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Friday, 20 January 2012

Higher Education Abroad - How Not to Write a Statement of Purpose (SOP)


Many students tend to write a poetic Statement of Purpose. They think it attracts attention. In reality, the poetic and ornate language in a Statement of Purpose distracts and makes the real intent of the candidate unclear. Many selection committees regard such language as reflection of an attempt to over-impress the reader. Hence, it's not a good policy to use ornate language in the SOP. A well-written SOP should be well-organised, with clear focus on what a candidate wants to do, why s/he wants to do it, what preparation s/he has for it and how a particular programme can help him/her achieve this end. Dividing the SOP in sections with sub-tiles is a good idea. Language should be methodical, direct and non-ornate in tone. 

If you are applying for literature, creative wiring, comparative literature, performance studies and related disciplines, you may use such language in a writing sample which is no research-based (e.g., a play or poem you have written, or an essay you wrote in class), but SOP is clearly not the place for such creative writing. 

Many applicants don't check the SOP for spelling and grammatical errors. These should be avoided at all costs. Care should be taken to correct the draft several times so that no errors are left out. A straight forward, clear, well-argued SOP is the mark of a successful candidate.

Many candidates think that if they have high GRE/GMAT scores, they can get away with an average SOP, since their test scores will see them through the application process. This is in fact not the case. As said in the previous post, GRE/GMAT scores don't play much role in many subjects and in others, they help the candidate in only the first screening. On the other hand, SOP plays a critical role in the selection of the candidates. Selection committees carefully read through the SOP to understand the achievements, aspirations and the suiatbility of the candidate. Along with the writing sample and the recommendation letters, SOP is the most important part of the Graduate application package in the Western countries. In order to succeed, the candidate should pay extra attention on writing a sophisticated SOP.   

Many students also overlook the need for outlining the area of research interest (in case of a research programme) and the general direction of one's Graduate study plans and interests (in case of Masters). This is because in India, most universities train the students to do well in exams and get a degree with a good percentage of marks or grades. This is not the aim of the Western universities, where students are trained to explore the disciplines of their interests and to enhance their innate potentials, so that they can lead a wholesome life after their Graduate education.

An Indian candidate's SOP should reflect the s/he has understood the goal of a Western education and wants to make a difference to his/her life after receiving this education, which is not just a degree on paper. 

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