How to write a good Statement of Purpose (SOP) for admission to foreign universities

What should be the format of a statement of purpose to get admission to a foreign university? What information is relevant for a statement of purpose? What is the significance of a statement of purpose to study abroad? This article answers these queries, the do's and dont's of an SOP, and gives information and tips for Indian students on how to write a Statement of Purpose for admission to colleges and universities abroad.

Students applying for admissions to reputed educational institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Ivy League Universities and colleges, need to submit a Statement of Purpose, better known as an SOP.

What is a Statement of Purpose?

A Statement of Purpose, known as SOP, is a personal statement of a student which mentions his/her career goals and achievements on the academic front.

Why is it necessary to submit a Statement of Purpose?

A University considers an SOP as a reflection of a student's personality and conveys his attitude and sense of commitment to the particular course of study. The SOP thereby conveys an image of the student which is unique to that particular student and makes him stand out from the other students. In India, marks are generally the first feature which secures your admissions. In foreign Universities, the emphasis is more on the student's personality and test scores are given secondary importance.

What should be the pattern and format of a Statement of Purpose?

  1. Use a good size font, preferably 12pt.
  2. Use a font that is clear, preferably Times New Roman. Avoid cursive, fancy fonts.
  3. Use a uniform font size throughout.
  4. Use a uniform margin throughout. In a Word doc, you will see 'Page Setup' under 'File'. Put in 1" for top and bottom margins, and 1.25" for the left and right margins.
  5. Break up the SOP in about five sections.
  6. Try to limit the SOP to 2 pages.

What should be included in a Statement of Purpose?

These are some pointers that are relevant to an SOP-
  1. Why you are interested in that particular program/course for which you are applying? This is the most important feature which should never be excluded from a SOP.
  2. Explain in what way the selected program is going to help you in future in terms of your career ahead and goals.
  3. Explain what you could contribute to the selected program as an individual.
  4. State your career goals.
  5. You should definitely mention your academic strengths and in what way these strengths are related to your selected program.
  6. Mention your extra-curricular interests (include sports activities) and in what manner they assisted in shaping your personality.
    Note: If you are applying for a Post Graduate program, such activities are considered less important and the SOP should focus more on your vocation.
  7. Mention any internship which you did or any work experience you have had, including voluntary work and social work.

What should not be included in a Statement of Purpose?

Let's now look at the other side of the coin, what may not really be required-
  1. Do not state marks and names of institutes where you studied. These are clearly mentioned in your C.V. and should not be reiterated in the SOP.

  2. Do not use sophisticated words and fancy language. Apparently, some University admission officials are fed up of the word "inculcate"!

  3. Do not write lengthy sentences and put in lengthy paragraphs. Remember the famous acronym often quoted by somebody giving a speech: K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid/silly!). Similarly, for you SOP remember this acronym: K.I.C.S. (Keep it concise and simple).

  4. Do not mention the wrong name of the University. You may laugh and think it is unlikely, but it is true that students have been known to commit this faux pas.

  5. Do not make dishonest statements and do not give fake information.

  6. Do not include boastful statements. By all means mention your achievements as stated above, but avoid blowing your own trumpet.

  7. Most important: Be original. Do not include any copy-pasted text of an SOP from any website or printed matter or take that of your friend. It should be your own, original SOP. By all means, take help to find out grammatical errors or ideas on how to write it, but it must be a self-written one. If the University's admission officials discover that you have copied a statement of purpose sample from the Internet, you have right away ruined your chances of admission not just to the University you have applied to but likely other Universities as well. In some countries, there is a universal system of admission to colleges in that country. SOPs are processed by this system & this system uses software to detect copied SOPs which are lifted from SOPs taken from the Internet.

How to prepare a Statement of Purpose?

  1. Do not wait till the nth hour to prepare your SOP. Start preparing it at least two months ahead of applying for a selected program. For example, if March 2020 is the month when you have to apply for the following year's admissions (2021), you should have already begun drafting your SOP in January itself.
  2. Do not make just one single SOP. Prepare multiple drafts of your SOP before making the final statement of purpose.
  3. Write your SOP with proper structure and avoid poor grammatical text and spelling errors.
  4. Write your SOP in such a manner that it gives a clear focus and is not a vague, generalized statement.
  5. Request somebody with good English skills to go through your SOP in order to detect spelling & grammatical errors. You may have used a spelling-grammar tool to correct mistakes, but may just miss out finding basic errors (such as starting a sentence with a capital letter).
  6. If you are preparing an SOP for different programs at different Universities, you will need to prepare separate SOPs as per the curriculum and your career goals. For example, an SOP for a technical-based program will differ from an SOP for a humanities program. Also, as mentioned elsewhere in this article, preparing different SOPs ensures that you have not mentioned the wrong name of the University!
  7. Reiterating a previous point: A statement of purpose for an undergraduate program differs from that of a statement of purpose for a post-graduate program. The former should generally reflect a more youthful image while the latter is more professional in nature.

All the best!

Article by Vandana
Vandana is based in India with over 15 years experience as a freelance writer. Writing, no doubt, is her primary passion! Having learned the art of blogging from ISC, Vandana is enjoying the thrills of blogging, taking pleasure in sharing information & getting good pageviews at her various blogs.

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