The 5 Paragraph Statement Of Purpose (SOP): How To Write Your Graduate School Application Personal Statement – Writing Tips And All You Need To Know!

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Secrets and details of writing successful motivation letter (some universities also call it admission essay, or better still a Statement of Purpose also known as SOP).

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What SOP is all about
  • SOP Formats, Templates, and Guidelines for SOP Writing
  • Tips for writing impressive SOPs
  • Importance of SOP
  • Word Limits in SOP
  • The five paragraphs and what each entails when writing SOP
Statement of Purpose (SOP)

If you want to get into American University and get full ride scholarship it has to be outstanding.

It is one of the requirements in getting into the best college and universities of your dreams especially for African international students.

What is Statement of Purpose (SOP)?

A statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes referred to as a personal statement, is a critical piece of a graduate school or college application that tells admissions committees who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you’ll add value to the college or graduate program you’re applying to.

An SOP is a long essay required by universities abroad and nowadays some of the universities in Africa during the application process. As the full form of SOP reveals, a Statement of Purpose is an essay stating the purpose of applying to a particular course in a particular university.

The document seeks to understand the candidate’s life, the motivations for the chosen career path and his/her goals. Hence, you should discuss the past incidents that have influenced your career path in a specific domain wherein you aspire to grow by joining a course/college.

Why is Statement of purpose (SOP) important?

A well-written SOP is extremely critical to your admission. Needless to say, there are many aspects of a candidate’s application that are inspected before finalising a decision. While the academic record and other exam scorecards/academic transcripts and backlog certificate are essentially objective in nature, an SOP is the only truly subjective aspect of your application.

It is the only document in your application that gives you the opportunity to prove that you have something unique that makes you stand out from the crowd. As such, it is the document of your application docket that can hugely determine your admission.

What is the General Statement of Purpose Format?

Most universities across the globe have a standard format/template that is acceptable. However, the content in SOP varies with different kinds of courses.

Guidelines for SOP Writing

While there are a number of formats and samples available online for an SOP which aspirants can use for SOP writing, however, it is difficult to choose the right format. Also, you would not find the correct formatting details required for a particular draft or the ideal chronology to follow.

Each SOP should be unique and thus, has its own guidelines for an SOP to help the students decipher the parts of a statement of purpose so that it can be drafted easily. To know all about the correct formatting and context of an SOP, you can read till the end of this article.

SOP Samples and Format

Every course has a different way of writing its SOP application. Please note that the format varies if applicants are aspiring to pursue a MBA courses, MS courses, Undergraduate courses and PhD courses.

Also, there is no fixed format to be followed in an SOP for a country. However, a university may provide you with a set of guidelines based on which you may need to write your SOP.

What do colleges and universities look for in an SOP?

While drafting your SOP, you need to keep in mind that the admission committee will be reviewing thousands of applications for the same course. Thus, not only your SOP needs to be crisp and precise, but it should also highlight the uniqueness in your profile. According to Shiksha, below are few things that the college review committee generally look for in a student’s SOP:

  • Your writing capability is reflected in your SOP. Your SOP should be free from grammatical errors. The language should be lucid enough for them to comprehend yet should have a good vocabulary. Make sure not to use too many heavy words as sometimes too much of rich vocabulary makes the sentence redundant and it fails to communicate the meaning.
  • What makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd? Highlight your unique side/unique personality. The Adcom should be able to recognize you an as individual through your SOP. Your interests and goals will help them know you on a personal basis.
  • With your talent, previous experiences and interest, how and what can you contribute to the department and college/university, as a whole? Think of it as a two-way process. If you receive an admit, your career will get a kick-start and through your efforts and participation, the department/college can receive benefits. You need to mention how you will be able to contribute towards their community, be it through sports, community services, societies or clubs, and so on.
  • Being familiar with the university facilities and curriculum will help you a great deal. You need to be aware of the student programmes, faculty, internship opportunities, student facilities and societies, traditions etc that sets the university apart from others. The Adcom should be convinced that you know about the department and college/university thoroughly and thus, you are applying in it and not applying randomly.
  • Your motivation or inspiration to study a selected course should clear, evident and justified. Adcom does not approve of bragging sentences in the SOP. So keep it original, real, and free from any overbearing or arrogant statements.

How to make your SOP stand out from the Crowd?

Now that we have assessed how important your SOP is, we come to the important part – how to write an SOP that stands out amongst 1000s of applicants every year. There are obviously some basics about SOP writing, which clear what all you need to keep in mind like general word limit, format, etc.

What is important to note, is that you must, at all times, remember which course you are writing the SOP for. For example, if your are talking about studying Computer Science in a country, you must discuss about all your encounters, experiences, and learnings of Computer Science. Do not miss our on anything important and do not talk about the rest of the things too much.

How long should a statement of purpose be?

Statement of Purpose should be 1-2 pages long, ideally wrapped in 800-1000 words. However, the length of this document may vary as per university-specific requirements. Some universities have a fixed length and pattern of SOPs required, which is fixed to 500 words only, even 200 words in some cases. Most of the universities accept generic length, which is 800-1000 words, which may go beyond 1000, but not exceeding 1200 words, in some cases.

It is generally easy to write a story of your life explaining the importance of each incident in shaping or moulding your character. However, when it comes to defining your SOP within the communicated word limit by some university, the challenge is to portray your best within limited words. In such cases, it is better to mention the major achievements from every place you been to such as school, college, office, etc.

Some abroad universities do not require SOP, they rather give you Essay Prompts along with a word limit.

What to Include in an SOP?

