5 Points You Must Write in Your SOP
A veritable truth is that we could all better profess our qualities to the faceless academicians in our universities of choice in person. It is another veritable truth that the written statement of purpose (SOP) is the only one-on-one time you will get with these prospective professors. A SOP is a standard requirement for admissions to universities around the world. You are expected to condense your 18 odd-years of accumulated academic and extracurricular achievements into a few hundred words. If that is too small of challenge, you have to somehow display your intellectual maturity and motivation to pursue higher education and have your personality and individuality spring out of every word. No one can define themselves in tiny boxes; no one even fills the ‘About Me’ sections in social networking pages anymore, however, the ability to essentially make a précis of your life is crucial in this world. The SOP as an opportunity to make a valuable first impression, and like all first impressions, it ought to be short and sweet but packing a punch – by making every word count. Here are a few guidelines for your perusal while you are writing and re-writing that statement of yours:
Step 1: Brainstorming – Knowing Yourself
- As you prepare to effectively sell yourself, it is crucial to know yourself. Sit down and list your academic and extracurricular achievements, your skills and your hobbies. Wherever you can, validate your hobbies with some milestones – be it a specific expedition you partook in or an article you wrote.
- Now, think of your future academic life. What influenced you to pursue your degree of choice? Identify the decisions you made in the past that show a pattern of upward intellectual development in your field of choice throughout the years.
- After you’ve listed all you could – head towards knowing more about your department and university. In their websites alone you should find a lot of information about their specific requirements – for example a mathematical ability for economics degrees. It might help to peruse through works and papers of your potential professors. This should introduce you to developments in your field of study as well as the current issues being explored. If you genuinely enjoyed their work, you might even state it in your essay, but be cautious to be truthful, disingenuous statements will shine through.
- The best way to convince the admissions committee you’re ready for a PHD is to talk research. Tell them your ideas, your vision for your area, what trends do you see in the future, and how do you capitalize on them? What are the problems that you have already tried to tackle, and how did you succeed/fail? This is where an applicant can show that they have the clarity of thought to think hard about a real problem, and show the reasoning skills. It does not matter whether the ideas succeed or not, or if the thoughts are not realistic for current research. What matters is that the student showed their logical reasoning skills, and their passion for research at the same time.
Step 2: Theme – Setting a theme to show consistency in thought
- Now reassemble your points into paragraphs. These paragraphs may be just in bullet points.
- Each paragraph should deal with one central idea. This idea is introduced early in a topic sentence, telling the reader what to expect in the paragraph. Several ideas in one paragraph will only confuse the reader. If the central idea has several supporting points, break it into several paragraphs rather than having one very long paragraph.
- Most points can be made without a lot of necessary background. So for the benefit of brevity and clarity, make sure to put similar achievements in one paragraph. You might have performed exceedingly well in both badminton and squash but they don’t need separate paragraphs. The idea is to show how these help in the development of your personality and how they make contribute to your primary aim – performing well in your field of study.
- While you are arranging your paragraphs in sequential order, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon your unique selling point (USP). Let that USP be the underlying theme of your essay. For example, you might find that all your interests and achievements point towards a quality of leadership – show how this USP was prevalent in all the tasks you undertook and how your personal development as an individual took place while you developed your USP. Note that this USP must not be explicitly stated; it should be inferred by the examples you have stated.
Step 3: The Body – Getting it all down in sentences
- You must structure the sequence of ideas carefully and logically. You are mapping a course, leading the reader through the points that support your claim. You do not want to confuse the reader. Transitions between paragraphs link them together logically. These “connecting sentences” keep the essay flowing smoothly.
- You should now put all your paragraphs into sentences – keeping in mind the rule of keeping it short and sweet but packing a punch.
- Provide evidence wherever you can – convince readers of the truth and accuracy of your ideas. If you successfully show how your skills shone through various incidents, the readers will find themselves agreeing with your conclusion.
- The latter paragraphs should ideally be aimed at the future. Answering questions such as –What are my current academic interests? What do I hope to learn in the university? How will my skills help me in achieving my goals in university? Why do you think that university will help you achieve your goals?
Step 4: Introduction & Conclusion – Tying it all up
- The introduction is essential to the essay. It sets the tone for the reader and the writer. However, it continues to be the most difficult barrier to cross.
- The advice is simple but difficult – be yourself. Let your personality shine through that introduction. It is perhaps the only point in your essay where you facts and examples won’t be vying for word space in your paragraph. Remember to keep it within five lines at most. Most importantly, only refer to yourself in a positive light.
- The conclusion should not introduce any new point. It should sum up your development over the years. If you want to mention a few bumps along the road then do so, but only if you’ve overcome the obstacles and emerged out of it a hero.
Step 5: RRE– “Nothing good was ever written, it was always re-written”
- Revise through your entire work again and again. You will more often than not find yourselves erring in the part of grammar, at the very least you will end up rethinking a paragraph or two.
- Review, or don’t not forget to give it to others you trust with objectivity and inputs. Now is the time to see if you have adhered to the word limit.
- Edit, since it is unlikely that we hit the jackpot with the first draft.
Above all, be confident and immodest about your abilities, because now is the time to truly appreciate yourself for the person you’ve become round the globe.