Aprant Agarwal

Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Jan 10, 2023 16:42 IST

A Statement of Purpose (SOP) is a reflection of your personality that you portray in front of the admissions committee (AdCom) for securing admission to a foreign University. It provides you with a chance to impress the committee, by presenting your profile, through an essay that describes your personality traits not covered in your academic documents.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • SOP Formats, Templates, and Guidelines for SOP Writing
  • Tips for writing impressive SOPs
  • Common Mistakes to avoid in SOP
  • Importance of SOP
  • Word Limits in SOP
  • SOP Samples for different courses: UG, MS (Engineering), MBS
  • SOP Samples for different countries: USA, UK, Canada, Australia
  • Things to and not to include in SOP
  • SOP FAQs

What is SOP?

SOP is a long essay required by universities abroad (and nowadays some Indian universities) during the application process. SOP full form is Statement of Purpose, which intends to highlight a student’s purpose of applying to a particular course in a particular university. SOP seeks to understand a candidate’s life and motivation for his/ her chosen career path and goals. This essay consists of a gist of what you have done, what you are doing right now, and what you intend to do in the future.

Why is SOP important?

There are many factors that decide a candidate’s selection and one of them includes a well-written SOP. While the academic record and other exam scorecards/ academic transcripts and backlog certificates are essentially objective in nature, an SOP is the only truly subjective aspect of your application. Moreover, SOP allows you to present your future goals and aspirations in front of the admissions committee, which in turn helps them decide whether you are suitable for a particular programme or not.

SOP Format

Most universities across the globe have a standard format/ template that they accept. However, the content in SOP varies for different courses. Learn how to write the SOPs for different courses here:

How to write an SOP for MBA Programme How to write an SOP for MIM Programme
How to write an SOP for MS Programme How to write an SOP for UG Programme

Shiksha Guidelines for SOP Writing

While there are a number of formats and samples available online for an SOP that aspirants can use, it becomes confusing to choose the right format. Moreover, there is no such thing as a perfect SOP. Owing to the subjective nature of this document, the admissions committee can infer different things from the same SOP.

Each SOP should be unique and thus, Shiksha 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 Shiksha Guidelines for SOP.

SOP Samples and Format for MBA, MS, UG, and PhD Courses

Every course has a different way of writing its SOP application. Check out the course-wise SOP Samples and Formats.

Sample SOP for MBA Courses Format SOP for MS Courses
Sample SOP for UG Courses Format SOP for PhD Courses

Should you put your name on your Statement of Purpose?

In a traditional SOP, you do not need to write your name or course details anywhere. SOP is a part of your application/ student profile, thus, it will have your name and course details by default. However, there might be some universities or schools that require you to mention your name in your SOP. These universities will provide you with specific instructions on how and where to write your personal details. Thus, you need to follow their instructions thoroughly.

SOP Formats for USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and Others

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. Here are some SOP samples based on different countries:

Sample Format for USA SOP Sample Format for Canada SOP
Sample Format for UK SOP Sample Format for Australia SOP
Sample Format for Germany SOP Sample Format for Sweden SOP
Sample Format for Hong Kong SOP Sample Format for Singapore SOP
Sample Format for Netherlands SOP Sample Format for Ireland SOP

What do colleges 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, your SOP must be crisp and precise, and must clearly reflect the uniqueness of your profile. Here are a few things that the college review committees 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; at the same time, a strong vocabulary does help in leaving a positive impact. Make sure not to use too many “heavy words” since their usage might feel forced.
  • You must highlight those qualities that make you stand out from the rest of the applicants; these might include your academic achievements, your involvement with society, your extracurricular achievements, etc. 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.
  • Try to mention how you can contribute to the University, college, or department. Consider the following points for the same:
    • If you receive an admission letter, your career will get a kick-start. It is obvious that you will reap some benefits from that course. At the same time, the University/ College/ department must also receive some benefits from your admissions (besides the tuition fee, of course!).
    • It would help if you mentioned how you can contribute to the community, be it through sports, community services, societies, clubs, etc. To put it in simple words, you must be able to convince the admissions committee that you can become an ambassador for the University or department.
  • Familiarity with the University facilities and curriculum will convey that you have done your research and that your application is not random. You need to be aware of the University’s achievements, student programmes, faculty, internship opportunities, student facilities and societies, traditions, etc.
  • Your motivation or inspiration to pursue a particular course should be clear, evident and justified. Adcom does not approve of bragging sentences in the SOP. Hence, you must 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 thousands of applications. There are certain basic principles about SOP writing, which provide clarity on various aspects such as word limit, format, etc.

