Statement of Purpose (SOP): Format, Writing Tips and Requirements

By Cyril Zachariah Updated On - Aug 05, 2021 11:59 AM

A Statement of Purpose is a document or an essay that outlines your reasons for pursuing a course at a particular university. In this article, you can learn more about what an SOP is, what is expected in a good SOP and what all you should include in an SOP for guaranteed admission in your dream university.

A Statement of Purpose (SOP), as the name suggests, is an essay of sorts explaining or outlining to the university the reasons they should choose you for a particular course. The Statement of Purpose should be a concise statement that highlights your future goals and ambitions, why you wish to pursue the course and how you are qualified to pursue the course at that university.

Universities abroad and a few in India as well, require its applicants to submit a Statement of Purpose as it helps the admissions committee to paint a clearer picture of you as a prospective student of a particular course or degree.

Why Write a Statement of Purpose (SOP)

The short answer to the question is - it can make or break your application. A well-written statement of purpose or SOP is not only useful for highlighting your strengths, qualifications and motivation behind choosing a course, it also helps build a personality or gives character to your applications. A well-written SOP can help you in selection for a course even with a relatively weak academic profile. Basically, an SOP helps the university admissions committee understand you better and acknowledge your skills, qualifications and ability to pursue a particular course. 

Need Help With Writing a Good SOP?

Also Read: How is MBA SOP Different From MS SOP?

Need a Sample SOP? Take a Look at the SOP Format!

Just like a news piece, a statement of purpose is best when is clearly structured, which will further contribute to your credibility in the eyes of the evaluator. Before discussing the structure of an SOP or a sampe SOP, we will first understand the key components or elements of a good SOP.

Components of a Good SOP

While writing a Statement of Purpose, there are certain elements or components that you need to ensure are included. These elements are required to provide a completed SOP to the university. Components such as:

Your Personal Background: Briefly describe your background, where you come from, the challenges that you faced along the way and how you overcame them. Keep in mind that this section should be extremely brief and crisp.

Academic Qualifications: While speaking of your academic achievements and profile, keep it short and to the point. State the reasons why you choose the programme or how a particular course helped your decision in pursuing a course or field of study.

Professional/Work Experience (if any): If you have worked, full-time or part-time or volunteered before applying for a course, then mention the same. While it may not be relevant to the field, it does provide you with a professional experience.

Your Goals and Aspirations (Short- and Long-Term): Highlight a few of your short-term and long-term goals in the SOP. Try and write those goals and aspirations that are related to the course you’re applying to.

Published Works or Submitted Papers: If you have submitted papers or have some other published work, especially if you are looking to pursue a Masters or PhD course, then mention the same.

Reasons to Pursue a Course: It is important to paint an image of why you choose a particular course or field. This will help the admissions committee understand your motivations for pursuing a course.

Reasons for Selecting the University: Highlight the reasons for you choosing that particular university. For instance, talk about the course outcome statistics of the university or the curriculum they have designed for a particular course.

Extra-curricular Activities: It is important to highlight the extra-curricular activities that you have participated in college or high school and if you have led a team in sports or other activities, highlight them as well. This will help the university understand your leadership skills and team-playing abilities as well.

Note: While mentioning these components is necessary to building a strong Statement of Purpose, you must remember to keep your essay short, sweet and simple.

How Should You Structure Your SOP?

This is a step-by-step guide to writing a good SOP and making sure that your application stands out in the crowd:

Paragraph 1 - Introduction: 

  • Begin with a good introduction or hook as to why the reader should not stop reading. Ideally, you should write the most interesting detail, fact or interest related to the course in the first paragraph. 

  • Remember, this is the first impression that you are going to make which should not be dull, grammatically incorrect and/or irrelevant to your application. 

  • You can also begin with an anecdote on what motivated you to pursue further studies in this particular subject. 

  • Many students make the mistake of jumping directly to the next steps without giving this step much thought. Don’t make that  mistake and invest enough time on creating a good initial paragraph. 

