducted and/or published during graduate studies rather than focusing on your time as a school athlete. You can talk about experiences not directly related to the program, but make sure they’re relevant. For example, did you participate in matches to raise funds or awareness for shelters? Does your time as an athlete display your leadership and teamwork? How is this relevant to the program?
4. Why Is This Program the Right Match for You?
Out of thousands of degrees in hundreds of universities, why this program? Touch on what sparked your interest in this field. Remember, rather than telling the selection committee about your skills and qualities, you want to show them. Rather than saying you’re passionate about animal welfare, for example, demonstrate this with your writing.
Let’s continue with the veterinary medicine example. Whatexperiences shaped your desire to help animals? How did your study background help you with these experiences? Perhaps you’ve always found biology interesting. Maybe you realized you had a passion for helping animals after working with a vet at an animal shelter. Discuss meaningful experiences that influenced your decision to apply for this program. You want the selection committee to see your ability to think critically, insightfully, and creatively.
Remember to stay relevant to the program you’re applying for. You might have lots of achievements and awards to your name. But does winning a spelling bee qualify you for becoming a vet? No, right? Discuss instead a time you ran a fundraiser for a shelter, trained in first aid, or looked after an unwell animal.
Think about your experiences – in school, at work, in internships, community service, etc., - that display your passion and motivation for your area of study. Tie these to the goals and motivations you discussed in your introduction. Again, look at what the program and university offer specifically. How will this program help move you a step closer to these goals?
4. Why are You the Right Match for This Program?
What do you bring to the table that the thousands of other candidates don’t? Skew close to what the program outlines it looks for in its students. Then, look over your experiences and achievements. Which of these display the attributes the school is looking for in you?
Again, show the selection committee that you have these attributes, rather than tell them. Instead of saying you’re passionate, talk about a project that meant a lot to you that you carried out successfully. This shows the selection committee that you’re a person who takes initiative. You’re driven and resourceful. And don’t be afraid to talk about failures too. Demonstrate that you learned from them and didn’t let mistakes hold you back. This shows selection committees that you’re a resilient, determined, and active learner.
Getting an acceptance letter from a university is a two-way deal. You get to study a program that helps you accomplish your goals. And the university enjoys a boost in reputation and ranking in things like research and graduate employability thanks to your hard work and contributions to their community. So, you need to make it clear what you have to offer to the school.
Discuss your work experience and previous studies within this context too. Is your statement of purpose for graduate school? Discuss any previous research you conducted or published. What drove you to take those courses and conduct those studies? What did you discover about yourself and the field? How did that encourage you to apply for this program? Selection committees can read a lot about you from in between the lines of these accounts.
4. What Are Your Goals for the Future?
You’ve talked about the past and the present. What about the future? How will what you learn through this program help you achieve your long-term goals?
Selection committees lean more in favour of candidates who display a clear idea for their future aspirations. What career path are you aspiring for? What do you wish to contribute to society, or what difference do you want to make, with this career path? Display a clear and realistic vision of the future and a plan on how to get there. This tells the committee that you’re driven and determined, a strategic and long-term thinker. Mention how this program is the perfect launchpad to get you to meet those career goals. Again, using the veterinary medicine example, say your long-term goal is to establish a veterinary clinic for shelter animals. Tie this to the valuable hands-on experience you’ll gain through your university’s work placements, incubator zones, or science labs.
5. Writing Your Conclusion
Round off your statement by sharing your excitement and eagerness for the opportunity to study at this school. Don’t drag your conclusion on for too long but don’t end it abruptly, either.
Final Thoughts on How to Write a Statement of Purpose (SOP)
Your SOP has the potential to be the deciding factor between a university choosing you over other applicants. So, it’s definitely worth spending time and effort on. It may not be easy to condense your personality, ability, and potential into a couple hundred words. But knowing how to write a statement of purpose (SOP) already says a lot about you to selection committees. Brainstorm, plan, write, revise. Get the feedback and critique of your teachers and lecturers, and your family and friends. The people who know you best might help point out things you didn’t think to touch on. Stay focused and relevant when writing. Write about yourself and your experiences, in a positive but not overly familiar tone. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward when sending that application in!