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This is less a mistake than a piece of advice. I have a period in my academic career that includes a couple of F's. I talked to my advisor about how to handle the situation and he told me that since I have such limited space in my SOP to not even touch it. He said letter writers have unlimited space, and that he would address the issue there. Granted, I am putting a lot of faith in my advisor, but the SOP I have now seems much stronger in that it focuses on my research and what I plan to do, instead of wasting valuable characters on the past.

Just thought I'd throw that out there since a lot of people seem to ask about how to handle past poor performance.

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Medievalmaniac, I really don't think that the SoP is the right place to explain your coursework, unless it has direct relevance to the narrative you're writing about your development. I just attached

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 s

This is the exact way to go. Most first drafts of SOPs I've seen start with a narrative of the person's past and background, and only get around to their current/future interests towards the end

this is a really helpful topic/thread!

i'm worried about my SOP, and i haven't even started on it yet...spent so much time studying for the tests, i've only done some cursory prepping for the essays i have to submit, the first date being 12/3!

my specific issue is that a great deal of my undergrad english studies were in women's and af-am literature and for my master's degree i competed concentrations in women's studies and african-american studies. while still interested in these areas of lit, my interests have expanded and i really want to explore literature and philosophy. i wrote a paper involving bakhtin's theory of dialogism in grad school so i do have experience working with linguistic philosophy, but otherwise, i'm worried i won't be considered "prepared" enough to be accepted. (the bakhtin paper will be the source of my writing sample.)

but what do you do when your vision is broader than it once was?

I'm starting this thread as a chance to help others learn from my mistake(s), and I hope others will be generous with their lessons learned as well.

I JUST thought to look at my transcripts, and realized that two of the classes in which I did the most work in my area of study do not reflect that on the transcript!! They just say "ENGL _____, Literature and Culture" and ENGL ____, British Literature. I didn't even think to talk about the work I did in these classes in my SOP, I focused on my thesis, my conference activity, and what I want to do for my dissertation -so, while I'm sure my professor's letter of recommendation discusses it to some degree, essentially I applied for medieval literature with only one course actually labeled as such on my transcript. My SOP focused very heavily on what I wanted to do in a doctoral program, while (now I see very clearly) only nominally, superficially, expressing why I was qualified to do it. WOW. No WONDER some of the programs I applied to didn't even consider me as a serious applicant!!

So - from my experience, check what your transcript says about the classes you took/the titles they are filed under, and make sure you discuss in detail for about a paragraph the pertinent coursework you did - texts read, etc. etc.

And boy, do I feel dumb!! But at least now I can see where to go in my next round of apps!!

Anyone else got some good, specific pointers?

Edited by dantete
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  • 3 weeks later...

Here's a question that I don't see on these boards:

Is it awkward/otherwise detrimental to quote terms directly from a department's website in one's SOP for that department? I'm having a hard time describing my (excellent) fit with an interdisciplinary program in the humanities without drawing from the program's own language to describe its strengths.

Thanks in advance for advice and thoughts!

-CM

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this is a really helpful topic/thread!

but what do you do when your vision is broader than it once was?

I think that's great, and gives you a perfect topic for your SOP. "As an undergraduate, my focus was on African American and Women's Studies, where I specifically looked at <insert specific topics you wrote about in these courses>. As a graduate student, I have found my interests expanding to include more theoretical and rhetorical approaches to literature, including specifically work I have done in Bakhtinian views of <insert specific topics here>. As a doctoral student, I hope to combine these interests into a research program that.......

You get the picture. Just tell them where you were, where you are, and where you see yourself going.

Hope that helps!!

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I saw this link to an interesting article in another part of the SoP subforum as well as a few other places with advice for SoP's and thought that this would also be a good place to link it. Its an individual committee members point of view about what they don't like to see in a SoP. Although there are a lot of comments to it that seem to give the impression that she is not the only one who feels this way on committees.

Hope that it helps other people!

http://chronicle.com/article/Leave-Dr-Seuss-Out-of-It/126098/

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Do you get your LOR-writers to read your SOP? Or do you sometimes get other professors/faculty to read it?

My LOR-writers are very busy people, and they're going to have to fill out the "special rec" forms that a lot of schools give out. For most of the 15-20 schools I'm applying to. So I don't want to burden them with more. :(

Edited by InquilineKea
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One crucial mistake to avoid in your Personal Statement is writing in an arrogant tone when discussing your qualifications and accomplishments. The statement is your opportunity to shine, but there is a delicate balance to be struck between a bland, factual presentation of the facts and a self-congratulating, conceited exposition of your triumphs and exploits.