Paragraph 2 & 3- Academic Background: 

  • Although it would depend on the level of program you are applying for, details of your academic history should primarily give an idea of how it has prepared you for the course of study you wish to pursue. 

  • Before trying to identify which details to add here, figure out what your program requires as different programs require applicants to mention different academic details in their SOP. For example, an SOP for MS might not necessarily need you to tell the admissions committee about the extracurricular activities you have participated in. However, it is a must for an MBA SOP.

  • All in all, talk about your GPA in high school, undergraduate and/or graduate studies, industrial exposure, give demonstrative examples of your academic history instead of making vague statements.

Paragraph 4 - Skills & Experience: 

  • Here, include relevant work or internship experience related to your field of study. 

  • In case you do not have any prior work experience, add relevant skills you have learned from academic, lab, or research experiences, research you conducted or important papers/projects you were a part of and so on. 

  • You can also include industry visits, workshops, awards and achievements, dissertation(s) you engaged in during your period of study.

  • In a paragraph, write about any volunteer work, community service you took part in and try to explain how you could add value to the university’s student organisation. 

Paragraph 5 & 6 - Interests in the Host Country, University & Course: 

  • Explain why you want to pursue your higher education in the host country instead of your home country or any other study destination. 

  • Highlight the reasons behind choosing the particular university over any school in the country. Mention how the faculty might help you achieve your goals or the distinctive features of the university that meet your requirements.

  • Your SOP, in this part, should also talk about the reason why you want to pursue your chosen program of study. Mention your research area or subject(s) you are interested in and how you could be a good fit for it and why and how the program is a good fit for you. 

  • Basically, you need to show them that you are making an informed decision.

Also Read: Your Complete Guide to LOR (Letter of Recommendation)

Paragraph 7 - Career Goals: 

  • Start with your short-term career goals, be it going for further education, an internship, a job profile you would want to take up or an industry you would like to be a part of.

  • Elaborate about your long-term life and career goals 10-12 years from now and how you would like to contribute to the industry or community.

  • Add the skills you would like to gain by joining the university and the program, which you could eventually apply in the professional world. 

Paragraph 8 - Conclusion: 

  • Before closing your SOP, ask yourself ‘why should the university choose me over any other potential applicant?’ 

  • Emphasise on your last impression, essential image, letting the reader know exactly where you stand and how well you would fit in the program. 

  • It should basically be a synopsis of your overall mission statement.

The above SOP format demands a systematic transition from the past to your present and eventually to your future career. When you are done writing your SOP, read it and make sure it fulfils the same.

Things to Remember While Writing SOP

Speaking of short, sweet and simple, there are certain things to remember while writing your statement of purpose. Ensure that you keep these following points in mind while writing your next SOP.

  • Keep it Short: A well-written Statement of Purpose should be completed in about 900 to 1,000 words.

  • Be Grammatically Correct: While writing a Statement of Purpose, ensure that you are grammatically correct. If you are unsure, seek help from experts or your teachers. Therefore, once you have completed your SOP, go through it at least twice, thoroughly.

  • Give Details But Don’t Write a Novel: If you have many accomplishments, it is extremely important to highlight them in your SOP. However, it is easy to get carried away and give too many details. Provide those details that are either related to the field you wish to join or those that are too important to miss out.

  • Avoid Repetition: While writing, you may find yourself repeating a few details or highlighting the same information again. Therefore, before writing an SOP, make a draft and go through it before finalising the statement.

  • Make Pointers First: Make a list of all the highlights that you wish to mention in the SOP. Make multiple drafts of the SOP and get your teacher or an expert to scrutinize your SOP.

  • Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth: While seeking help from experts or teachers is recommended, it is also recommended to seek help from either one or two people at the most. Seeking help from too many people may confuse you and probably even ruin the SOP.

  • Research: While the statement of purpose is meant to highlight your achievements, motivations, goals and aspirations, taking out time to study about the course offered by a particular university and even about the university can go a long way. Researching about the course and the university will help you add information for the component requiring you to talk about why you choose a particular course and the particular university.

