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Medievalmaniac

SOP mistakes: what to avoid

123 posts in this topic

Guys read this : http://honors.tamu.edu/downloads/Personal%20Statement%20Invitation%20to%20Frustration.pdf

 

MajorityMinority posted this a few months ago, but WOW! I can honestly say this will help me clear up my SOP. Read it! Digest it! Use it!

this link is broken :(

does anyone have the file or an updated link? google search has proven futile. 

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I wish I did that. I thought my transcript would reflect it, but it didn't. In fact, my transcript didn't even list both my majors! I almost cried when I saw a scanned copy of it. (My school doesn't give them to students, they mail it out themselves). It didn't say what professors taught which classes or anything. It looked awful.

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I just had a professor who sits on admissions committees look over my SOP.

My introduction was talking about how I liked to go to museums as a child and was fascinated by the ancient world. He said that starting out like this is a huge mistake. Obviously if you are applying to study archaeology at the graduate level, it's pretty much assumed that you're fascinated by the ancient world and probably enjoy museums. But so do lots of people. What makes you unique. Attempt to illustrate your passion for the field without really telling some kind of silly story about your childhood. This is also an approach that many people take, and if you really want a strong SOP you'll find a better, more mature, and more creative way to say it.

 

This may be acceptable to some programs but in general starting out with an anecdote is a no-no. 

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The DGS at my undergraduate institution said to be extremely leary about mentioning names of faculty members because often they'll get applications and either (1) The person is dead/retired (2) The person doesn't work with grad-students so it wouldn't make sense. Of course there are some applications I've filled out that specifically ask you to mention what professors you could see yourself working with.

So I guess the rule of thumb would be do it if they ask you to, or if there is a scholar whose work you're very familiar with and see your own work as contributing to similar critical debates it can't hurt to mention them, but if that's the case they would probably realize that such was the case without you mentioning them.

Botton line, error on the side of caution!

I'm working on my application to Cambridge right now and there's an optional section on the application where you can specify profs you'd like to work with. Any thoughts if I should be doing that (and contacting people?) or skipping it? I mean, there are like 4-5 faculty whose work would go nicely with mine, I just feel weird picking one person randomly. I wouldn't want to offend someone who I didn't pick.

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Guys, any thoughts on what I should be focusing on in a 500 word SOP?? It's so short! And it's for Cambridge in the UK. Any differences I should be keeping in mind...?

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Guys, any thoughts on what I should be focusing on in a 500 word SOP?? It's so short! And it's for Cambridge in the UK. Any differences I should be keeping in mind...?

 

The way I approached my rough draft SOP was to ignore the word limit and type my essay using the general guidelines from sites people have suggested on this forum. I also made sure to include the most important strengths about myself. After that, I went back and cut away any extraneous materials (e.g. needlessly lengthy introductory phrases; passages that repeat main ideas I had mentioned earlier in the essay). If my essay still was over the word limit, I would go through the process again and concentrate on how I can isolate the most important main ideas in a more succinct and shorter way. 

 

Also about choosing faculty members for your grad program, you'll just have to do your research into each processor in the program whose interests match yours. It might be a bit late in the game to contact these professors, though, especially from a prestigious university like Cambridge. What kind of program are you applying for?

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The way I approached my rough draft SOP was to ignore the word limit and type my essay using the general guidelines from sites people have suggested on this forum. I also made sure to include the most important strengths about myself. After that, I went back and cut away any extraneous materials (e.g. needlessly lengthy introductory phrases; passages that repeat main ideas I had mentioned earlier in the essay). If my essay still was over the word limit, I would go through the process again and concentrate on how I can isolate the most important main ideas in a more succinct and shorter way. 

 

Also about choosing faculty members for your grad program, you'll just have to do your research into each processor in the program whose interests match yours. It might be a bit late in the game to contact these professors, though, especially from a prestigious university like Cambridge. What kind of program are you applying for?

