In the previous post on how to get into Ivy League for MS from India, we discussed the importance of SoP in the admission process. In this article, we will look at how to write SoP for US Universities with GRE 320 – 340 scores (including the Ivy League schools).
If the overall profile (GRE, undergraduate GPA, recommendations, etc.) is very strong, you might not need to put too much effort into the SoP; especially if you are targeting US schools with GRE scores between 300 – 320.
But, if you are looking to apply to the US universities with GRE 320 – 340 scores, including the Ivy League schools. Moreover, if you end up with average (or below-par) GPA/GRE scores and want to improve your admission chances to the Top 25 US universities, a well-crafted compelling SoP is a must.
Before moving to the SoP tips for US Universities with GRE 320 – 340 scores, let’s find out the universities that fall within this range.
Top US Universities for GRE 320 – 340 Scores
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Apart from the above schools, the following universities also fall close to the same range. Typically, you will need 314 – 320 in GRE for the following schools.
Top US Universities with Borderline Score of GRE 320 (314 – 320)
- Vanderbilt University
- University of Virginia
- University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- University of Washington
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- University of Rochester
- University of Southern California
- University of Maryland – College Park
- Ohio State University
- Virginia Tech
- UC Irvine
- UC Davis
- UC Santa Barbara
- Texas A&M
- North Carolina State University
- University of Colorado Boulder
- Penn State
- New York University (NYU)
- Case Western Reserve University
- University of Pittsburgh
- University of Florida
- Arizona State University
- University of Notre Dame
- Northeastern University
- University of Delaware
How to Write SoP for Ivy League Universities
SoP Tips for MS Applications at Ivy League and Top 25 US Universities
The general guidelines for writing an SoP remain the same. Here will dig in deeper to make the SoP more tailored for the Ivy League and Elite Universities.
Tip#1: Don’t Repeat Your CV and/or Accomplishments
An important point missed out by most applicants is that even though the SOP is a means to convince the admissions committee of his/her caliber, it should not merely be a boastful compilation of the applicant’s previous achievements. In that case, the SOP ends up being nothing more than a verbose curriculum vitae, when it actually is supposed to be a statement of purpose.
In reality, a lot of the SOPs end up being artifacts that neither help nor hurt the cause of the application. Most SOPs tend to be similar to each other inflow and format and even though the individual facts differ, only rarely do they stand out.
Pro-Tip: Avoid Too Many Technicalities
A really good “personal” statement should definitely talk about projects you’ve worked on, and any publications that resulted and include citations to relevant research articles from the field. But, don’t go overboard with the technicalities.
Ideally, the technical accomplishments should not be more than 25% of your SoP.
The SOP isn’t really the place to go into detail about a specific technical topic. But if you can explain it clearly in a few sentences that would count for something: you know how to communicate.
Can you point people to a publication? (Ideally one you include in your packet.) It might be better to explain why exactly this work is interesting to you and to the field, and more importantly where you plan to take this work (and why). What’s your thinking like?
Pro-Tip: Show Your Potential Through Quantifying Your Statement
“After finishing my final year project, I worked as a mentor in my lab, where I helped some undergrad students to finish their project.” – This is average and boring.
Though it sounds seemingly awesome you have some mentoring experience, it does not give the full picture because the admission committee does not have an idea about the impact that you made.
So you might think of writing this way:
“After finishing my undergraduate project, I had a chance to mentor 2 senior year students from my lab for 6 months. I, initially, worked with them to develop their idea for the senior year project and taught them the required programming skills in Python so that they can write code for instrument control for their project.”
Tip#2: Tell the Purpose of Attending the Particular Program or University
The majority of the SOPs fail to address the purpose part completely or only talk about it in a few sentences in the concluding paragraph. The statement should instead prove the candidate’s worthiness not just through his/her prior work, but with a detailed discussion of why the candidate chose the particular program, what he/she intends to do while pursuing the program and what he/she will do after having gained the education.
Talking about a bright idea that one might have or an impactful long-term project that the applicant wants to work on is more likely to catch the reviewer’s attention (and convince him that higher education will serve a good purpose) than the applicant’s memoirs.