There are many elements to an SOP. Universities could ask question-based essays or simply a general statement of purpose. Until and unless categorically asked, an SOP must include your goals and the career path you have taken up so far as well as your academic progress. Other elements that are further important to the SOP are also the personal motivations that lead you to choose the university/course you have applied to as well as how you intend to use that experience to achieve that goal.

While understanding how to write an SOP, we come across various questions. To sum up your entire life and career in 100 words can be a tiresome exercise. With the word constraints rather important, what is important to understand at the onset is what to include in your SOP?

Strategies to Write a Powerful and Convincing SOP

Whether applying for undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate programme, the strategy of writing a powerful statement of purpose would be to sound focused throughout. Starting from your academic and professional background to your career aspirations, you need to carefully connect all the dots between reaching your goals through your choice of school and course.

The essay should always go in a flow covering your past experience, present involvements, and future plans. An important point to remember while writing your SOP would be to divide it into paragraphs that cover all the pointers.

Can SOPs help with Scholarship?

If you are eligible for any college-specific scholarships, then during the application process you will be required to write a separate essay/SOP. Either you will be given an essay prompt/question along with a word limit or they would simply ask for an SOP stating the reasons why you think you deserve this scholarship and/or what makes you unique from the rest of the candidates? Thus, a generic SOP is different from a scholarship SOP.

In a scholarship essay/SOP, you will be required to highlight your unique selling points, major accomplishments, any quality/skill that makes you different from other candidates, and so on.

Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement: Know the Difference

Apart from a few aspects, a Personal Statement seems similar to Statement of Purpose. While SOP includes a two-page essay about your motivation, goals, experience, extracurricular activities and so on. On the other hand, a Personal Statement a crisp one-page essay about your motivation, inspiration, goals and achievements. A Personal Statement is more personal than an SOP so a Personal Statement should be elaborate about your aspirations and motivations. An SOP is a much more detailed version of the Personal Statement. 

SOP vs Letter of Motivation or Motivational Letter

A Letter of Motivation is a letter directly addressed to the admission committee/department faculty explaining your objectives, motivation and goals related to the course. The SOP is not addressed to any specific person or department, it is drafted in an essay format, whereas, the motivational letter is always addressed to a professor or department under whose guidance you will be studying.

The Five Paragraphs

For reading up to this point, here comes the five paragraphs detailing how you construct your statement of purpose. The first paragraph shows your introduction, the second, third and fourth is your body and the fifth is your conclusion.

1st paragraph: Introduction of Statement of purpose – Quick anecdote, background, origin.

This paragraph is often about self-introduction. It should not only show who you are but should tell what you are about to discuss in your SOP.

It is right to begin with a short story of who you are, your family background, some challenges in your country or community or your previous school but try as much as possible to relate it to your course of study at your dream school (the one you are applying to).

Here, you can tell why you had low grades in specific course, why you have no or little working experience in your CV and by doing so, connect it with your professional interest in the chosen field.

This is a specific paragraph wherein you can convince a university as in how they are suitable for your profile and you are an ideal candidate for their university. You should discuss the course curriculum, research work, faculty names, motivations as well as the university-specific activities that would help you in enhancing your profile.

A common mistake many students often make is that they talk about themselves, their education, work experiences or their childhood in the first paragraph forgetting that they are all included in their CV. In some cases, students tend to forget about the purpose behind writing an SOP.

2nd paragraph: Go into detail about your academic and technical interests.

Here, students need to talk about their academic background and professional experiences.

This comprises of your academic background: what you have done so far, what you are currently pursuing, your academic strengths and projects, industrial exposure you have attained, etc. If you have any professional experience it should be discussed in the upcoming paragraphs. This helps in establishing your career progression.

3rd paragraph: Connect academic and technical goals to your future goals in the program.

In this paragraph, you should discuss why you want to join a course and what modules would you tap during this course. It should also cover the skills you would acquire in this duration along with the exposure that would help in developing the skills desired to realise your goals.

This paragraph also has to explain why you chose the course you are applying for, and mention a specific course, professor and/or department you would like to do your research at/with.

Example: I see myself working with doctor ABC who has also done this research (add the title of the research) in department (add the name of the department) related to my course of study.

4th paragraph: Connect with short and long term goals when you graduate – Big career dreams, big goals, big ambitions.

Discuss your long-term goal and connect it with your idea of pursuing the course you are applying to.

Your immediate goal would be where you would want to work right after completing this course. You should be able to name some companies within your country or at where you want to further your education along with the designation you see yourself working at. This should explain the kind of job profile you would be working on.

Then comes your long-term goal, here, you should mention where you see yourself from 10-12 or 15 years down the line. This may include your desire of working on CEO/CFO/CTO level or maybe establishing a firm that you own. It may also include your dream of expanding your existing family business overseas. You may also be interested in further studies like a PhD which can be included here.

More in this section may include your desire of becoming a professor or researcher. In any case, it is suggested that you discuss your business aim, principles, and core values or how you would influence the young aspirants of this industry. You should be able to portray ‘how you wish to make a difference in the industry keeping in mind the current industrial scenarios and emerging trends’.

Present your understanding of the chosen field and write how you want to contribute to that field

5th paragraph: Conclusion/anticipatory thanks

This paragraph is your closing point of your Statement of purpose (SOP).

In this paragraph, you should conclude your desire and readiness towards joining the chosen course. Since this is the closing paragraph, you should sound focused and prepared for all the challenges that came your way.

It should also show that you have the zest in you to succeed and with the help of the chosen course and university you will definitely make a difference in the industry on a global perspective.

Also, praise the institution, the program, the city or community the school is suited, etc.

Example: I look forward to being admitted to your noble institution to offer this prestigious program.