Arrogant tone: "I earned the Dean's Prize my senior year because I was the #1 student in the Biology program."

Neutral, mature tone: "In my senior year, I was awarded the Dean's Prize in recognition of my accomplishments in the Biology program."

The personal statement is a unique opportunity to stand out from the crowd, so be sure to craft it carefully and ask for others' feedback.

Edited by gradschoolheaven
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I know this is kinda random, but...

I've found difficulties in writing my SOP (what's new lol), mostly because I've felt that what I had written were uninspired or flat. I'm a better writer if I can imagine an audience... so would it be dangerous to ... i don't know, write my SOP as in a letter format? unsure.gif

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I know this is kinda random, but...

I've found difficulties in writing my SOP (what's new lol), mostly because I've felt that what I had written were uninspired or flat. I'm a better writer if I can imagine an audience... so would it be dangerous to ... i don't know, write my SOP as in a letter format? unsure.gif

Write it that way -- at least it will get you started. See if you like what you end up with. Then, get feedback from profs/mentors/advisors. Also, consider writing it as a letter and then modifying it so it has a more standard format later. Getting started is the hardest part! Good luck!

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In my first few versions of SOPs, I used a lot of adjectives, which I removed after advice from reviewers. Facts are important. For my program, SOP can be 1-2 pages. But I restricted myself to a single page. Particularly for applying to different programs, I didn't tell specially what interests me in their program except for different broad fields of research and faculty

Things that can be included

1. names of Projects

2. Names of profs.

3. Specific research areas

4. journals or publications from the faculty u've read and enjoyed.

For any engineering field, facts are more important than adjectives, or college-club involvement. But Perseverence is a trait, that can be shown, with what we did outside coursework/research, because, research requires lots of it.

I didn't show any trait in myself that made them believe i'll do research for lots of years.

There are lots of blog entries and advice for writing SOP for CS. It is important to read them, or know what they talk about before attempting to write one.

Edited by rejectMeNot
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One thing I realized after the round of applications and hearing back from Universities was done was that it helps to have a strong cohesive "personal" element to the SOP. The two universities I got positive responses from both required a separate short essay to talk about "the journey that led you to decide on graduate school", and labelled it the "personal statement" or something of the sort. I think being able to tell my story, if I could use a cliche, really helped separate me from the other applicants they had. And of course it's such a small sample size, but I wonder if it was only a coincidence that I got good responses whenever I included this additional essay.

So if I was to do it all over again, I would look to somehow include that "story" element more into my statement of purpose, while at the same time including the usual things, what I want to study? why I want to study it? Which professors' work interests me? school specific resources? and a discussion of my qualifications.

Hope that helps!

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Hi,

With SOPs aimed at advanced Finance degree programs, its wise to include "What" you intend to use the degree for and "Why" (i.e future goals job-wise).

Admissions Committees figure that most often the answer to the "What" = a job, and the "Why" = $$$ and lots of it $$$.

As a guide:

Its best to supplement them with technical detail on job prospects and to go into specifics with job duties(e.g licenses required, board exams - SOA, CFA etc).

For example: Potential Traders may discuss professional organizations to join and Depts which you'd like Trading for (equities/ fixed income/ gov. securities/mortgages etc).

Discuss what excites you about the traditional career progression path and what it ultimately ought to lead to (i.e long term goal - appointment to a goverment position etc.).

Show 'em that you're in it for more than just the $$$ !!

B-schools are looking to educate tomorrows corporate/gov leaders - signal the desire and ability to be one through your SOP.

My 2 Cents,

- j-z

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Keep in mind when reading this, I am in a higher education program, which means that my SOP focused on different things than say someone in the hard sciences...maybe some others in the social science area or education will find this helpful.

Luckily I had a very competent practitioner in the field who had gone through the same program look over my SOP, b/c after she did, I realized what a mess it was. Getting an assistantship in residential housing was very important to me, and I feel into the pitfall of trying to talk about everything I did working as a resident adviser, and how much I wanted to work in housing, blah blah blah. The person looking at it said. " That's nice you want to get an assistantship and have done all of these things in housing, but you need to get into the program before you can get the assistantship." She reminded me to think about who my audience was (professors) and write about what kind of student I would be in the program. THE LIGHT BULB WENT OFF!