  • Avoid Technical Terms: While jargons and technical terms may present you as a knowledgeable candidate, overusing them does not present a good image. Use limited technical terms.

Note: From the pointers mentioned above, one can understand that moderation is the key element. “... Take help but not too much, give details but not too much…” etc.

Country-Specific Requirements for Writing SOP

One of the more common questions asked by students for writing a Statement of Purpose is whether there are country-specific requirements. One thing to remember here is that a Statement of Purpose is written for a University and a programme. Therefore, in almost all situations, there are no country-specific statement of purpose requirements. However, when writing your statement of purpose, mentioning your reasons behind choosing a country and then the university can be beneficial as well. Nonetheless, no country or university will specify any country-specific requirement when writing a statement of purpose.

Course-Specific Requirements for Writing SOP

While there are no country-specific requirements, universities may require you to write a Statement of Purpose specifically structured for the course of your choice. Commonly witnessed for MBA programmes, aspirants are usually required to specify their purpose of and goals after studying a particular MBA or Management programme. Similarly, other courses such as Applied and Pure Sciences, Engineering, Law, Arts, etc may also reqiure course-specific requirements while writing a Statement of Purpose.

In most cases, you will be required mention your aspirations of pursuing the course in question, what attracted you to the course particularly offered by a specific university, your goals after studying the course, the industry you wish to join after the course and more. Answering these questions in your statement of purpose will tailor your Statement of Purpose specifically for the course you wish to join.

A good, well-written Statement of Purpose can, thus, become the element that can either make or break your application to a course in the university of your choice. Therefore ensure that you are able to paint a favourable picture of yourself in the minds of the readers.

With Indian Universities slowly starting to ask for the same, preparing to write your statement of purpose from now on can be good practice. Think of your dream course and dream university and write a proper statement of purpose. Make your teachers or parents read the statement and start training yourself in writing good statements of purpose.

FAQs About SOP

1. Should I mention my backlogs in my SOP?

This depends on the circumstances you were in when you got a low GPA or backlog. It will also vary from one profile to another. Mention your backlogs only if the reason(s) behind them include ill-health, personal issues or lack of interest in the subject. If you have nothing good to say about your backlogs like how it was a positive experience for you or made you a better student, then it is better to not include them in your SOP.

2. How to write a good SOP with a weak academic background?

In case you have a weak academic record, focus more on highlighting your future career goals and how you could add value to the university. Also, do not try to exaggerate facts or waste your words on flattering the admissions committee. What they will rather be looking for is honesty and authenticity.

3. How is an MBA SOP different from an MS SOP?

An SOP for MS is more technical based on the previous academic qualifications, whereas an SOP for MBA focuses more on the managerial and leadership skills of an applicant.

4. Should I add my family history to my SOP?

NO. What your evaluator wants to know about is you, you as a person and not what family background you come from. Also, since an SOP has a word limit, you cannot waste your words and time on elaborating about your family. However, you can add one short sentence if you so wish or think is relevant to your SOP.

5. Should I add my financial details to my SOP?

Talking about your financial background is not really important here. However, if you think it has shaped you academically or as a person in some way, you may go ahead and talk about the challenges you faced.

6. Should I mention my gap year in my SOP?

It is always a good idea to be honest and state reasons why there is a gap in your education. Be it any reason, a university will certainly appreciate you explaining a gap year especially if it was for over six months.

7. Should I add a passport size photograph to my SOP?

Universities take an applicant’s photograph separately while submitting an application. So, it is not advisable to add a photograph to your SOP. However, if the university so mentions, you may include it.

8. Is a personal statement and an SOP the same thing?

While an SOP is a two-page essay about your academic background, achievements, experience, career goals, extracurricular activities, etc., a personal statement is usually a one-page essay about you, your motivation, achievements, goals and inspiration.

9. Can I send the same SOP to different universities?

Yes, you can send the same SOP to different universities. However, before doing so, check if your SOP meets the requirements specified by a particular university, if any.

Have Queries About Writing the 'Perfect' SOP?

Also Read: What is an Academic Transcript? Why is it Needed & How to Get it?

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