What is a Statement of Purpose (SOP)?
An SOP is a well-written collection of stories blended into one that reflects who you are in a variety of aspects. Every university application in the UK as well as in many other countries requires one. When applying to a university, every candidate getting past the initial screening has great test scores and academic achievements. The SOP is the place where you can distinguish yourself from the crowd. It gives you an opportunity to show your dream university who you are beyond your grades and convince them to offer you a place.
How to write a Great SOP?
The key to writing a great SOP is understanding what the admission committee is looking for in a candidate.
Despite the idea of not judging a book by its cover, the first thing anyone reading your SOP will notice is your writing skills. The most basic thing you can do is to make sure you don't have any spelling or grammatical errors. Grammarly is an excellent tool you must have in your arsenal to help you with writing your SOP as well as other official stuff like emails. Click here to use Grammarly.
The next thing is to highlight what makes you different from the other candidates. Tell your story and your unique experiences. Talk about you as a person and your personality traits and characteristics that make you different from others. Also, be sure to mention how these experiences and traits make you a good fit at the university to which you are applying.
Your CV gives the admission committee a good idea about your academic and work experiences. But what it does not do is highlight your achievements in a way that is relatable on a personal level. You can talk about the efforts that went in behind the scene that helped you achieve something or the things that inspired you to do it. These are transferable skills that demonstrate your ability to put in the work and adapt yourself to achieve things in life.
Finally, it is important to show that you are familiar with the university and the facilities they offer. As much as you want to show that you are a good candidate for the university, you should also be able to show that the is the right university for you.
Now that you know what universities look for in an SOP, you can sit down and start with your first draft. Oh yes, the first draft! This is the one where you write down all your achievements in life, all the things you think are relevant and surprise surprise you end up writing a 6-page document of over 4000 words.
Don't worry that's a good start. One of the best pieces of advice I got while writing my SOP was to write everything you want, cut it down to half, and then again and the one you have is your final draft.
One thing a lot of people don't know is how long your SOP should be. There is no strict word limit, but the acceptable standard is between 700 and 1000 words and it should not be more than 2 pages.
Your SOP should not be laborious to read. It should have a good flow and the person reading it should feel like they are reading a story. Think of it as an opportunity to write a 2-page best-selling autobiography.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while you want to let the admission committee know that you have a lot of achievements, don't get carried away. Don't make it sound like you have achieved everything you want in your life. This leaves no room for future growth. After all, the purpose of going to a university is to unlock new opportunities for growth in your personal and professional life.
Mention your aspirations and how you think choosing the university and the course you are applying to will help you get there. This shows that while you are a person who has achieved a lot, you still have the drive the achieve more and your SOP should convince the admission committee that the university you are applying to is best aligned to achieving your aspirations.
Sometimes universities will mention certain application questions they want to be answered, be sure to integrate those well into your SOP.
It goes without saying that it is a terrible idea to copy someone else's SOP. Not only does it not give an accurate representation of who you are, but universities also have software to detect plagiarism. Plagiarism is one of the biggest sins in academia and you don't want your first impression to be that of a plagiarist.
That being said, it does not hurt to have an idea of what an SOP looks like and it will help get inspiration to write your own. So, I'm sharing the SOP that got me into the University of Leeds for an MSc in Management:
The desire to push forward and expand the horizons of my knowledge and skills is knitted into my very being by my parents. My father who decided to obtain an MBA much later in his career and my mother who learned to drive at the age of 45 have always strived to stretch the boundaries and believed in learning new things in life. To pursue a post-graduate degree is therefore a natural step forward in living this belief. Interestingly, there have been diverse situations in my life which steered clear of my aspiration to take up this stream of study.
While I was in primary school, my father used to pick me up after school hours and I would wait at his office while he finished the day’s work before we went home. At the time he was the Systems Manager at Indian Bank and had an elegant air-conditioned office and was surrounded by high-end computers. That is perhaps my earliest memory of a person in a managerial role and I was fascinated by the idea. Another distinct childhood memory is the summer holidays, playing monopoly with my cousins. While they saw it as nothing more than a fortuitous dice game, for me it was a virtual war room. I focused on minimizing the reliance on the numbers that came on top each time the dice were rolled. The initial round was the ideal time to observe and mentally make a note of the slots which could be the most visited ones in the rounds to come. This helped me plan my ventures such as the construction of houses and hotels. The plan was never to dominate the game in terms of ownership but was rather to strategically build up a net of properties to force the other players into a debt trap by rent collection and eventually into bankruptcy. To this day monopoly remains my favourite board game and in my life, I try to do things unconventionally while still abiding by the rules.
All through my school days, I have been an active member of various clubs. The ones that really influenced me were the environmental club and the debate club. The former helped me connect with nature and ponder upon the course of action we would need to take to preserve it for the future. Later on, as the president of the club, I could put my plans into action and we successfully planted over 1000 trees alongside reducing the usage of plastic within the school campus. On the other hand, the debate club gave me an insight into the views and opinions of others while at the same time providing me with a platform to stand up, express myself and defend my stance. Being part of this club boosted my confidence especially while facing a crowd of people who disagreed with my point of view.
In 2017, during my B. tech, I was appointed the subhead of the chief organising committee for the college fest “ZEST-2K17” and had to coordinate with various committees for the hassle-free conduct of events. A year later I was elected the coordinator of the Judgement Committee for ZEST-2K18 and this time I was required to coordinate with various celebrities to arrange for them to judge various competitions being conducted as a part of the event. These experiences made me an effective communicator as well as improved my skills in planning, coordinating and managing things even in stressful situations.
As far as the academic aspect of my college life is considered, apart from the classroom sessions, I value the experiences gained during my major project and internship period. To pursue the project successfully, I met with potential sponsors to procure funds and subsequently allocated the money for various expenditures. Each transaction was diligently accounted for in an excel sheet. As for my internship my role, along with providing me with an opportunity to explore my creative abilities, helped me understand the importance effective management played in the smooth functioning of an organisational structure. In addition to enhancing my financial prudence, the project and the internship helped me appreciate the contribution each member makes toward the collective success of the group and gave me a better understanding of the finer aspects and principles of management. By the end of my internship period, I had firmly made up my mind to pursue a career in management.
Weeks of researching career prospectus and chatting with professionals working in various branches of the field developed in me a passion for professional consulting as a career. I believe it will be a great opportunity for me to my pick my brains to successfully tackle the challenges I might come across while working in reputed consultancy firms. A post-graduate degree in management, for me, is the firm footing I need for this manoeuvre.
Once I decided on this course of action, choosing the UK and more specifically the University of Leeds was a relatively easy task. Along with having a world-renowned education system, the UK, being one of the top destinations for students across the world ensures multicultural exposure. Being in the league of the top universities in the world, the credentials of Leeds speak for themselves, not to mention the highly experienced faculty and the vast array of amenities. Furthermore, the choice to work for 2 years after finishing my studies is a great opportunity for me to practise what I learned.
I am confident of my decision and confident that your prestigious course will open up a plethora of opportunities which will allow me to succeed in future.
On this positive note, I hope that you will grant me acceptance to your highly reputed program.
Hoping for the best
Aadit Sabareesh Nair
I have to admit, looking back it is interesting to see how things take a different course as you gain more knowledge and experience through your course as well as outside the campus of your university.
Good luck with your application. Hope you land an offer from your dream uni.