I finally realized that it was important to include things in my SOP that can't be listed on a resume (like my RA accomplishments). Things that will help the reader get to know you as a person. Things like - what drives me, how have my perspectives of student affairs changed through my experience, what kind of supervisor do i strive to be (supervision is important in student affairs), what are my values, etc.

If you think about fields like higher education and other similar ones, these types of careers depend on your abilities to communicate effectively, make split decision judgement calls when the rules aren't always black and white, supervise others and help them to elevate themselves, etc. So for this reason, I think it is more important in these areas to communicate who your are as a person, and your personal philosophy. Certain skills can be taught, but a number of characteristics of a successful practitioner in this field are inherent, and can't be taught. You need to convey to the reader of your SOP that you have these important foundational characteristics on which the program will build.

Also, while it is important to provide some specifics as to what you want to pursue (in my case, housing) mention you are open to other opportunities, as you don't want to close yourself off from other interesting opportunities and experiences. Hope this helps!

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A concern that I had writing my initial SOP was that the focus of my undergraduate coursework would not be immediately evident on my transcript. On a lark, I figured out the percentage of courses I'd taken related to the Cold War and wrote a brief comment about it. The purpose of this comment was to get the attention of specific faculty members without naming them.

Later, I had to write another SOP as a requirement to keep a fellowship. The graduate advisor did me a huge favor by confirming what I guessed when I handed it in to him--it stunk. I knew what was wrong with it without him saying (but he said it anyways--too much angst). The second version was much more upbeat.

In the second version, I positioned myself on a trajectory that began with the exact moment I was sitting in a lecture and I decided I wanted to specialize in American diplomatic and military history. The essay briefly traced the arc through the rest of my undergraduate career, and elaborated on the work I'd done my first year of graduate school, and where I saw it going for the next twenty plus.

This projection included comments about the types of monographs I intended to write. These comments were off beat in time and tempo. They went from the very general to the specific in a way that suggested I somehow knew where the cutting edge of scholarship would be in ten to fifteen years. The projection also discussed the types of courses I would like to teach as a professor. The essay ended with the hope that, one day, I could provide similar inspiration to an undergraduate sitting in a lecture hall.

IMO, the projections of my future work as a professor resonated because I did not tip my hand. At the time, I was much more interested in teaching than in doing research. Instead, I presented myself as an aspiring academic who would enthusiastically do both.

An additional comment. When I think back to writing SOPs, what I remember more than what I wrote (or what I did not write but should have) is how much fun the experiences were. The fun came from two sources. The first source was my ability to distancing myself from the notion that I am competing against others and to realize that in these kinds of situations, I am competing against my own potential as a human being and as an academic. Second, was the realization that I wasn't writing for a group readers who had a lot of power over my future and that I needed to impress them. Instead, I understood that I was writing for an audience that included potential peers and that I needed to earn their respect. If I wrote a SOP worthy of their respect, every thing else would take care of itself.

One last comment. When it comes to writing SOPs and similar documents, I am a notorious procrastinator. In retrospect, I do not recommend this method. It is one thing to wait until the next to last moment to write that five page review essay on a book you've not yet touched. It is quite another to roll the dice on documents that will figure prominently in the trajectory of your life. YMMV.

HTH.

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hey forum ! really really nice tips here ! i wanna kiss you all -.-

i too have begun working on my first draft and i am a bit confused now.oh and btw i am applying for masters in architecture (sustainable design) to all the ivy leagues. I understand the fit focus and future approach, but should i say that 'in future after this course fromur insti I would address the issues if blah blah in my country which is facing this now.....and stuff'

should i mention that "i wish to work in my country in future" and not in US ??

could it work against me ?

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I recently had a friend (who is a Ph.D student at a top university) look over my SOP. She very honestly-but kindly-told me that essentially, my statement was just a repetition of what was in my resume. While reading a book on SOP's I discovered that this is one of the biggest mistakes that applicants make. Your essay is an introduction of you to the admissions committee, so you should write about what makes you, well..you!

I think the most important question to respond to when writing an SOP (even though most schools don't explicitly ask this) is: Why should we choose you over all the other applicants? What makes you so special that you should have this spot in our program?