It is important for you to focus on the course that you wish to pursue. For example, if you are talking about studying Computer Science in a country, you must discuss all your encounters, experiences, and learnings in Computer Science. Make sure that you do not miss any important facts/achievements/experiences related to that course. Evidently, SOP for an MBA application will be different from an SOP for MSc in Computer Science. Similarly, SOP for a Bachelor’s degree will be different from that for a Master’s degree. Here is a look at how to write a winning SOP.

How long should a statement of purpose be?

Statement of Purpose should be 1-2 pages long and everything must be put together in about 800-1000 words; however, the length may vary as per university requirements. Some Universities put a cap on the word limit, which might be as less as 200 words. Most universities accept 800-1000 words SOP; however, in most cases, it does not go beyond 1200 words.

It is relatively easy to write a story of your life explaining the importance of each incident that has helped shape your personality. However, it becomes challenging to write an SOP within a specified word limit, and that too when your admission is at stake.

Some foreign universities do not require SOP; rather, they ask you to answer an Essay Prompt in a specified number of words. In order to understand the importance of word limit in an SOP, you may refer to this Importance of Word Limit in Essay.

What to include in an SOP?

The content of your SOP will solely depend on the University’s requirements. The mantra is to stick to the statement/ question provided by the University. Universities can 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 important in an SOP include personal motivations that led you to choose the university/ course and how you intend to use it to achieve your goals.

While understanding how to write an SOP, we come across various questions. To sum up your entire life and career in 1,000 words can be a tiresome exercise.

What to include in your SOP? What to include in an MBA SOP
What to include in an MS SOP What to include in UG SOP

What not to include in an SOP?

Remember, there is no exhaustive list of topics that you can include in an SOP. At the same time, it is equally important to understand what you must not include in your SOP. For instance, your family life, your school life, all the extracurricular achievement, etc. Visit the page in order to know what not to include in your SOP.

How to write SOP?

An SOP needs to be written carefully as it is important for your application. Some of the SOP writing tips are given below:

  • Think: We can call this process introspection. When we talk of introspection, we definitely do not mean philosophical introspection (particularly in this context). You need to think of all the significant events that have influenced your personality and made you who you are today. As food for thought, you can start with academic achievements, work experience, volunteering experiences, reasons for pursuing a particular course and your future goals. In this process, you might come across certain life-changing events as well (for instance: being publicly rebuked for your academic performance, an event that made you take your academics seriously). Make a note of everything and then prepare a structure. Retain the relevant points and eliminate the trivial ones.
  • Research: Make sure to do sufficient research about the course, University, University achievements, any ongoing research, etc. You must have clarity about the reasons for pursuing your targeted course and choosing that particular University. Even if you plan to change your academic field, as opposed to your bachelor’s, there must be a logical reason behind it. Your reasons must have clarity and your SOP must reflect the research you have done about the course and University.
  • Draft: Prepare a proper structure and then fill in the details. Here are a few points to consider:
    • Professional and personal background and interests,
    • Relevance of the chosen course and University,
    • A logical connection between the above and your future goals and aspirations,
    • Intention to contribute to the University, community, and society at large.
  • Review: Once you have drafted your SOP, the final step is to go through it carefully and make changes accordingly. Go back to the list that you created in the beginning and check whether you have covered all the points in your SOP or not. Remove the unnecessary details that are not relevant to your admission. It will take multiple readings and reviews in order to come up with a final draft. Before taking professional services, make sure to get your SOP reviewed by an unbiased family member, colleague, or a friend.

Detailed strategy to write a powerful and convincing SOP

A powerful and convincing statement of purpose is focused throughout, and each point is connected to the subsequent point through logic and reason. Starting from your academic and professional background to your career aspirations, you need to connect all the dots logically. There needs to be a flow in the events and things must not pop up randomly.

