Statement of Purpose for Grad School

Sudeepa Kolli
6 min readSep 26, 2023

Your statement of purpose (SOP) is hands down the heavyweight champ of your grad school application. It’s the ultimate game-changer, holding sway over more than half of your application’s destiny. Think of it as your secret weapon to bridge any gaps in your profile. The fascinating thing is, except for that last paragraph that should be tailored to each specific university and program, the rest of your SOP is pretty much consistent across all your applications.

Honestly, I dedicated more time to crafting my SOP than any other part of my application. My first draft alone took a solid month to shape, and then I spent another two months refining it to perfection.

So, how do you get started on crafting your statement of purpose (SOP)?

First things first, resist the urge to dive into those online SOPs right away. Take a moment to envision what you want your SOP to be, without any external influence. If you’ve already peeked at a few online examples, no worries; just clear your mind and think about how you want your unique SOP to shape up. Then, start with a rough draft.

Now, it’s time to explore some SOPs online. These are great to get a sense of how people approach this task. However, remember, those generic SOPs you find are just a starting point, not your destination. Your SOP should be tailor-made for you — so specific that no one else could fit into your narrative.

Let’s talk about the opening paragraph. This is where you introduce yourself in a way that links a personal experience to who you’ve become and what drives you. To make it engaging, start with a significant personal event or moment in your life. Keep it genuine and real. Then, take your reader on a journey from that moment, explaining how it transformed you and led you to where you are now.

Remember, each point you include in your SOP should work harmoniously to convey that you are not just a suitable candidate but an exceptional one for their university. Your dedication and unwavering commitment should shine through your SOP, leaving no room for doubt. It’s not about explicitly stating your dedication; it’s about telling your story in a way that indirectly assures the reader of your unwavering commitment to your academic and career pursuits. Your SOP should serve as a testament to your passion and your drive to make things happen.

Moving on to the next two paragraphs — this is your academic showcase. Use this space to narrate your educational journey, the skills you’ve acquired, and how you acquired them. Share how you’ve applied these skills to make an impact. You can dive into your projects, highlighting experiences that set you apart. Discuss challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them, emphasizing your successes. You can also mention how you utilized your time during the pandemic to develop your technical skills and how you’ve been using these skills to help others post-pandemic. You can also delve into your internship or research experiences that you did not mention on your resume, explaining your contributions and achievements. Your academic journey should shine through in these paragraphs, showcasing your growth and unique qualities.

2, 3 paragraphs of my SOP

I did not add my first paragraph here as it touches on rather personal aspects that I’d rather not mention. However, I’ve attached my second and third paragraphs above for your reference. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that all the sentences are structured as complex sentences. They have a clear starting point, an intriguing narrative, and a meaningful ending that highlights what led me to a particular point and the steps I took to get there. Moving on to my third paragraph, I’ve incorporated a hyperlink to a specific page on my portfolio website. I want to emphasize that it’s perfectly acceptable to include links in your SOP as long as they don’t alter the text’s color or font. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance. While one to three links in your SOP can enhance your application, an excessive number may come across as overwhelming or detract from the overall readability.

Onto to the next paragraph, it’s all about showcasing what you do beyond the classroom — your voluntary work, co-curricular, and extracurriculars. Use this section to introduce the admissions committee to the person you are outside of academics. If you’ve ever taken the initiative to teach high school kids something valuable or introduced a new technology to your juniors, share those experiences. It’s your chance to let the committee know that you’re not just about personal growth; you’re committed to giving back to communities. And here’s the magic — when you graduate from their university, they’ll know you’ll give back to them too. It’s about establishing that sense of community and shared values.

Now, the second-to-last paragraph is crucial. This is where you articulate why you’ve chosen this program and why it’s the perfect fit for you. Whether you’re continuing in the same field or making a bold transition to something entirely different, this is your opportunity to explain why this particular program makes sense for your journey. Discuss the skills you bring to the table and what you’re eager to learn. Connect the dots between this program and your career aspirations.

Lastly, we have the paragraph that requires customization for each university you apply to. This part draws upon the research you’ve done earlier when selecting your universities. If you haven’t read the article on choosing the right universities yet, now’s the time to do it. In this paragraph, express why you’re specifically interested in that particular university. Showcase your knowledge of the institution’s unique offerings, culture, faculty, or resources that align with your academic and career goals. Tailor this section to highlight how that university is the perfect place for you to thrive and grow.

If there’s a specific lab or a professor whose work deeply interests you and you’re eager to collaborate with, make sure to mention it. Share why this lab or professor is the perfect match for your academic and research aspirations. Highlight the unique opportunities and resources they offer that align with your goals.

Additionally, if there’s a notable alumnus from that university whose career path inspires you and you’re keen on following in their footsteps, don’t hesitate to express it. Mention how their achievements and journey resonate with your own aspirations. By walking in their footsteps, you’re not just following a path; you’re setting yourself on a trajectory to become a notable alumni as well. It’s a powerful way to convey your genuine enthusiasm for the university and the impact it can have on your future.

Awesome, now you know how to write your Statement of Purpose.

Now, let me share how I tackled my first draft. I grabbed three blank pieces of paper and threw all caution to the wind. No structure, no rules, and no grammar checks — just a raw outpouring of points and aspects about myself that I deemed significant. Over the course of a month, I had around 30 of these unique and personal points.

Next, I rated each of these points on a scale of five, weighing their uniqueness and how well they encapsulated who I am. The cream of the crop, the most distinctive and ideal ones, made the cut. Then, it was all about arranging these points in a logical order that matched the content of the paragraphs I had in mind. Of course, I held onto a few relevant points, saving them for my diversity essay and scholarship essay.

Note that various universities may have different requirements when it comes to your statement of purpose (SOP). One essential element to keep a vigilant eye on is the word count. Exceeding the specified word limit is generally not advisable, as it could potentially impact the quality and clarity of your SOP.

Remember, your SOP is your stage to shine. It’s not just about your academic records; it’s the story behind the resume, a glimpse into your goals, and ambitions, the journey you’ve taken, and the person you aspire to become. Refine your SOP tirelessly, over and over again, until you are truly satisfied with it. The goal? To create an SOP so captivating that once they start reading, they can’t stop until they’ve savored every word. It’s your opportunity to let them into your world — make it the absolute best you can.

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