Most applicants to a particular program will have a similiar background, so you should write about something that is unique about you and will make you stand out. I chose to write about my experience volunteering overseas and how this has shaped my philosophy and interest in my field.

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I recently had a friend (who is a Ph.D student at a top university) look over my SOP. She very honestly-but kindly-told me that essentially, my statement was just a repetition of what was in my resume. While reading a book on SOP's I discovered that this is one of the biggest mistakes that applicants make. Your essay is an introduction of you to the admissions committee, so you should write about what makes you, well..you!

I think the most important question to respond to when writing an SOP (even though most schools don't explicitly ask this) is: Why should we choose you over all the other applicants? What makes you so special that you should have this spot in our program?

Most applicants to a particular program will have a similiar background, so you should write about something that is unique about you and will make you stand out. I chose to write about my experience volunteering overseas and how this has shaped my philosophy and interest in my field.

But here's the thing: why should personal experiences make you stand out any more than research experiences? (or research proposals that show that you *really* know the field well?) Almost everyone has somewhat unique personal experiences - they're usually not memorable unless someone has gone through some really extenuating circumstances (or some truly exceptional ones).

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But here's the thing: why should personal experiences make you stand out any more than research experiences? (or research proposals that show that you *really* know the field well?) Almost everyone has somewhat unique personal experiences - they're usually not memorable unless someone has gone through some really extenuating circumstances (or some truly exceptional ones).

Well to be blunt, because you don't want to bore the adcomm out of their skulls. Of course you should write about your research experiences, if that is what qualifies you for your program. Personal experiences just add an interesting touch and can be used to demonstrate your personality. To make it fit in with your overall SOP you should relate that experience to your field of study in some way. I read the SOP of the friend I just talked about. While she spoke about her lab experiences she also talked about an opportunity she had to mentor high school girls who were interested in science, and connected this to how she wants to set an example in her career as a woman in the sciences. In my SOP I discussed volunteering overseas in a setting related to my field, what I learned there and how it shaped my philosophy and interests in my field. Everybody has a story that goes beyond what they did in class or in the lab..what's yours?

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I'm going to offer what may or may not be useful advice, so...

I'm willing to bet the committee doesn't even look at your transcript beyond a verification of your GPA. Heck, it takes me 5 minutes to figure out my own and I took the darn classes. How on Earth could they even begin to divine what all that mumbo-jumbo means? I take that to mean you're in no better or worse shape than anyone else. If you feel that you got passed over, it's more than likely NOT because you left out the names of your classes. I'm under the impression (and several professors have confirmed this) that the classes you took are less interesting to them than a sense of whether you "speak the language" and how you got to that point. When you write about your project, do you convey that sense of "I know what I'm doing and I don't have to mention a bunch of names to prove it"? Is your interest in the topic personal enough that you'll stick it out? Why do you want to study this? Why are we the school to do it at? Who here is going to help you and how are you going to help them?

PS the name of the class is nowhere near as important as the name of the prof. "I studied with Cornell West" is a far more important sentence than "I took 'History of the Civil Rights Movement from 1962-1963' and 'The Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr' and got A's in both." (And please note that I totally made all that up, so don't kill me if I said something wrong.)

I know this varies from discipline to discipline, but the statements above completely disagree with advice I have received in regard to the field of English literature (but it might also ring true for other fields in the humanities). The DGS at my alumni's English department specifically mentioned how a committee looks at your transcript, and it's not just about the GPA. First of all, the GPA has more weight depending on the courses you took (If the student opted to take a number of easy 100 level courses to maintain a high gpa, this says something about the student. Instead of challenging one's self intellectually they took the easy route.) Additionally, she said they really like to see students who take relevant courses in other disciplines as electives, like a prospective Shakespeare scholar taking a history course on the Renaissance or in Art History, etc. It tells the adcom something about a student's own intellectual initiative. And also, they like to look at your transcript to see that you've taken courses in a language and at what level if there are language requirements for their program. I'm certain that my DGS would appreciate the inclusion of course titles included somewhere with an application, even if it is not the be-all end-all of the decision.

Edited by ecritdansleau
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I have read this thread and definitely it provides valuable advice for those applying for grad school for the first time. Does anyone in this forum has any advice for preparing a statement of purpose in order to transfer to another school for both personal and academic reasons? This SOP is a lot trickier right? First, do you mention those personal reasons (for instance, my wife getting a job across the country)? and how do you prepare a narrative in order to justify leaving one program for a better one? would not that amount to having been careless when you first selected that program and now that you have done your homework you realize you fit better in another program, another university?