A new research idea or problem that the applicant has been working on (or would like to pursue), or a novel and useful application that he/she intends to develop, etc. are things that will get the committee excited and make them want to admit the candidate to their university.
If I come to Carnegie Mellon, I want to get a thorough grounding in computer science, not only in artificial intelligence, but also in areas such as automata theory and robotics, which provide alternative approaches to the problems of autonomous systems and self-reference. A strong background in computer science will give me a solid basis from which to work in exploring the problems that interest me. In addition, I want to continue moving in an interdisciplinary direction by studying related fields of the humanities.
In particular, I want to develop a firm foundation in philosophy. In short, I want to learn to combine the analytical method of thinking that characterize science and mathematics on one hand and the analogical method of thinking of the humanities on the other into an approach that will be appropriate for studying the problems of intelligence and knowledge representation in cognitive systems.
Tip#3: Build the Emotional Connect through a Story
Although it’s called a Statement of Purpose, it should not be a mere statement.
For example, a novel tells you a story. A beautifully written piece of literature that you will be emotionally connected to. It brings those human feelings out of you and involves you in its storyline.
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You imagine yourself in the place of the narrator/character, and understand why he/she has done that or taken such decisions.
We remember stories much easier than statements.
Tip#4: Be Introspective and Talk in Details
Whatever you say, you have to really dig into the details. Be introspective.
Explain clearly why you love this field, what made you decide that you want to work in this field for the rest of your life, what skills you are trying to amass, why it completes you as a person, etc.
Adcoms want you to think for yourself, as to why you are taking such a life-changing step; why you think this is the best thing that can happen to you; and why you think you truly need it to succeed in life.
Here are a few examples:
My interest in this problem has sprung from a number of sources. My original interest in computer science was sparked by work at the Naval Research Laboratory Connection Machine Facility, which provided me not only with my first taste of the joys of parallel computation but also with exposure to the wide range of work currently done in computer science.
I am free there to dabble in whatever interests me, and my work in numerical analysis, artificial intelligence, and computer graphics have given me a better feel for what research in computer science is really like. Since then, courses in artificial intelligence and machine learning have fostered an interest in the relationship of artificial systems to the world, and whether it is possible for one intelligent being with great gaps in its understanding of its own intelligence to build another one.
Automata theory, especially the work of John Von Neumann and John Holland on self-reproducing automata, has provided a rich source for musings on the extent to which automata can “know” about themselves and their environment.
Interest in problems of language, knowledge representation, and the subjectivity of humans as observers in the world has been stimulated by my work in Germanistics through contact with the work of German and Austrian philosophers, most notably Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. The scope of the (in) ability of people to understand their own cognitive processes has interested me since studying readings of Freud.
“I would fully utilize the resources that the Wallenberg Hall provides, as I am particularly interested in the field of molecular chemistry. The special 24/7 laboratories provided for student research on molecular processing is exactly the kind of opportunity I am looking for, as I could totally see myself working in the labs day and night.”
“I especially want to study under Dr. Mark Adams, as I have been an avid follower and admirer of his work in the field of quantum chemistry, which is not only the field I would choose for my research study, but also is a topic that I am zealous about, personally. I would be more than honoured if I can earn a spot in his research group.”
When they are applying to more than one university, they simply change the relevant names and details. But the rest of the statement is an exact copy.
The admissions committee knows how great their college is; you don’t have to remind them again and again. But, you should let them know what exactly you like about them, that you so badly want to be there. The specifics are really important.
I believe Carnegie Mellon is a good place to study this problem because of its great strengths in Artificial Intelligence, in Computer Science in general, and in Computational Linguistics, in combination with the University of Pittsburgh. An integrated program with a philosophy department is a good sign that questions such as those I would like to pose may be answered within the framework of the graduate program in Computer Science, which may not be the case at some of the other big-name schools.