Masters in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. They don't seem to be too fussy about contacting people on their web pages. Their page for admissions (includes the PhD program too) says "Please note that although prospective graduate students may wish to look at the list of faculty members' research interests before they decide to apply here, supervisors aren't appointed until after the candidate has been accepted and can't appoint themselves to supervise a project in advance."

 

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Reviving this thread instead of posting a new one...

 

I'm conflicted on whether to include a short addendum about my first year grades. I know this is something often talked about, but in the fall of my freshman year I suffered a concussion from sports that severely impacted my grades. This was also on top of me choosing the "wrong" major, and being miserable/ill-suited also negatively impacted my grades. Sophomore year I switched and performed much better, although today, as a rising senior, I still experience effects of the concussion (mild, really annoying temporary memory loss episodes). I was thinking of spinning the concussion as a learning experience - that because the injury occurred a couple weeks into school, I should've withdrawn and waited until I was better. Although I was able to get through the year, it really wasn't a wise/mature decision to keep going, which undoubtedly slowed healing. 

 

How does that sound? I'm worried about adcoms thinking that my concussion might negatively impact my graduate school performance (but i got mainly As and B+s after the 1st year of undergrad). Maybe it's a silly worry.

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Reviving this thread instead of posting a new one...

 

I'm conflicted on whether to include a short addendum about my first year grades. I know this is something often talked about, but in the fall of my freshman year I suffered a concussion from sports that severely impacted my grades. This was also on top of me choosing the "wrong" major, and being miserable/ill-suited also negatively impacted my grades. Sophomore year I switched and performed much better, although today, as a rising senior, I still experience effects of the concussion (mild, really annoying temporary memory loss episodes). I was thinking of spinning the concussion as a learning experience - that because the injury occurred a couple weeks into school, I should've withdrawn and waited until I was better. Although I was able to get through the year, it really wasn't a wise/mature decision to keep going, which undoubtedly slowed healing. 

 

How does that sound? I'm worried about adcoms thinking that my concussion might negatively impact my graduate school performance (but i got mainly As and B+s after the 1st year of undergrad). Maybe it's a silly worry.

 

I learned that any chance to talk about why there are some not-so-satisfying grades on your transcript should be discussed. You could talk about the positive change you felt after you finally found a field you enjoyed and had the chance to take the start of an academic year from a, let's say "healthier" perspective. I would note that the concussion/difficulty allowed you to see your potential and gave you an opportunity to grow/learn about yourself as an academic during stressful situations. 

Edited by scarvesandcardigans

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1) Do any of your professors know about it/might mention it? If we're talking Fs with the occasional D, you might want them to get it in their letters. If we're talking Cs—well, who doesn't have a few rough grades at the start of college?

2) What's your major GPA? If it's good, that is an extra reason not to apologize for your grades outside your major, in a field you realized was not right for you.

3) It doesn't sound like you want to disclose the continuing side effects—is that right? In that case, I don't think I would mention the concussion in particular. It doesn't sound like something admissions people needs to know.

 

Regardless, I might still have a half a sentence somewhere in the middle like, "After a rough start to my undergraduate career...". I definitely wouldn't have an "addendum" at the end, leaving that as the final "note" the admissions people are thinking about you with. Finish strong!

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Ah, I see we've cross-posted. I don't think you have to disclose. I probably wouldn't, because I'm pretty a private person. Scarves has a good point about why you might want to, and I think that the way they've presented it makes sense, if you feel like it's an important part of your story. But I still think that if you include it, do so in the middle; don't end on that note.

Edited by knp

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Thanks to you both!

I'm applying to public health programs and they have specific requirements for what should go in the SOP and what should be an addendum. Explaining things like poor grades should not be in the SOP, or else I would mention it tactfully in there. I can think of a few ways to insert just a sentence or two in the SOP while staying on topic, though. I'll consider that more when I get to work on SOPs.

