What to Include in a SOP

Writing a Statement of Purpose, or the essays, is perhaps the biggest challenge for students applying to universities abroad. There are many reasons for the same. While language in itself can be a challenge, there are bigger worries that cloud a students’ mind when writing the application essays. With years of experience in helping hundreds of students with their applications, I present a few tips on what elements should an applicant include in his/her statement of purpose and how to mould it in the manner that would ensure that his application stands out.

To begin with, this is not about the basic dos and don’ts of writing a statement of purpose. You must have heard from endless people how very important your essay is. And there is nothing denying that. Arguably, an essay/ statement of purpose is perhaps the only aspect of the Application that distinguishes you from the crowd. A personal statement, lets you showcase how you are different from others, how you are more than your scores and how you would be an ideal candidate and best suited for their university/ college. But we all know that. What we do not know is what all to include in the statement of purpose to make it unique.

Few examples of what students at different levels can and sometimes should include in their SOPs

1. Personal/ Financial Background
What students ought to understand that when universities are screening your applications, they are looking for areas that highlight you. If you are a story of beating all odds, do include that in your essay. Again, do not go on and on about how humble your background was. State it, as a matter of fact and focus on how you overcame the same. For instance, if you belong to a rural area, mention it and highlight that in spite of poor facilities you managed.

2. Your extracurricular activities
It does not matter that you are not a national level hero or a state level champion…what is important is to mention the activities you have participated in. Sports is an ideal way to highlight your leadership abilities. So are debates, clubs and other activities. Working individually or more importantly in a team are important aspects of your personality. The universities wish to understand how much of an individual you are and also…what kind of a leader you are, or rather, whether or not you are a leader.

Apart from that, your participations also highlight your ambitious personality and your determinations. It is also an interesting way to lay focus on things you are passionate about.

3. Your Failures

That’s right. In fact, it is a must!

Many students wish to hide behind the trophies they have won and never talk about the failures that have made them what they are. If you flunked a paper or lost a tournament or any personal accidents…don’t be ashamed to talk about them. The idea is to lay stress on your ability to rebound from situations and personal/professional failures. They are interested in knowing how confident you are about winning and more importantly, how positive you are to failures and criticisms.

4. Work Experience – part time, full time, voluntary, etc.

While MBA aspirants are required to provide a mandatory work experience, the same might not be the case with other bachelors or masters courses. But if you have any work experience, even voluntary – you can include it. Do not think that it was only a two month summer job. The point is that you must have learnt something during that experience – the universities would be interested in knowing all about that.

5. Published works, papers submitted, etc.
Needless to say, this is an extremely important aspect for students applying for masters and doctorate programs but before the undergraduate students pass this point, wait and think. Have you never submitted a story for a magazine? Have you worked on a research project during your 11th or 12th standard? Did you submit a research report for that? Yes, you did. If it was an important aspect and you managed to get some appreciation – albeit internal, include that. That talks about your ability to think scientifically and work towards a goal in a dedicated manner.

Now that you know what all you can talk about apart from your academics and your job profiles, maybe you are buzzing to start writing that essay. So before you pick up the pen and start jotting down, remember, the key to a good essay is not including everything but balance. You can say so much in so little words. Keep it short, keep it simple and do it for a reason. Even if you are talking about saving a puppy on the street or helping your area’s residents understand water saving techniques…the essence of your essay should be your purpose in life. How motivated you are about achieving your aims and what are the things that matter to you.

My advice, start jotting down the things that come into your mind and start by ranking them in order of their importance to you, and then to the chosen career path. List down what qualities they highlight about you and then start eliminating. This would help you understand what has lead you to the decision of studying abroad. Once you understand your purpose…simply state it!


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