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Writing a Great Statement of Purpose (SOP) for Grad School

Ready to start the new chapter in your life by enrolling the grad school you’ve always wanted? That’s amazing! In order to fulfill your dream and start the program that will help you achieve academic and career goals, you need to submit an application first. The admission materials can vary from one school to another, but one thing is certain – you’ll have to write a statement of purpose. What is that? How to write it? Scroll down to find out.

Definition

Statement of purpose (SOP), also called an application essay, is the most important component of your application to a graduate or postgraduate program. The primary idea of the essay is to inform the admissions committee about a candidate’s personality, motivations, inspiration, previous accomplishments, among other things. The statement of purpose shows whether an applicant is a good candidate for some program.

Throughout the SOP, applicants write about who they are, what has influenced their career or academic path so far, professional and educational interests. The paper is written in a form of an essay wherein an applicant tells the story to introduce oneself to the admissions committee, it is not a mere list of facts.

The admissions committee receives hundreds of SOPs and they usually find them almost identical. The best way to increase the likelihood of enrolling in the desired program is to write a statement of purpose that will stand out from all others. Since the application essay is crucial, there is no need to hurry. Take some time to make sure the paper meets all requirements regarding the organization, writing style, word count, and other factors.

The nervousness that naturally comes when you understand the importance of SOP can prevent you from doing your best. Don’t worry, that’s not uncommon! In order to focus on other parts of application material, you can use online platforms to improve quality of your paper. You can also get Edusson’s writers to write a sample that you’ll use to create your own SOP. With this, you can save $20 on editing.

Guidelines

Statement of purpose usually comes with a certain format and list of requirements you should follow. The criteria vary from one academic institution to another. Always strive to adhere to the instructions as they keep you focused, on the right track. Writing a demanding paper such as SOP becomes easier when you follow simple guidelines listed below.

Rules

  • Name professional aspirations – while graduate students are usually asked to write about their personality, motivations, or to answer some question, feel free to mention your professional goals too
  • Be specific – stay away from vague expressions or jumping from one subject to another. Instead, be precise and finish one thought before moving on to another
  • Convey information that cannot be found elsewhere in your application – this gives admission committee an in-depth insight into your abilities
  • Always follow instructions that were provided in the application material
  • Consider your audience- the admissions committee reads hundreds of SOPs and it’s always a good idea to think of a way to make your paper stand out
  • Be genuine – never exaggerate anything, admissions committee can always notice when a student tries to alter some information to make it seem more important
  • Write a draft first – write down everything that comes across your mind, reread later and see how you can polish it

Requirements

  • Write in a straightforward manner i.e. don’t beat around the bush
  • Explain how did you become interested in a specific field of education or program
  • Describe why did you choose that college
  • Talk about experiences that shaped up your understanding of the world and contributed to choosing the direction of your education and career
  • Describe how the program can help you achieve career goals
  • Explain what makes you a perfect candidate
  • Give examples for information you provide
  • Quantify results, achievements, and other information (no vague expressions)
  • Ensure the admissions committee knows you are prepared for the program and challenges it brings

Format

  • 500 words (rarely up to 800)
  • One-page or two-page limit (if no word count is given)
  • 12 font size, justified
  • Readable font: Georgia, Arial, Bookman, Times New Roman
  • Single space, skip a line between paragraphs

Structure

  • Introduction – catch a reader’s attention with a hook that demonstrates passion for the field and a strong thesis statement that shows direction of your SOP
  • Personal background or a list of reasons for interest in the area
  • Academic background in the field (classes you’ve taken and their names, teachers you’ve had) – for graduate programs you can briefly mention some high school subjects that influenced your desire to continue your education in a specific area of interest
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Work or professional experience (if any)
  • Achievements or publications
  • Explanation of why you have chosen the specific grad school

Common App Essay Prompts (Topics) and Questions

2012

  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that .illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  • Describe your academic interests and how you plan to pursue them at USC. Please feel free to address your first and second choice major selections.
  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  • The topic of your choice.

2013

  • Choose the moment that best resonates with you and tell us why.
  • Describe a personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • What is your immediate post-college professional goal?

2014

  • How do you define yourself?
  • If you were to write the story of your life until now, what would you title it and why?
  • Pick one woman in history or fiction to converse with for an hour and explain your choice.
  • Tell us about an unjust law, written or unwritten, that you believe should be broken.
  • What do you see as the biggest threat to civility?
  • What one invention would you uninvent if you could, and why?

2015

  • Briefly discuss your academic background. Did you utilize any additional support at your high school, such as tutoring? Do your grades in high school and/or college reflect your academic ability or potential?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  • Please tell us more about yourself. Is there any additional information you would like our acommittee to consider in determining your admission to the program?
  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

2016

  • Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at our grad school appeals to you and why?
  • At our educational institution, we bring people together to better the lives of others. Our students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc.
  • Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?
  • Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?
  • We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it.

2017

  • At (name of the college), we believe that leadership is more than position. Describe at least one quality of leadership that you have learned in high school either through direct experience or by observation of another leader?
  • Describe a personal accomplishment of which you are particularly proud and explain why.
  • Explain your reasons for wanting to attend our grad school?
  • Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.
  • What does it mean to you to be or to become a global citizen, and how do you see the education and opportunities at our grad school advancing your understanding of this concept?
  • What global issue can you imagine yourself addressing during your time at our grad school?
  • What’s your favorite book you have read outside the classroom (not assigned reading) and why?

2018

  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
  • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Common App Essay Examples

While title ideas can vary each year, some of them remain standard, such as:

  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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