Tip#5: Specifics about the Faculty Members and Research Work
Why Professor X, and not Professor Y
This is a critical issue that is explicitly needed to be addressed. Most of the MS applicants fail to answer this question precisely in the SoP. More often than not, the majority of applicants apply to multiple universities (even the Adcoms know it). But, without proper research, applicants come up with a generic statement on why this school or why this program.
Do your homework about the present and past research work of the mentioned professor, his published papers and then mention in which project or what type of project you would most like to work on. Relate your skills and experience, and if you have any particular idea for your MS thesis, then write 2–3 lines about it; make sure that you are expressing relevant ideas.
Tip#6: Be Clear with Your Immediate & Long-Term Goals
It’s apparent that your immediate goal is pursuing MS from the university you are applying for. But, you need to write what you intend to do once you get into your dream school.
At the University of California at Berkeley, I want to study solid-state devices and semiconductors. During my first year there, I will take a number of courses relating to the characteristics of solid-state devices. I plan to learn as much as I can about their operation, and especially the factors that limit their performance.
I will study the semiconductor materials that are used to make these devices, and develop an understanding of the physics of their operation. I hope to also be involved with a professor doing research in this area, so I will get some experience in fabricating and testing these devices.
It’s very important that the program you are applying for is critical for your future and success. Try to respond with the industries. positions, or research you plan to pursue while demonstrating that your education is a key part of the plan.
Regarding long-term professional goals, you need to outline what you plan to do after you complete the program as a way of underscoring the importance of your choice to pursue graduate study.
After I have acquired enough educational background, I want to do some independent research into ways of improving the performance of solid-state devices. In an effort to optimize the performance, I will experiment with varying one parameter and then measuring the resulting device characteristics. Through repeated experimentation, I hope to be able to fabricate an improved device and theoretically explain its improvement.
Tip#7: Tie Up Your Extracurriculars with the University Culture and Student Community
Adcom wants to know how you will fit into their student community.
You need to demonstrate that you are going to be a good cultural fit with the university. Make sure you understand the student community and campus culture.
You need to talk about relevant add-on skills and activities. And, again, it should show whether you’ve taken the time to research the program and the university at large.
For example, MIT has got a great Marathon Club. Stanford has got traditions of Fountain Hopping and Steam Tunneling.
You need to inform Adcom about that one unique aspect/characteristic that can make a valuable asset on the campus and to your prospective fellow students.
Tip#8: Address Problems, Failures & Irregularities
If you have a less-than-stellar undergraduate record, a career gap, or there are other aspects where you feel you make be lacking, don’t avoid talking about these gaps.
Admissions teams would rather know why you didn’t achieve top marks in core classes than be left wondering.
Try to make it positive by showing how you persevered or what you learned from a negative experience.
You really should write a unique statement of purpose for every you apply to, but if you copy and paste or do a search and replace for parts, always make sure that you’ve got the right information in every essay.
Tip#9: Get it Proofread and Reviewed By Others
It’s always wise to get the SoP proofread by your Professors, Mentors, Colleagues, Friends, or Relatives. At times, we tend to overlook errors (spelling or grammatical) even after going through them several times. Besides, external perspectives always help.
If needed, seek professional services.
Tip#10: Start Early
It takes a lot of time to come up with the first draft. Then there will be multiple rounds of iteration before you are ready with the final draft. It can take weeks and even a couple of months.
Additionally, you also need to apply well before the application deadline (say 2 – 4 weeks before the application deadline). So, make sure you start well in advance.
Below is a video on What Harvard & Stanford really look for in Personal Essays. Although it’s targeted at MBA applicants, it’s still pretty relevant for the folks looking at MS admissions as well. Watch the 8.5-minute video till the end!
Below are the key tips for writing an SoP for MS at Ivy League and Top Universities:
- reasons why you decided to get a graduate degree
- description of your academic interests
- your undergraduate background, research experience and their relation to the program
- any skills you’ve attained from your lab, exploratory or academic experience
- your future professional goals
- show that you’re self-motivated, resilient, competent and potential
- be honest and positive
- give real examples from your life
- keep your language simple and focused
- avoid passive voice
- focus on details and specifics
- proofread your text and don’t forget to get it reviewed by others
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