Tips for Procrastinators: Writing a Compelling Statement of Purpose for Professional School or Graduate Study
by Katrina Oko-Odoi
We’re now at the tail end of the admissions season, so most of the super-organized, timely applicants will have long ago submitted their last application for professional or graduate school. I know there are some stragglers out there, though, and I’m talking to you! As a self-diagnosed procrastinator myself, I understand the pressure you must be feeling to get this pesky statement of purpose (SOP) written so that you can submit your application before the deadline. So, here are some straightforward tips to help you get your SOP right the first time and squeak in your application before the admissions door closes!
The decision to apply to professional or graduate school is a bold and exciting step toward achieving your goals and aspirations. The excitement you have about the possibilities your future holds is a great source of motivation for writing your Statement of Purpose (SOP). Some programs also call this a Personal Statement or a Statement or Letter of Intent, but for the sake of consistency, I’ll use “SOP.” Whatever you call it, the statement you compose will convince an admissions committee of senior faculty whether your vision for a professional or graduate school education is worth the school’s investment. Above all, the committee is seeking candidates capable of excelling in the program to which they’re applying. This means that your ability to convey your short- and long-term professional goals is often what determines your admission into the program of your dreams. Whether it’s medical school, law school, or a doctoral or master’s program in your field of choice, communicating your goals for professional or graduate school and beyond are crucial to gain admission into your dream program.
For many applicants, writing the SOP is the most daunting part of the application process. While it may be a struggle to get a clear vision of yourself out on paper, this experience is actually extremely insightful for you as a professional school candidate. How clear are you on what you would like to get out of a program? How do you determine whether a program is right for you? Finding the answers to these questions will help crystallize the writing process as well as your own expectations for professional or graduate school. To simplify the process, follow these five key steps to get going on your SOP:
-Reflect on what you have learned in your undergraduate studies about your area of interest, and about yourself. What do you enjoy doing, and what do you do well? What are your career expectations and dreams? Jot down your thoughts.
-Remember, your SOP is a prospectus that requires specific, straightforward, and concise statements. There needs to be cohesiveness to the story you tell in your statement. This is where visualization comes in. When you can see and feel yourself doing something, it is often easier to find the words and momentum to articulate your vision. Take the time to brainstorm based on the image you have of your future. Use the next few steps to help refine and focus that vision.
-Ask yourself how you can show others that you are disciplined and committed to your interests and aspirations. What are specific, strong, and compelling examples that reveal your ability to overcome adversity, as well as your aptitude for the studies you want to pursue? One strong example is ten times better than a list of weak examples.
-Read the school’s instructions for the SOP and follow them scrupulously! Research each school’s specific program and opportunities. Know the school in depth and address your interest in working with specific experts or faculty members in your area of interest. Clarify how studying in that program will prepare you for meeting your professional goals. This is the time to piece together your answers and compose the specific reasons you are interested in a particular area of study. Use your answers to steps one and two to describe past experiences that have shaped your thinking.
-Justify: For those of you who have had terms where your grades did not accurately reflect what you were capable of (which happens quite often due to hardships or the excitement of college life), you can add a 1-3 sentence amendment paragraph explaining why you faltered and stating how you have addressed those issues. You can also touch on what you learned from the experience. Justify your potential admission into the program – why are you still a strong candidate for the school of your choice?
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