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Berkeley's Diversity Outreach Office has some great tips on their websites for writing SOPs and other parts of grad school applications. It's a really great resource for anyone who's applying to grad school, especially for those in the social sciences and humanities.

If you plan on applying for the 2010-2011 season, check it out!

http://ls.berkeley.e...tatement-1.html

Edited by American in Beijing

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Berkeley's Diversity Outreach Office has some great tips on their websites for writing SOPs and other parts of grad school applications. It's a really great resource for anyone who's applying to grad school, especially for those in the social sciences and humanities.

If you plan on applying for the 2010-2011 season, check it out!

http://ls.berkeley.e...tatement-1.html

Thank you! I just bookmarked it, and plan to use it profusely this coming year.

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I'm not 100% sure about how I feel about opening with a quote. I opened with a quote on my applications last year and in retrospect I think it was kinda cheesy. What do you think would be a good opening?

Edited by newms

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I'm not 100% sure about how I feel about opening with a quote. I opened with a quote on my applications last year and in retrospect I think it was kinda cheesy. What do you think would be a good opening?

I tried quotes, I tried "hooks" about how I initially got interested in my research, at some point I tried opening with a random (albeit interesting and semi-relevant) story about the unusual exposure my family has to language by telling about how many different languages are spoken by my grandparents/parents/me (14 total, if I am not mistaken; everyone speaks 4-7 languages).

In the end, beside being cheesy, I just decided that even 1-2 sentences of the "hook" kind simply took up too much of my very precious space. I ended up opening with one or two research questions that I would like to answer in grad school and immediately started talking about how my education prepared me to study them, why I think they are interesting, and why the school I applied to provides the best environment for studying them. I kept things pretty general - e.g. 'I am interested in [sub-area], specifically in how [this thing] and [this other thing] are informed by [some linguistic form] and are computed from it' - which I thought would probably only really be relevant to the 2-3 people I hoped could be my advisors, but would make it clear to the entire adcom where my interests generally lie and would not be so specific that I would come off as not open-minded enough about what I would do in grad school. I also went on to describe several different research projects I'd been involved with to show more breadth. I think starting with my interests helped the adcom understand what my application was about straight away and as a result kept them more interested than if I had started with a hook and they had to skim through to some unspecified part of my sop to figure out what my areas of interests were.

Edited by fuzzylogician

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I tried quotes, I tried "hooks" about how I initially got interested in my research, at some point I tried opening with a random (albeit interesting and semi-relevant) story about the unusual exposure my family has to language by telling about how many different languages are spoken by my grandparents/parents/me (14 total, if I am not mistaken; everyone speaks 4-7 languages).

In the end, beside being cheesy, I just decided that even 1-2 sentences of the "hook" kind simply took too much of my very precious space. I ended up opening with one or two research questions that I would like to answer in grad school and immediately started talking about how my education prepared me to study them, why I think they are interesting, and why the school I applied to provides the best environment for studying them. I kept things pretty general - e.g. 'I am interested in [sub-area], specifically in how [this thing] and [this other thing] are informed by [some linguistic form] and are computed from it' - which I thought would probably only really be relevant to the 2-3 people I hoped could be my advisors, but would make it clear to the entire adcom where my interests generally lie and would not be so specific that I would come off as not open-minded enough about what I would do in grad school. I also went on to describe several different research projects I'd been involved in to show more breadth. I think starting with my interests helped the adcom understand what my application was about straight away and as a result kept them more interested than if I had started with a hook and they had to skim through to some unspecified part of my sop to figure out what my areas of interests were.

Thanks for the reply. I agree on the cheesy part. I wonder how adcoms feel when they have to read through hundreds of SOPs opening with a quote or a cheesy story. It would be great to have a fantastic opening to grab their attention, but if I don't have a fantastic story to share I think going the route of a banal quote or story might leave a blah taste in the adcom members' mouths, so to speak. I think I might go with the direct approach this year.

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That website seems like a great resource, but did anyone else think the SOP was overly lengthy? In a diversity program I participated last summer, I was told it was ideal to keep it 2 pages, definitely no more than 3, double-spaced.

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That website seems like a great resource, but did anyone else think the SOP was overly lengthy? In a diversity program I participated last summer, I was told it was ideal to keep it 2 pages, definitely no more than 3, double-spaced.

It's just under 1300 words so its a little lengthy for programs that recommend about 1000 words (about 2 pages) but some programs recommend no more than 1500 words, so I guess it depends on the program.

