02 June 2022 12:50:56 IST

Vivek Bhandari is the Founder and CEO of edtech company Scholarly. An IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta alumnus, Vivek is passionate about higher education. A former banker and mortgage expert, he mentors students and professionals for admissions to the Ivy Leagues and top universities globally. Over a two-decade career, Vivek has led large global organisations providing banking products, IT-enabled services, technology services, loan servicing, property management, and other real estate services. He has extensive experience of working in India, the US, and Europe, and a strong understanding of these markets. Based in Luxembourg, Vivek regularly travels to North America and India for work.

Strengthen your university application with a strong SOP 

Statement of Purpose (SOP) can make or break your application | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Statement of Purpose (SOP) or the personal statement is a crucial component when applying for admission top global universities. SOP primarily covers the student’s academic interest, extracurricular achievements, personal growth, career goals, and career plans. 

While the resume, recommendations, project report, research paper, and mark sheets help define the hard achievements, it is the SOP that completes the picture and brings all these accomplishments to life. Admissions officers in top universities look for students that have the energy and the passion to be world leaders and CEOs; someone who can combine their interest and passion to work towards the betterment of society, country, or the world. 

The SOP provides an opportunity for students to showcase their desire to learn and excel. Applicants should make the most of this opportunity by providing the admission committee with additional and meaningful details of their personal and academic life, something which is not mentioned anywhere else in the application. By sharing their life experiences, adversity and achievement, applicants can leave a lasting impression on the admission officer. 

What to look for in an SOP

Admission Officers look for positive traits like inquisitiveness, enthusiasm to learn, imagination, ability to work in a team, resilience, persistence, ability to work independently, and leadership skills while evaluating any application. They try to understand two things: (a) What is unique about this student? and (b) Apart from academic performance, what else has the student accomplished?    

Essentials of an SOP

A standard SOP may contain — personal and academic background, extracurricular activities, community service, research papers and internships, long-term and short-term career goals, the reason for applying to that university, and the reason for applying to that degree program. 

The SOP can be written in chronological order (starting with your childhood or schooling experience followed by your high school achievements, college-level projects, and work experience), reverse chronological order (starting with the latest professional experience and going back in time to college and school days), and answer first order (starting with the most relevant events). Decide the flow, based on your most relevant and impactful experiences. 

Elements of an SOP

Once you are ready with the final version, check the SOP requirements for each university you are applying to for specific word, page, or character constraints. Some universities require a 4,000-5,000 characters SOP whereas others might ask for a one-page long personal statement. Make sure to modify your SOP as per the given requirements before submitting the same.  

Start early. SOP cannot and should not be written in one day. It requires a lot of brainstorming and introspection to work on your essay. Work on the first draft 5-6 months in advance of the deadline and keep developing and finetuning it as you advance in your career/academics.  

Refining the SOP

The most effective brainstorming technique is freewriting where you jot down every idea or point that comes to your mind without worrying about the sentence structure or grammar. Next is generating a “mind map” which helps in the visual representation of the SOP, illustrating different ideas/stories for a particular section of the SOP outline.

Venn diagrams are also a great way to compare your ideas. Last but not the least, creating an “affinity wall” using sticky notes is a comprehensive way to make sense of all the data, facts, and ideas you want to put in your SOP.   

Dos and Don’ts

  • Make a connection with the reader 
  • Be clear, concise, and concrete
  • Provide relevant real-life examples and anecdotes
  • Be honest and write from heart 
  • Justify any gap-year or hardships (physical, financial, or academical) faced in a positive manner
  • Do not mechanically repeat your resume and list down your achievements 
  • Avoid using cliches and generic quotes 
  • Never make excuses for your low grades
  • Never fake a story
  • Don’t try to gain sympathy for any disadvantage you have faced in life 

Discuss the SOP draft with your mentors and enhance it further to make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Work strategically, as a powerful and compelling story can land you a seat in your dream university.