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I just saw this topic, and I haven't read through all of the responses so my apologies if I'm repeating things other people said. I'm in my third year at a program, and here's what I know now about the process -

- Call/email/contact respective departments, try to talk to some people in advance about what that department is "all about." The websites are often really out of date and sometimes a bit cryptic if you don't know the field that well yet. They don't often tell you much about the particular department's philosophy and the current research they are pursuing. Our dept website, for example, lists multiple professors that have either passed away, retired, or are not really associated with our dept at all anymore. It lists areas of research that are not really pursued, and there are some thriving areas of research that are not listed at all!! If you're going to tailor your SOP to a school, you need to know what that school is like, which could involve some legwork. BONUS: if you meet with a professor, they will remember your name when they see your application and hopefully remember you making a good impression.

- NEVER start out with a story about how you have loved X since you were a kid - SO cliche. Scientific writing is succinct and clear, not emotional and flowery, so that's what they will probably expect. If you want to show how much you love a topic it could maybe help to inject a little nerd humor (I once made fun of myself for being the absolute only person in a class who enjoyed learning the German case system). I guess most scientists can probably relate to being a nerd about their topic, and asking questions about things that might make other peoples' eyes glaze over.

- If you lack background in a topic, it could help to acknowledge it. There may be applicants with publications, presentations, etc. I didn't have any of these, and I wish I had come out and said that it took me a while to figure out for myself that I wanted a career in academia. It's a long tough road to be an academic, and it's actually very practical to explore other career options first. I wouldn't have spent tons of space on it, but if you're up against much more qualified candidates, then you may not have an option. I sorta hinted at this in my NSF app and I think it helped, relative to my SOPs when I was applying to schools. But I could be wrong, who knows.

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I have read this thread and definitely it provides valuable advice for those applying for grad school for the first time. Does anyone in this forum has any advice for preparing a statement of purpose in order to transfer to another school for both personal and academic reasons? This SOP is a lot trickier right? First, do you mention those personal reasons (for instance, my wife getting a job across the country)? and how do you prepare a narrative in order to justify leaving one program for a better one? would not that amount to having been careless when you first selected that program and now that you have done your homework you realize you fit better in another program, another university?

Similar questions have been asked on this forum, and the advice is typically the same. Try to word your reason for switching as an academic reason rather than a personal one. While most reasonable people should understand personal reasons, it could also make you look unprofessional and like you're unwilling to sacrifice a little for your profession.

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This thread is really useful! Thanks everyone.

I have a quick question though. It seems like there is a conflicting advice about whether to start out with interesting narrative or just start with your name. I agree with someone who said "

the interesting narrative is needed so committee doesn't get bored", but I also agree that the personal childhood story can be cliche. I'm trying to write SOP for Ph.D. in Media studies and I don't know how to start. Do I just start with "my name is gracie and I'm MA student at..." or something more catchy?

Thanks!

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This thread is really useful! Thanks everyone.

I have a quick question though. It seems like there is a conflicting advice about whether to start out with interesting narrative or just start with your name. I agree with someone who said "

the interesting narrative is needed so committee doesn't get bored", but I also agree that the personal childhood story can be cliche. I'm trying to write SOP for Ph.D. in Media studies and I don't know how to start. Do I just start with "my name is gracie and I'm MA student at..." or something more catchy?

Thanks!

Gracie915--

IMO, unfortunately, there's no quick answer to your question because everyone's circumstances are different. I recommend that you write SoPs that convey your strengths as an applicant.

If you happen to have an interesting story to tell, it is relevant to your areas of interest, and you can tell the story well, then think about including it in your SoP. If that type of writing is not your strong suite and you're more of a "nuts and bolts" type, go with a "nuts and bolts" approach. In short, write SoPs that convey who you are and what you're about in a manner that is authentic to who you are at this point in your life and in a way that you can say to yourself "I did the best that I could under the circumstances."

To be clear, even if you get guidance from those who say Method "X" got them into Happyland University, and Method "X" simply isn't who you are, figure out what method best suites you and execute that method to the best of your abilities.

Then, when it is your turn to offer guidance, tell everyone who will listen "Go with Method 'G'!"

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