Defining questions to get you started
We’ve compiled a set of questions that we want you to think about while working on your Statement of Purpose (SOP).
These questions also work well for your CV, Essays and Letters of Recommendation (LOR). All of these documents should support your story in a coherent, easy-to-understand and memorable way.
These questions are meant to help you bring out your story and show the Admission Committee why you are special. The crisper, clearer and well-backed your story is, the better your chances at gaining admission into their university.
- What is your dream for the next 10 years? What is your road-map to achieve the same? How will this specific program in these specific institutions, in this specific country, help you?
- What are your 3 biggest strengths? What achievements demonstrate these strengths?
- What is your biggest weakness? How has it affected you till now? What have you done about it?
- Who are your 3 biggest fans at work and in college who are writing your LOR? If they met me at a restaurant, what are the 3 strengths, achievements and weaknesses that they will each tell me about you? (Each one’s answer may be different based on their experience with you)
- What are the 3 biggest achievements at college and/or work? What were the situations, complications and results in each of those events?
- What are the 3 biggest challenges you have faced in your life? How did you overcome them?
- What did you learn from them and how has it changed you personally or professionally?
How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose
Remember your statement of purpose should portray you as
- passionately interested in the field
- well-prepared academically and personally
- able to take on the challenges of grad school
- able to establish good rapport with professors and fellow grad students
- able to finish the graduate degree in a timely fashion, and
- a potentially outstanding representative of that grad school in your future career
- Get advice from several of your professors — philosophical advice as well as specific writing advice
- Proof-read and edit; ask friends to proofread and edit as well
- Keep working on the statement of purpose, even after you have already sent it to school(s) with earlier deadline(s)
Your essay is terrific if we get a strong YES for these questions:
- Is your SOP a terrific story that people love? [send it to at least 5 people and get enthusiastic nods from each]
- Do you have a great opening paragraph that grabs attention? [oftentimes, the admission committee will not go beyond your first paragraph if you cannot hook them with your opening]
- Have you showcased the most life-changing event in your life and how it is affecting your career and academic aspirations?
- Is ‘Why you?’ clear ? Keep in mind that the admission committee looks at thousands of applications from other students.
- Does the university feel you have really done your research on the program and university and not just copied whatever you’ve read on their website onto the SOP? [have you read research papers of professors in the stream you are applying to? Which ones do you like? What did you like about them?]
- Is it really clear why you have selected a particular university and program, and why is this university and program the best option for your profile?
Sample of an interesting opening – Passionate Hook
When I was eleven, my great-aunt Gretchen passed away and left me something that changed my life: a library of about five thousand books. Some of my best days were spent arranging and reading her books. Since then, I have wanted to be a librarian.
Comments: Quite interesting, direct, new spin to reading and catches your attention in a unique way and professors will remember this student who had her own library!
Sample of boring opening
I am honored to apply for the Master of Library Science program at the University of Chicago because as long as I can remember I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven I have known I wanted to be a librarian.
Comments: Boring because they know which program you are applying for. You are saying nothing of great value, and this is a boring start!
Sample of interesting writing
One Thursday, I had soldered the 112th green wire on the same place on the 112th TV remote, and I realized the solder fumes were rotting my brain. I decided college would be my salvation.
Sample of boring writing
I used to work on an assembly line in a television factory, and one day I decided that I had to get out of there, so I went to college to save my own life.
Organization of SOP
- A “hook” that demonstrates your passion for the field
- Explain your background in the field
- Description of your academic background in the field
- Specific classes you have taken, given by name
- Specific professors you have had, especially if well-known in that field
- Extracurricular activities in the field
- Publications or other professional accomplishments in the field (perhaps conference presentations or public readings)
- Explanations about problems in background (Only if needed)
- Explanation of why you have chosen the specific grad school
- Mention one or two professors in that school and what you know of and appreciate about their work/research papers
- Specific features of the grad program that attract you
SOP Sample Skeleton
Start with your favorite quote and describe a life-transforming event that made you select the stream that you want to pursue. Be sure to convey your passion for the stream and not just state that you are passionate about it.
In other words, what are your reasons for choosing to undertake the specified course of study?
A write-up about academic performance in college, projects and the different things you pursued that helped you gravitate toward your program interest.
Any internship / Extracurricular activities (if applicable).
A write-up about academic performance and why you chose the specific program.
In other words, how is your selected course of study relevant to your previous academic and/or employment background?
What are your goals? What are the skills you will need to achieve those goals? How will the program help you?
In other words, how is your selected course of study relevant to your future education and/or career plans?
Why have you chosen to study in Country X rather than in your home country?
How will this course benefit you when you return to your home country?
Conclude your story.
Program Choice Essay: Please provide an essay that explains why you chose your intended program of study. What interests you the most about this major? If Undecided, what areas of study do you look forward to studying in college? (50-500 words).
