Writing a Statement of Purpose

A couple of friends have either just gone off for their masters or are in the process of applying. So I asked them how I could help and what the most common questions were when applying to colleges in North America as someone who has studied in India. Aside from finances and visa questions, the most common one was about writing a statement of purpose.

Unsurprising since we’re never really taught to think about WHY we’re doing something. I’ve talked a few friends through this and I think my dad did a good job of talking me through this back in the day so I shall share a process that I think works best.

But before we start, an assumption I’m making is that you genuinely want to get this degree and you’re not applying just for the sake of applying. I’m not one to encourage lying or fabricating details about your life just to get into a college. In fact, I decided not to go ahead with MBA applications because I couldn’t answer the question of WHY I wanted an MBA.

Okay now getting to the real deal:

  1. A Statement of Purpose (SoP) is not a long form version of your resume. I repeat, it is NOT a long form version of your resume. By that I mean, don’t just re-write your resume but in paragraphs. Your resume already outlines the work you’ve done, you don’t have to type it out again.
  2. The SoP is meant to answer the questions “Why do you want this degree?”, “Why do you want this degree at this college?” and “How are you going to use what you learn from this degree from this college once you graduate?”
  3. You guessed it, if you’re applying to multiple colleges or for multiple programs, you have to have different SoPs for each, or at least tailor them to be specific to the program+college combo. Each college and each program has its unique strengths and ideally you’ve chosen that program at that college for that reason, so be sure to elaborate on that.
  4. You can pepper your SoP with mentions from your previous work to show that you’re interested in and invested in this next step. Show that you’re practicing what you preach, you know? But going back to 1. only use relevant examples as supporting material, not as the main point.
  5. SoPs take time, as they should. So brain dump everything about why you want to do what you do and then edit, have someone review, edit again, review again, and repeat until you feel like it accurately conveys what you want it to say.
  6. If you are applying to a program being taught in English in an English speaking country, I highly recommend getting a friend or mentor who is fluent in English to help you edit. If it’s a different language program, make sure you get a native speaker of that language to review and edit your grammar.
  7. Most importantly, if you cannot answer an SoP, take time to evaluate whether you really want to get this degree. There is nothing worse than spending time and money on something you can’t get yourself to care about.

If your SoP boils down to one of these stereotypes, kindly revise, please.

The Resume SoP: I am applying to this program because all my work so far has been in this field. Kthxbye.

The Generic SoP: I am applying to this program because the future is important and we should work towards it. Kthxbye.

The Flattery SoP: I am applying to this program because it’s the best, and you’re the best, and I’m the best, so lez do this. Kthxbye.

Try something like this instead.

The Real SoP: I am applying to this program because I have been passionate about this subject for as long as I can remember. This area is particularly meaningful to me because of XYZ. Here are some examples of the work I have done in this field that was fulfilling and educational. I believe that this college+program is the perfect fit for me because I want to use its strengths to further my work in XYZ areas because I believe that the impact it makes is something the world needs, something that I can contribute to and am passionate about.

This is just a high level outline of writing an SoP, the details will vary person to person and I don’t want to turn this article into a 900 page novel. If you’re looking for someone to review and help you edit your SoP, let’s talk. You can reach me at goverdhan.urvashi@gmail.com

Hope this helps, thanks and warm regards. :D

Credibility supporting statement: I was accepted into multiple undergraduate programs in the United States the year I applied. I now have a degree in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since then I have worked as a Software Product Manager in the US and moved back to India two years ago to be an actor. Basically I’ve spent 85% of my life trying to answer the question of “Why am I doing this?” and have found that it’s a good way to make decisions.

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