The essay should always go in flow from past experiences, to present involvements, and to future plans. An important point to remember, while writing your SOP, is to divide it into paragraphs that cover all the pointers. Here is a look at how you may write the SOP:

1st Paragraph: Introduction of SOP

This paragraph is often confused with self-introduction. It should not introduce you but should discuss what you are about to discuss in your SOP. You can adopt the following approaches:

  • Discuss your long-term goal and connect it with your idea of pursuing the course you are applying to,
  • Present your understanding of the chosen field and write how you want to contribute to that field,
  • Explain your background in 2-3 lines and connect it with your future goals,
  • Write about an anecdote that helped you realise your professional interest in the chosen field.

Students often make the mistake of introducing themselves or their childhood in the first paragraph. In some cases, students tend to forget about the purpose behind writing an SOP. Check out the Common Mistakes to Avoid in an SOP.

2nd and 3rd Paragraphs: Academic Background and Professional Experience

These paragraphs must contain your academic background: what you have done so far (projects, experience, etc.), what you are currently pursuing, etc. You can mention your professional experience after your academic achievements. This helps in establishing your career progression.

4th Paragraph: Why This Course?

In this paragraph, you should discuss why you want to join a course and what modules would you like to study. It should also cover the possible skills and exposure that you might acquire that would help you in fulfilling your goals.

5th Paragraph: Career Goals

This is the most important paragraph, where you should discuss your short and long-term goals. 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 India 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, wherein you should mention where you see yourself from 10-12 or 15 years down the line. This may include your desire of working at the CEO/CFO/CTO level or maybe pursue entrepreneurship. It may also include your dream of expanding your existing family business overseas. You may also be interested in further studies such as a PhD. You may also express your desire of becoming a professor or researcher.

It is suggested that you discuss your aim, principles and values, and how you can influence the prospective students. You should be able to portray how you wish to make a difference in the industry or society, keeping in mind the current industrial scenarios and emerging trends.

6th Paragraph: Why This University?

Here, you should try to convince the University as to why it is suitable for your goals and why you fit well into its vision and mission. You can discuss the course curriculum, research work, faculty names, as well as university-specific activities. Moreover, do go through the vision and mission statement of the University.

7th Paragraph: Conclusion

This paragraph 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 might come your way. It should also show that you have the potential to succeed, and with the help of the chosen course and University, you will definitely make a difference in the industry.

Additional tips on how to write a good Statement of Purpose

In order to write a good SOP, follow the tips given below:

  • Mention your achievements, professional and academic, in the form of a story rather than statements.
  • An SOP is a reflection of your personality; make sure it is clear and understandable.
  • Mention strong reasons as to why you want to pursue a particular course.
  • Be very clear about the timeline of your achievements.
  • You can also mention your mistakes. But, also give instances of how you tried to rectify them.
  • Proofread and edit the SOP time and again so that it can appear crisp and concise.

Mistakes to avoid while writing SOP

If you want to write an outstanding statement of purpose, given below are some of the common mistakes that you should avoid:

  • Writing an SOP without any planning or roadmap.
  • Writing a vague introduction and conclusion.
  • Use of short forms, slang, and informal writing.
  • Exceeding the word limit or writing too less.
  • Making the SOP appear very flattering.

Can SOPs help with scholarships?

If you are eligible for any college-specific scholarships, then during the application process you will be required to write a separate essay/ SOP. You will be given an essay prompt/ question along with a word limit. You might be required to provide an SOP that states your credibility for this scholarship. 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. You can read more about writing a scholarship essay here.

Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement

Barring a few points, a Personal Statement seems similar to a Statement of Purpose. While SOP includes a two-page essay about your motivation, goals, experience, extracurricular activities, etc., a Personal Statement is a crisp one-page essay about your motivation, inspiration, goals and achievements. A Personal Statement is more personal than an SOP; hence, a Personal Statement should mention your aspirations and motivations. An SOP is a much more detailed version of the Personal Statement. For a detailed view on this, visit Statement of Purpose (SOP) vs Personal Statement.

SOP vs Letter of Motivation or Motivational Letter

A Letter of Motivation is directly addressed to the admission committee/ department/ faculty explaining your objectives, motivation and goals related to the course. An SOP is not addressed to any specific person or department; rather, it is drafted in an essay format. To know more about a motivational letter, read: How to write an impressive Letter of Motivation?

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