When my GPA is calculated for applications using SOPHAS it'll come out to a 3.5-3.6. My school doesn't include study abroad credit in your GPA and I have a handful of As from summer study, so my transcript GPA is lower than what schools will be considering. They also focus on last 60 hours or so which would be soph/jr years for me and that's when my GPA really shot up. I know that people generally have rough times during their freshman year, but I feel especially frustrated because it wasn't something I could control and not due to usual tough life adjustment (I was fine in that area).

I'm mainly nervous because I took science & quant classes that year that are pre-reqs or "strongly preferred" for my graduate program.

Continuing side effects are minimal and don't affect my academics-I would say they affect me socially more than anything (like forgetting a professor/advisor/close friend's name temporarily in the middle of a conversation). None of my professors know about it except the ones in the department I was in at the time the injury occurred and I won't be using them as references.

Edited by artsy16

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I would like advice on how, if at all, SOPs might vary for terminal masters programs such as those I am applying to - International Relations, MPPs and MPAs. Obviously much of the information, the "story", the trajectory from your past experiences, your current interests and your future goals, etc, will be the same as that for other types of programs. That said, it seems that a lot of the quality advice I have found on SOPs tend to trend towards traditional humanities degrees, with PhDs being the end game and research alongside a professor a critical component of the process.

 

Can anyone with knowledge or experience regarding SOPs for terminal masters programs offer any advice on the key things that may make these SOPs different? I have been writing my first drafts and have been trying to incorporate the universities' cultures, faculty, specific courses, etc into my SOPs, but I feel like I am struggling to clearly and uniquely differentiate the letters based on the schools and programs, as many share a lot of characteristics. These programs are more practical/skills based, and less purely academic research oriented. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks.

Edited by 6speed!

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On December 8, 2011 at 1:22:59 PM, AlphabetSoup said:

misspelled BERKELEY as BERKLEY... champ

OH NO! LOL!

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On May 27, 2015 at 2:56:04 PM, artsy16 said:

Thanks to you both!

 

I'm applying to public health programs and they have specific requirements for what should go in the SOP and what should be an addendum. Explaining things like poor grades should not be in the SOP, or else I would mention it tactfully in there. I can think of a few ways to insert just a sentence or two in the SOP while staying on topic, though. I'll consider that more when I get to work on SOPs.

For what it is worth, I would follow the program's instructions.  If they say to not include such info in the SOP then do not do it, no matter how tactful.  Here is the thing, without knowing the program or its applicants I am all but certain that the majority of applicants are not going to follow the rules.  Why?  Because most are getting their advice from websites.  Instead of writing the SOPs that the program wants them to write they are writing SOPs that they think the program wants to read.  

 

Chances are you will ignore my advice here, too, and that is fine.  Just keep in mind that the SOP is meant to show what you will bring to the program if admitted right at this very moment. What happened 3 or 4 years is largely irrelevant unless it is a continued issue.  

On August 14, 2015 at 10:08:41 AM, 6speed! said:

I would like advice on how, if at all, SOPs might vary for terminal masters programs such as those I am applying to - International Relations, MPPs and MPAs. Obviously much of the information, the "story", the trajectory from your past experiences, your current interests and your future goals, etc, will be the same as that for other types of programs. That said, it seems that a lot of the quality advice I have found on SOPs tend to trend towards traditional humanities degrees, with PhDs being the end game and research alongside a professor a critical component of the process.

 

Can anyone with knowledge or experience regarding SOPs for terminal masters programs offer any advice on the key things that may make these SOPs different? I have been writing my first drafts and have been trying to incorporate the universities' cultures, faculty, specific courses, etc into my SOPs, but I feel like I am struggling to clearly and uniquely differentiate the letters based on the schools and programs, as many share a lot of characteristics. These programs are more practical/skills based, and less purely academic research oriented. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks.

