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How to write a SOP (Statement of Purpose)

“A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder”. This is a famous quote by Thomas Caryle about the important of goal in life. This quote, modified for graduate school admissions reads “A student without a good statement of purpose is like an application with no intent”. Intent matters to graduate school admission officers to different extents.

Some graduate schools pay a lot of attention to a student’s statement of purpose, as it is an indicator of their motivation. However, most graduate schools use the statement of purpose as a tiebreaker between two students with the same qualifications. In the top universities where the top students apply from all over the world, the statement of purpose becomes a little more important; as most students applying have very strong qualifications. It becomes very difficult to differentiate between several well qualified students. A Statement of Purpose that makes you stand out from the pack can go a long way to sealing your admission in such a scenario. However, be sure that the statement of purpose will not help you much if the rest of your application is not as good as the competition.

Starting Off

That being said, the statement of purpose is the one thing that you can control in the application. You have already taken the GRE and there is no time to take it again. You cannot improve your GPA at this point; and your letters of recommendation are done. Given that most students produce the same type of statement of purpose and mass mail this to multiple universities; it is a good opportunity to make your application stand out. Here are a few steps you can take before you make your statement of purpose:

  • Understand the goal of the Graduate School Program:
    • Is the program geared towards producing entrepreneurs? Is it more towards getting people into high tech research? Or is it a combination of both? Look up the graduate school’s website and see what previous students have done and achieved. Make sure that your purpose (in the statement of purpose) is aligned with the purpose of the Graduate School Program.
  • Look up successful graduates of the program
    • You can do a LinkedIn search of the graduate school program and look at people who have graduated from this program 5-10 years ago. Look at what they have accomplishments. These students have made the program proud. If your goals are aligned, you can mention in the statement of purpose that you want to achieve more than what these students have achieved.
  • Develop a vision of how you want to change the world and your industry after you graduate from this school.
  • Your Previous Experience
    • What aspects of your previous experience align with the goals of the organization. If you have completed a project in green technology during your Bachelors’ degree, and the goal of your graduate program is to develop new technology; you can mention that you want to “expand your experience in green technology; and significantly reduce greenhouse emissions through advanced technology developed using the infrastructure of the graduate program”. If you do not have relevant previous experience in the field, focus on your previous accomplishments in a different field. Tell me that your history of accomplishments will be of great benefit to the program; and then write about your vision to change the industry and the world.
  • Other Students:
    • If you have never done any research before, talk to people who have done it before so you have a good understanding of what research entails. A lot of students display their naivete in their understanding of what research is in their statement of purpose.

At this point, do not look up Sample statement of purpose essays only. Thousands of students look at these same essays and re-phrasing these essays will not help you much.

First Draft

Now, write a quick statement of purpose using all the research you just completed. Don’t spend more than 3 hours at this point. After this is done, go through your statement of purpose and make sure the following points are followed:

  • Your vision/motivation is clearly highlighted in the essay.
  • Your accomplishments mentioned relate to your vision. Any extra accomplishments can be left out.
  • You come across as humble and willing to learn. A know-it-all attitude can be a turn off for most professors.
  • Make sure that your understanding of the research area is revealed. Make sure you mention your ideas for the field, what are the trends you see in the future and how you will capitalize on them. What are the other hard problems you have solved in this area?

Optimizing SOP

Now, at this point, look up sample statement of purpose essays in your field and see how yours compares with them. If you see anything that you have left out, add it in now.

A good statement of purpose essay that I really liked is the one below for MIT admission:

Finalize SOP

At this point, you have finalized the content in your application. Now make sure you proofread it and have several other native English speakers proofread it as well. There are several good editors who work at Upwork and Freelancer, who can do it for you for a fee. The last step is also very important as a bad spelling mistake or grammatical error can leave a bad impression on the admissions committee.

Now, you are ready to submit your statement of purpose application. Best of luck



Abhishek Kumar

p.s. If you liked this post, you’ll definitely like our SOP checklist. This is a checklist of items that it is recommended you complete before you start on your SOP. It will help you upgrade your SOP to the next level. You can get it for free here.