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The 'In their shoes' check
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What is a Statement of

What do colleges look for
in an SoP?

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How do I polish my SoP?
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Scholarship SoPs?
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Give your Statement of Purpose an Edge at!

Put your essay away for a day or two. When you take it out, lay it face down for two minutes while you put yourself in the admissions committee’s place. Imagine yourself to be a professor or graduate student who is going through a few hundred applications and classifying them into ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and ‘no’ piles. Think of how you would look at SoPs and try to read yours through a stranger’s eyes. What do you see?

  • Remember that for graduate school, your essay need not be great writing. What the school is looking for is a competently written statement of goals and interests that demonstrates how you think, whether you have thought through this decision to apply, and whether your interests and strengths fit in with the program you are applying to. To this end, they expect to see the following in an essay – 
  • What areas are you interested in and why, 
  • How well defined your interests are,
  • Are these interests based on experience (academic or on the job) that the school may find useful,
  • Where do you see these interests taking you, 
  • How do you think graduate school will help you, 
  • What experience have you had that will help.
Does your essay cover these points? Does it do so in an honest and interesting manner? Many of the students applying will have backgrounds similar to yours, so avoid cliched ideas.
  • Are you repeating information that is available from the resume? Do so very sparingly, and only if you are making a point about your learnings or achievements during that experience. Weed out all other information that sounds like repetition (it will only irritate the reader), or can be included in your resume, or does not actively contribute towards making a point in your essay.
  • Does your essay have an interesting beginning? This need not be witty, but should persuade the reader to stay with you. 
  • Have you talked about specific incidents that illustrate your interest or familiarity with the subject, or show something about you? These incidents might include, for example:
  • A college or work project that was instrumental in confirming your interest in the field (be sure to include a recommendation from your guide!), 
  • Extra-curricular activities that brought out useful aspects in you (leadership skills or team activities are particularly helpful for business school applications!), 
  • A book or person who had a strong influence on you.
  • Does the essay bring out your personality? Or could it have been written by just about anybody? 
  • Have you mentioned why you are applying to that particular school? Does this section of the essay demonstrate that you have researched the school and the program? DON’T stop at the standard formula phrase, ‘I am applying to XYZ because of it’s great reputation in _______.’
  • Does your essay flow smoothly? If it is choppy and abruptly jumps from paragraph to paragraph, your readers will have a tough time keeping up. Make it easy on them – smoothen the transition between paragraphs.
  • Is the tone too formal or not formal enough? Be professional yet informal – the tone you would take with your Principal or Head of Department, for instance.
  • Does the essay end well? Does it leave the reader with a sense of completion? Avoid usage of cliches like, ‘ I hope the admissions committee finds my application up to their expectations’.
This self-check will yield a few ideas for improvement. Use it at least 3-4 times during this last stage of polishing up your SoP.

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