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SOP opera

An impressive statement of purpose gives you an edge over other candidates. Pooja Biraia tells you how to write one that really works

education Updated: Apr 20, 2011 09:17 IST

write a first-rate statement of purpose

Clarity of purpose:
“To be able to write an impressive Statement of Purpose (SOP), a student needs to be clear about his career goals. He should know why he’s applying for the said course, and how he will benefit from it. He should be able to draw a clear career path” says Ganesh Kohli, professor and director, KIC Education, a Mumbai-based overseas education firm. An SOP is more of a goal statement, helping the university understand why you are best suited to the course and how it can enhance your career prospects.

Passion for the subject:
Convince the admission committee that you have a keen interest in the subject you have applied for, as it gives them a sense of your suitability to the programme. “A candidate must mention why he wants to study the course/ programme he has chosen,” says Kanika Marwaha, India representative, University of Warwick.

Cite examples of how you fared well in your area of interest in your school or college, projects you undertook etc.

Reason for your selection:
Read about the university in detail and be thorough with what it has to offer. Mention what made you choose the university by being specific, not generic. For instance, you need to refer to the course taught there, (and if possible, the specific modules that are of interest to you), the faculty in your area of interest with who you could conduct research, if applicable, or even if the location of the university (mention if it is a central hub etc).

Not a CV replica:
“Make sure to not copy paste your CV on to your SOP,” says Deepti Mehta, 22, City University, London graduate. Your CV already has all the information about your marks, school and college you attended etc. In the SOP you would want to highlight your interests, achievements and how you intend to use your past education and the future course in furthering your future career goals.

Extra-curricular activities:
It’s not just the academics, a candidate’s participation and performance in extra-curricular activities should also be mentioned. “All this can give him an edge when it comes to admission selection,” says Marwaha. The spokesperson of the University of Exeter explains: “An undergraduate student’s SOP must detail more extra-curricular activities. But this is less important at PG level — as professional/ vocational focus is arguably more important at this stage.” Also mention any volunteer work you may have done, and get a letter/certificate about your work. Avoid sounding boastful though.

Personalise the SOP:
Avoid sending the same SOP to all the universities to which you’re applying. Instead, address the department of the particular university and refer to the course modules that are taught, which are specific to that university. “When I was writing my SOP, I wrote specifics about each college’s programme,” says Amir Ognawala, who has secured admission in the North Corolina State University, for MS in electrical engineering.

A different approach:
There is a difference in the way an undergraduate student writes the SOP and the way a graduate student writes it. “The difference lies in the level of maturity. A graduate has to be very sure about his choice of programme and career goals. If you are an undergraduate’, make sure your SOP comes across as fresh and youthful,” advises Kanika.

I envision myself heading a chip design firm in India

Sample SOP
Goal Statement Aamir Ognawala MS / PhD programme electrical engineering, Fall 2011

Over the past few years, my vision of my future self has gradually evolved to the point where I see myself heading a chip design firm based in India. To this effect, I wish to engage in research of VLSI and chip design techniques aimed at improving efficiency leading to accelerated processor performance.

I fondly remember my early childhood attempts at dismantling a radio receiver and spending hours grappling with the machinations of my newly acquired computer. Thus it was not surprising that physics with its electrons and electrical properties became my greatest challenge and, choosing electronics and telecommunication as my engineering stream a natural preference.

During my study of electronics, I was intrigued by the concept of integrating a million transistors into a chip no bigger than my fingernail and this made me choose VLSI Design as an elective in my final year.

In my last two years of engineering, I have extensively studied the Hardware Programming Language VHDL, the PSPICE simulation environment and have also become familiar with Microwind, software used for the design of CMOS layouts. My interest in VDHL helped to identify both my field of interest as well as the choice of my major project in my final year of engineering titled Implementation of programmable robotic controller on FPGA using VHDL. As a part of my project, I am using concepts of VLSI to design an 8-bit microcontroller, with a fully-functional architecture and instruction set.

While in college, I served as the joint technical head in the IEEE KJSCE council. Also, I successfully led my team in electronics-related events held as part of the inter-college festivals.

I believe that the solution to the ever growing problem of efficiency and speed in chip designing will not come by a further reduction in the size of transistors, but by a radical change, both in the way architectures are designed, as well as in the entire chip design process.

I consider myself highly suitable for further studies in this field due to my strong foundation in electronics and mathematics. The master’s programme at your University will further improve my knowledge. Also the programme with its flexible curriculum will equip me with the right skills I would need to tackle these problems when I launch a chip design firm of my own.

After completing my masters I would like to work for a few years in a research based organisation. Finally I aspire to set up a chip design firm in India and contribute to the advancement in this field of technology.

When writing your SOP, make sure you don’t:
. Have a lack of structure
. Plagiarise
. Generalise
. Have a lack of focus
(By Kanika Marwaha, India representative, University of Warwick)

Three most common mistakes candidates make in their SOPs
. Poor grammar and/or spelling mistakes
. A generic statement prepared for different universities/programmes and cut and paste (even worse applying to University X and mentioning University Y in the SOP!)
. Failure to explain why the candidate is interested in the particular programme applied for
(By University of Exeter)

Three important points a candidate must mention in his/her SOP
. Why is the student interested in the programme he’s applying for in particular
. How does he think it will help him in the future when he takes up a career
. Clear communication and not “trying too hard” (e.g. forcing in words that the applicant believes sound sophisticated… “inculcate” is a particular bugbear of mine!)

(By assistant director, International Office, University of Exeter)