In this article, you will find out what a statement of purpose is, when you are likely to need to write one and what will be expected of the document you produce. Many seats of higher education now expect a statement of purpose to be written by applicants who are looking to get into postgraduate courses.1 Some also require them of undergraduates, especially for mature student applications, but this is not universal.
Definition: Statement of purpose
Also, sometimes simply called an SOP, a statement of purpose is a written document from a course applicant that gives details about him or herself that tries to persuade the relevant admissions committee to accept the applicant outright or to call them for an in-person interview.
Typically, they are included with an application form, any letter of recommendation that might be relevant and a covering letter. Unlike a job application document, however, they are not a resume (CV). Most graduate programs that require a statement of purpose will expect the following.2
Statement of purpose checklist
|Part 1||An introduction to the applicant's interests and motivations|
|Part 2||A summary of academic accomplishments|
|Part 3||Information on recent relevant activities (professional or otherwise)|
|Part 4||Further insights into the applicant's wider academic interests|
3 (Example from TemplateLab.com)
This example of a statement of purpose covers the motivations and interests of the applicant, along with an outline of her academic career thus far. Further, it deals with her more recent activities insofar as they may be relevant to the application while offering some wider insights into the applicant’s other interests. As such, along with other good examples of SOPs, it covers all of the expected ground succinctly.4
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Requirements for a statement of purpose
Most grad schools and higher education establishments publish their requirements for a statement of purpose online. Only include the relevant material, as outlined above, or what the institution has specifically asked for. Leave everything else out. This will help you to avoid simply making a lengthy personal statement, something that won’t be so focused.5
Instead, a statement of purpose must be centered on the particular requirements of the course. Tailor each statement for each course application you make. You can reuse some material but don’t copy it wholesale even if it is for a course at the same institution.
Why? Because different application committees will have different entry requirements. Stick to the given guidelines.
Personal introduction in a statement of purpose
Although instructions may vary, here’s what is generally expected of an SOP’s personal introduction.
Outline the most relevant parts of your background story given the course. Hobbies and family backgrounds are unlikely to feature unless they have a direct bearing on the course subject. Organize your thoughts succinctly and include examples of any obstacles you may have overcome to get where you are.
Everyone is unique but conveying your personality should help you to come across as an individual. Try to make your application stand out by thinking about what your unique qualities are, whether it is your approach to work or your ability to interact well with other students. Cite examples to make your claims more credible.
Experience and accomplishments
Including experiences and accomplishments relevant to the course is important. Do this by writing them down authoritatively but openly. Don’t make exaggerated claims, for example, or anything that can’t be checked easily.
List your academic experience to include all the relevant information:
- School and undergraduate qualifications
- Other postgraduate qualifications you may have gained
- Professional qualifications if they’re in a related field
- List the institutions where your qualifications were gained and at what grade
Include your professional experiences, where they are relevant, such as:
- Past examples of in-job research work
- Professional experience that brought you into contact with the course’s subject matter
- Work that required the sort of technical or academic skills that will be needed on the course
Goals and motivations
The role that goals and motivations play in a statement of purpose is to explain why you want to attend the course in the first place. Use this as an opportunity to show how keen you are to learn and see the course through.
Tips for a successful statement of purpose
When writing a statement of purpose, it is a good idea to take into account the following advice
Staying focused means creating a clear narrative in your statement of purpose. Don’t drift off and come back to a point made earlier. Keep everything flowing logically. Sometimes, a chronological approach can help to maintain focus.
Reviewing the structure
Consider the four steps outlined above. After having drafted your SOP, ask yourself whether or not you have addressed them all fully. If so, have you given equal weight to each? If not, you may need to consider redrafting.
To add meaning to an SOP will be essential if your application is to stand out from others. For example, give examples of your motivations rather than simply claiming to be highly motivated. Show how your motivation has led to discernible results before. This will personalize your SOP, thereby giving it more meaning.
Revising, editing, and proofreading
Be prepared to revise your SOP. Read it the day after writing it and edit anything that doesn’t seem immediately clear. Run it through a spell-checker, proofread it and, even better, get someone else to proofread it for you, too.
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An SOP is a short document that describes why an applicant should be considered for a graduate school course.
Without a strong SOP, your application will not rise to the top and you could easily fail to win a place on your desired graduate course.
Have your name at the top in case the SOP goes missing from the application. After that, discuss your long-term aims and why they align with the course in question.
Some do and some don’t. At US grad schools, they are common as well as in many international institutions nowadays.
1 Agarwal, Aprant. “Statement of Purpose (SOP): All You Need to Know!” Shiksha Study Abroad. January 10, 2023. https://studyabroad.shiksha.com/sop-statement-of-purpose-applycontent1701.
2 Berkeley Graduate Division. “Writing the Statement of Purpose.” Accessed January 12, 2023. https://grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/steps-to-apply/requirements/statement-purpose/.
3 TemplateLab. “Sample Statement of Purpose.” Accessed January 31, 2023. https://templatelab.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/statement-of-purpose-example-02.jpg.
4 TemplateLab. “50 Statement Of Purpose Examples (Graduate School, MBA, PhD).” Accessed January 12, 2023. https://templatelab.com/statement-of-purpose/.
5 Harvard University. “Statement of Purpose and Writing Sample.” Accessed January 12, 2023. https://gsas.harvard.edu/admissions/completing-your-application/statement-purpose-and-writing-sample.