Looking to apply to graduate school this fall? Here is your free guide crafting a winning Statement of Purpose (SoP) for MS and PhD applications.
Let’s hark back to the glorious times when people asked us to provide a brief introduction of ourselves: our dreams, objectives, and achievements. Most of us can recall events such as giving an introductory speech in a school assembly, vying for captaincy in student elections, or during impromptu personal development sessions by our instructors.
Fast forward to the present, school days are over, and now you’re applying to graduate school. In the journey of navigating through the requirements of graduate school, you stumble upon an essential document (termed Statement of Purpose) that prompts you to provide similar information that you did about yourself in the past.
Why Writing a Winning SoP is Tricky?
Although it appears like an easy document to write on the surface (you simply have to talk about yourself, right?), yet it happens to be one of the most daunting aspects of graduate school applications. Why, though?
That’s because preparing a stellar SoP requires more craft, imagination, and knowledge of the human mind (i.e. your readers) than you might assume. In this article, we equip you with the skills that it takes to come up with a compelling SoP.
What is a Statement of Purpose (SoP)?
First things first, a Statement of Purpose (SoP) is nothing but a more sophisticated document about yourself where you highlight a trilogy of your Purpose, Passion, and Potential (or the three Ps). It is used by admission committees to evaluate a set of qualities about a student: qualities that are likely predictors of success and performance in a research-oriented career.
Format of SoP for MS and PhD
There is no one way to go about writing this document, nor is there one “golden” template that unlocks the doors of your dream university. Just like every human is unique, so should their statements be. However, one must strike a balance between their desire to highlight their uniqueness and individuality in their SoP and the utmost need to adequately discuss their preparation and purpose to attend graduate school.
Merely knowing this wouldn’t help you much, so we offer you a quick tip: ensure that your statement discusses each of the aforesaid Ps in at least one paragraph of the statement.
How to Demonstrate “Potential” in SoP
- Generally, you would be asked to compile your statement within a limit of 1000 words, which can be further chunked into 4-5 paragraphs. It’s up to you how you wish to discuss your preparation for graduate school.
- You could begin your statement by emphasizing your potential, where your potential is substantiated by past achievements.
- You could add more color and depth to these experiences by describing events when you demonstrated creative problem solving, troubleshooting, or invention of a new technique in your academic life.
- Other examples of your past victories may include paper publications, conferences, competitive internships, grant writing, and so on.
- This gives you an opportunity to start with an anecdote, which is a great prompt to seduce your readers to your statement from the start.
How to Demonstrate the “Passion” in SoP
Next in line is your Passion.
- You can think of it as the reason why you’re relentlessly motivated to join this graduate program or why you want to pursue this field of study.
- While it is pretty straightforward to mention that you’re passionate about X or Y, it’s rather difficult to prove your passion using concrete examples.
- Naturally, the reader is an outsider to your life, and adding specific incidents highlighting your passion can go a long way in securing your credibility and appreciation.
- This is your time to describe the times when you went out of the box to gain new lessons in the field of your interest.
- You could talk about how you immersed yourself deeply into studying novel trends in topic X or how you propose to solve the most pressing problems in your domain.
- Or talk about how different phenomena in your field bewilder or intrigue you to pursue research as a career.
- Key point is to read the literature extensively and come up with interesting research directions that depict your genuine investment and passion for the field.
SoP for MS vs SOP for PhD
If you’re applying for a research-oriented MS program, the requirements are much the same. They would like to know if you have had sufficient exposure to research as an undergraduate and whether you’re ready to catapult your skills to the next level.
However, the threshold of success may be relatively lower for a Master’s program because it is a one or two-year-long degree where the financial and temporal investment is lower on the part of the program as compared to a much longer fully-funded PhD program. You might use this insight to add certain qualities about yourself in your PhD SoP.
For instance, success in such a long and extensive program requires you to be resilient, agile, and flexible as an individual. Therefore, you must devote adequate time and attention to highlighting why you believe you have those skills in your PhD SoP.
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How to Demonstrate the “Purpose” in SoP
Finally comes the core of your statement: Purpose. Here, you would discuss your long- and short-term career goals and why this program is the best place for you to achieve those. You must tailor each of your SoP to the department you’re applying to. This includes the following:
- Your research insights should overlap with the work of the existing faculty in the program.
- Your SoP must include research culture and developmental facilities that may be unique to this department.
- You must convince them that you are a valuable addition not only to their family of academics and researchers but also to the family of their core values and mission. For this, you are suggested to rigorously research their website & use the keywords in your SoP.
Pro-Tip: Start with a Hook Statement
Last but not the least, always start your SoP with an impressive hook statement. You must remember that after reading a bevy of statements that appear rather similar on the surface, the readers get desensitized to that piece of document.
One of the few ways to ensure that they spend a considerable amount on your document is by captivating and entrancing them in a way that they cannot move their eyes without reading it all. This is what a hook statement is all about.
You can hook your readers by starting off with:
- an anecdote
- a personal experience
- a solid opinion
- a question (highly recommended)
- an original observation (coated with metaphors)
- or by driving home your purpose and motivation upfront without beating about the bush
How to Come Up with Hook Statements:
Here are a few snippets of how I started mine:
Started with a strong, research-laden observation!
Started with a fervent opinion on the state of research in my field, helping me establish authority and command in terms of my knowledge.
Introduced my reason and desire to win the fellowship without any ado.
Starting with strong hooks ensures that you’re remembered favorably and for long enough through rounds of evaluation. My pro-tip to you would be that you aim to arouse curiosity within the readers that they are compelled to interview you or invite you through the next rounds of selection.
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If you have 100 things to say, selectively select 50 – 70 things to include in the SoP, making them want more. Be a mystery that they would like to, well if not solve, but at least understand from a closer angle!
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