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500 words!!


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5 replies to this topic

#1 loulou29

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Posted 12 January 2012 - 01:39 AM

Hi all,
I have a SOP that I've worked really hard on and submitted to 4 of the 6 schools I am applying to. It is roughly 1000 words and the last two apps I have to turn in are 500 words. I have been looking over my statement to see what I can trim (or should I say chop off) and it is so difficult!
Does anyone out there have any tips ? My sentences are well thought out and link to one another so it is difficult to delete a sentence here or there while keeping it cohesive. Should I stick to just one or two main stories (what I did for my undergrad thesis and what I do now) or try to briefly list several things (experiences that lead me to this area) to give a broader picture?
Thanks for the advice in advance!
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#2 finknottle

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Posted 12 January 2012 - 11:39 AM

Yes, trimming SOPs is difficult. While some schools ask for a single SOP, others ask for an SOP and a personal statement. The hint to take from that is that if you need to trim your SOP, you should probably start with the personal stuff. So yeah, devote more space to your theses and research and skim over other experiences.
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#3 whirlibird

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 10:00 AM

I agree with finknottle. I think that when schools ask for 500 words, they're making an implicit statement about what they want you to tell them. A 500 word SOP isn't the place to demonstrate creativity or flaunt vocabulary. I had to go through this process when I submitted my applications in early December, so I have a couple of practical suggestions that helped me:

1) Take your 1000 word statements and go through every sentence. Ask yourself: can I say what I mean in this sentence with fewer words, even "smaller" words? Think Ernest Hemingway. We sometimes actually underestimate the power of succinct, straightforward prose. (Remember, it's not that what you originally wrote wouldn't impress an admissions committee, but that they want to know if you can get to the point. It's a type of writing that graduate programs will require once you're admitted, so they're having a look now.)

2) Read each sentence again, and then consider if you can collapse one into another. Instead of this: "I traveled to Chile and was inspired by their democracy. This experience shaped my decision to write my undergraduate thesis on the country's transition from military rule." (27) Try this: "Inspired by Chilean democracy, I composed my undergraduate thesis on its historic regime change." (14) Don't just delete periods and add conjuctions; play around with sentence composition and try fitting the meanings of entire sentences into dependent clauses.

3) Now that you've preserved as much of your original as possible, just expressed it differently, now's the time to do more heavy cutting. I absolutely agree with you that pulling random sentences out isn't helpful. But hopefully you've condensed some of that meaning you were afraid of cutting before this point. Now you need to give the big, critical eye to your, as finknottle pointed out, "personal" bits.The first thing to go should be your narratives of how you came to be interested in a certain topic, especially if it involves an anecdote. Try to fit that stuff into dependent clauses if you MUST keep in in. Try trimming out that fat (remember, fat is what makes things taste good, but committees reading 500 word statements want the straight-up protein) and seeing where you stand. Some other things that can go, if you have them: a) Any kind of "prose CV" where you talk about your awards, accomplishments, etc. out of context just to demonstrate your chops; b ) Whatever comes before your thesis statement in your intro paragraph (whatever comes before "I want to study ____ at _____ because _____" or its equivalent in your statement); c) Sentences that expand on the one or two that came before them, but offer extraneous information that gets away from your main point. Think of your statement like a tree. A thousand word statement can have some branches, even a few branches that have branches. But a 500 word statement needs to have a clearly-defined trunk (the argument of why they should admit you) and just a few short, thick branches. The idea is not to stray too far from the trunk with anything, even if it's well-written AND informative. Ask yourself if what you're saying helps you further your MAIN POINT, which is why they shouldn't throw out your application.
-->That said, make sure you DO keep your research interests, your prior research (but be straightforward! Try a one sentence summary of the work, and a one sentence summary of your findings), your career aims, and why you're a good fit for that particular school. Those should be the backbone of your statement, because they're what committees will match with their faculty and program.

4) When you've done all this, give the statement to someone that you trust who's a good editor. Ask for feedback, especially from academics who've been through this process themselves and/or served on admissions committees before.

I realize that was kind of long, but I know how hard it is to take what you think is a finished piece of work and have to almost go back to the drawing board because you have to be willing to chop whatever it takes. Hope this is helpful! You can do it!

Edited by whirlibird, 17 January 2012 - 10:02 AM.

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#4 Secret Squirrel

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 11:13 AM

I just submitted my 1000 word one everywhere. We'll see how it works out for me.
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#5 edost

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 11:24 AM

I second whirlibird's advice. I chopped off my opening paragraph, which was mainly meant to get the reader's attention, although it did introduce my research interest. Also, I shortened the descriptions of my MA thesis and different relevant courses I took. Whole paragraphs were reduced to two or three sentences each.

It isn't easy, but it is doable!

By the way, you might find this New York Times article interesting. It's about undergrad essays, but it's also relevant for graduate SOPs.
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Attending Indiana University Fall 2012!

#6 whirlibird

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 03:56 PM

That article IS really relevant, edost. Nice find. It also did make me think about the major differences between undergraduate essays and graduate essays. College app essays seem to put more emphasis on telling your unique story, setting yourself apart in personality AND passions (all that other stuff your application says). Obviously you need to show that you'll be successful, but I think there's more of an emphasis on the personal, in "who" you are. The more I've written and thought about and read about grad school statements of purpose, the more I've come to realize that grad schools are less concerned about you as a personality, and much more interested in you as a producer. A college app essay without personal elements and only detailing research interests, etc. I think would usually be looked down upon, but your SOP for grad admissions is considered fabulous if you can effectivly get away with weaving just enough personal in to stand out--if you can't, you should err on the side of the "boring stuff."
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