My top choice is/was a terminal MS program in the sense that there is no Ph.D. option within the specific program, or even at the school.  However, many do go on to Ph.D. programs at other institutions.  What I did, and this advice was given to me from profs/PIs/POIs within this same program, was to only focus on three things:  why I want an MS degree; why I want this program; why I want this lab.  Obviously this is a thesis based program so if you will not be doing a research project you could possibly pitch that last one and replace it with "future career goals".  I was also told to not include any "life stories" as they flat out did not care and to also not restate anything already on my CV.  

In a nutshell, stick to prompt professionalism and treat the SOP to terminal MS programs strictly as a cover letter with a job application:  this is why I am applying to your company; this is what I bring to the table;  this is what I will get out of it. 

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For those looking for the tamu link from a few pages back (that leads to an error page), here is the new link:

 

http://honors.uiowa.edu/files/honors.uiowa.edu/files/wysiwyg_uploads/Personal%20Statement%20Invitation%20to%20Frustration.pdf

edit to add:  link is to U Iowa, but document is the same.  

Edited by Crucial BBQ

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5 hours ago, Crucial BBQ said:

For what it is worth, I would follow the program's instructions.  If they say to not include such info in the SOP then do not do it, no matter how tactful.  Here is the thing, without knowing the program or its applicants I am all but certain that the majority of applicants are not going to follow the rules.  Why?  Because most are getting their advice from websites.  Instead of writing the SOPs that the program wants them to write they are writing SOPs that they think the program wants to read. 

I don't understand your response to my post. I stated that one should follow what the program says, and that I specifically would not be deviating from that. If you were simply agreeing with me, my apolgies. 

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On 11/23/2015, 8:11:37, artsy16 said:

I don't understand your response to my post. I stated that one should follow what the program says, and that I specifically would not be deviating from that. If you were simply agreeing with me, my apolgies. 

My comment was in response to what you wrote, "I can think of a few ways to insert just a sentence or two in the SOP while staying on topic, though. I'll consider that more when I get to work on SOPs."

I have been through the application process two years in a row.  My own advice to myself back then would be to follow the prompt to a T. Then again as always I suggest you contact the program directly and ask if you are still to considered inclusion of a sentence or two. 

Edit:

Not sure what is up with the strike out....

Edited by fuzzylogician
fixed strike out.

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Hmm, the current application I'm working on requires something very similar to a SOP (they call it "academic interest form"). Although they provide no strict guidelines, they do request answering 3 different questions (but then do mention adding anything else you feel is relevant/helpful...). Taking advice from above, think I'll forgo any extra material that isn't directly related to the 3 questions/topics.

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Posted (edited)

Hello everyone!

I do hope this is the appropriate place to post this, but I've seen others ask similar questions, so I' m assuming it's all right. If not, I apologize.

I am currently a Masters student in Translation Studies in Canada, but I have finally decided to take the plunge and apply to other Masters because Translation isn't what I want and won't afford me the same opportunities when I apply to PhD programs in the future. So I'm in the process of applying to MA's in other fields and I have a question concerning GPA. I did my undergrad in France and my overall GPA translates to about 3.3 to 3.5, according to the website of the school I'm interested in (which I think is a bit low comparatively, as I found the grading system much more severe in France than it is here in Canada). Their minimum required GPA *is* 3.3, so I' m not overly worried, but they do say that successful applicants usually have higher GPAs, which is a little upsetting. My undergrad is extremely interdisciplinary, and I lost a lot of points because of subjects that weren't my forte. I however did very good (A and A+ equivalents) in subjects that are relevant to the MA I'm applying to. I also did everything through distance learning, which is honestly an added difficulty, and also means that 100% of my grade in every single subject was just one final exam. So it's a very hit or miss kind of situation.

My question is this: should I mention this in my SOP or does it just sound like I'm making excuses? I' m wondering if it's necessary also, since I feel the rest of my application is fairly strong. I have a 3.85 GPA in my current MA program and will have strong recommendation letters from my professors.

Thank you! :)

Edited by Hecate

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