The human brain has never stopped amazing me. It is perhaps the most complex of organs, boasting between 50-100 billion nerve cells or neurons that constantly interact with each other. These neurons carry messages through electro-chemical processes. This itself leaves me dazzled.
I have been intrigued by the human mind and how it works. This has been enhanced through my study of psychology in my course of study in standard eleven and twelve. Every day I see aspects of human behavior that could have come straight from a Psychology textbook! It is Psychology brought to life, and that has made me realize more than ever how much I want to move my interest in Psychology from my hobby to my career.
I wish to pursue research in the field of Neuropsychology. It, I believe requires a detailed study of both the human mind and the brain. While Psychology deals with the mind, biology deals with the brain and all its components. Such a coalesce of the two disciplines will only be possible with liberal arts education. I don’t quite remember what generated my interest in psychology, but it was definitely fueled by the television series Brain Games that aired on National Geographic. Brain Games was an inspiration for me to the fascinating exploration of the science behind how we process information, perceive our surroundings, and respond to stimuli.
These little minute activities as we think, they are , are demonstrated by experiments, optical illusions, and brainteasers that keep us wondering about how beautifully designed our brain is. Psychology, I believe let me in to a different world altogether. The cerebral experiments that I read about and watched, showed me how with the help of psychology one can play on the brain’s shortcomings hence explaining why our cognition works the way it does and there started my eye-opening journey into the mysteries of our mind. What keeps me preoccupied with thoughts most of the time is that how often our brains’ wondrous abilities stand in the way of our basic comprehension skills. The subject never fails to overwhelm me. Every time I read some new information, it leaves me mesmerized by what the labyrinth of neurons inside my skull can do. Reading about the subject keeps me curious and inspires me to learn more and more. This made it clear to me that I must choose it as my subject in the future. Watching and reading about our mind and our brain, only makes me believe that this is my calling and this is what is making me happy and will make me happy when I take it up as a profession. A good liberal arts education in my subject of interest will increase my capacity to understand and enjoy humanity’s cultural and scientific achievements. It will increase my orientation for knowledge that will reduce my confusion and frustration that comes from being unable to put into context or words my thoughts, my decisions or phenomenons that I encounter in my daily life.
It is said, ‘Build a life you don’t need a vacation from.’ Instead of thinking of escaping to a beautiful Island from the stressing schedule and routines of life, I want to choose a life for myself, that makes me feel as good as I would on that island in each and every moment of my life. I believe, if I do what I love, this would not be a difficult thing at all.
TO WHOMSOEVER IT MAY CONCERN
It is with utmost pleasure and great pride that I am writing this letter of recommendation for Mr. Gopal Nair for admission into the graduate program in your university. As his Manager in AON Hewitt, Chennai, I have known him for two years both professionally and personally and hence I have had ample time to analyze, correct and encourage him on his capabilities.
In my observation, he has the capability to complete tasks assigned to him with minimum guidance making him intellectually independent but at the same time shows the rare and essential character to be a team person and work cohesively with his colleagues in achieving the set target. This has been substantiated by him having won many awards like the ‘Benefits Wizard’ in appreciation of dedication and commitment to client deliverables; he has also won the ‘Annual Enrollment Soldier’ award twice in a row, awarded to the best employee in the annual enrollment project. He is a meticulous person and can be entrusted to handle even critical situations. He is the lead associate in the team that handles Testing; he tests both the positive and negative scenarios in order to make sure that new changes do not impact the system. Simultaneously he also works on Test Planning, Configuration and Defect Resolution, tasks that are generally handled by more experienced professionals. He shows a lot of interest in Defects solving, having not only resolved many in a short span of time but also making sure that they do not recur in the future. He had also initiated the procedure of documenting the changes in a lucid way for future reference, which would be understandable to a non-technical professional too.
Apart from his technical work, he is also a creative person. He is constantly on the lookout for new technologies coming up with fresh ideas. I would like to highlight here that the ideas he posted for “Aon Hewitt Leanovation Committee”, which analyses and implements innovative ideas posted by colleagues across the world, resulted in time saving and cost efficiency. He is also an active member of the Fun Committee team that organizes activities every month in order to balance out the technical part of the professional life with social and fun events at a workplace where one is encouraged to interact and build relationships across the board. Leadership is another of his noteworthy qualities. He proved his caliber as an effective mentor on numerous occasions by helping newly hired interns by providing them with all the knowledge transitions needed, which was subsequently reflected in the team’s performance. He played a key role in client coordination, which encouraged them to acknowledge respective ‘Enthusiastic ClientCertificates’ (ECC). He has earned several accolades from his colleagues onshore and has been the recipient of a lot of recognition.
He has demonstrated excellent powers of observation that have made him an asset to the organization and also helped him in his career to progress to the senior role in the company in a span of two years. I have found him to be a reliable, hardworking and dedicated member of my team. Hence, I strongly recommend his application to your esteemed university with adequate financial aid, which would help him abundantly in improving his knowledge and in realizing his dreams.
References – Vince Gotera, University of Northern Iowa
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