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I'm not 100% sure about how I feel about opening with a quote. I opened with a quote on my applications last year and in retrospect I think it was kinda cheesy. What do you think would be a good opening?

I actually opened with a quote as well (largely inspired by this SOP). Perhaps it was cheesy, but I mostly used it to prove that I could read and understand Chinese, and that I had actually done research on my proposed topic. I originally had a SOP that was very "me" centered with detailed explanations of why and how I got into history. But everyone I asked to review my SOP said they were most impressed with the parts where I discussed my independent research. Sooo . . . I decided to switch it around. I made my SOP 3/4 about how my research is important/will benefit academic circles and 1/4 about my own personal history/qualifications. Maybe if I had made my SOP less specific I might have gotten into 3/4 programs or 4/4 programs. But in the end I got into a good program where I'm fairly certain I'm going to be happy. And, more importantly, it's a program where they're excited about my opinions and proposed area of research (perhaps even a little more than I am, lol). So it worked out. Then again, this is the model SOP from the Berkeley website and the program I am attending is a Berkeley program. If I remember correctly, I think this person also applied to the History department . . . maybe the moral of the story is, if you're applying to Berkeley History, start with a quote!

My real honest opinion is that if you have a good quote from a source that is not commonly assigned reading material, then use it. This is particularly true if it's a source in another language and/or part of primary resources you used for your own original research. I think it looks impressive and like you really know your stuff. You don't necessarily need to use it at the beginning of your SOP, but tactfully incorporating it into your essay would not be a bad idea. However, if the quote you're thinking of using is some cheesy Gandhi or Mother Theresa quote from a cross-stitched decorative pillow about following your dreams, I would leave it out.

Then again, that's just my opinion. Others may disagree.

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Berkeley's Diversity Outreach Office has some great tips on their websites for writing SOPs and other parts of grad school applications. It's a really great resource for anyone who's applying to grad school, especially for those in the social sciences and humanities.

If you plan on applying for the 2010-2011 season, check it out!

http://ls.berkeley.e...tatement-1.html

You are an American in Beijing? I am a Chinese student, but not in Beijing.

As a Chinese student, it is more difficult to apply to American schools, because the application to Chinese ones is totally different and we are lack of experience of the American way of applying to schools. What`s more, it is not easy to write a perfect SOP in English which is not our native tongue. So I think that webiste of Berkeley's Diversity Outreach Office is helpful.

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What this example most confirms for me: it's all a matter of taste. And program. And luck.

Agreed on all counts. Personally, I think that sample is exactly how not to apply to most programs -- misuse of words, overuse of 'fancy' words, overboard sense of self worth, and a cheesy, half-hearted attempt at making it relate directly to Berkley.

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Agreed on all counts. Personally, I think that sample is exactly how not to apply to most programs -- misuse of words, overuse of 'fancy' words, overboard sense of self worth, and a cheesy, half-hearted attempt at making it relate directly to Berkley.

Interesting! If you have the time to spare, I would love to know which words you think this writer misused and which areas of the essay you found most objectionable. Her use of "contest" in reference to her own opinions struck me as incorrect, but aside from that, I thought her command of the language was quite solid. I think she had enough substance to be able to pull that kind of style off fairly well. Perhaps your objections will help me with my own writing--I may have a blind spot when it comes to pretentious, faux-academic writing...

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I've written an extremely *rough* draft of my statement of purpose; it's actually only a stub, becasue I try to articulate my interest in a historical field (i'm applying to english phd programs) and my theoretical interests. I thought tthat the example SOP was quite good. The author certainly comes off as someone who undersands her interests, has a great deal of potential interests, and can write about these interests with ease.

I never really thought about opening an SOP with a quote. If I found a good one, I may use it, because I think if its well worked into the statement it won't be cheesy. It certainly solves the problem of the "beginning," which I'm a little lost about right now. In the current draft I launch into my interests without much introduction.

Right now I'm mostly stumped because of my confusion about the organization of the statement. I know exactly what I want to say, but I don't quite know what order these things should come in. I want to articulate my interest in my field and articulate my theoretical interests, but I also need to describe my MA thesis and connect it to my current/proposed work. The coursework I took as an MA student is really important as well and influenced my choice in subfiedl. I'm in a bit of a difficult situation because whereas my thesis focuses on a contemporary event, my proposed field of study is 18th/19th century american and transatlantic lit. However, I think this discrepancy could work in my favor, since the project originally began as an investigation into the effect of the Haitian revolution on race paranoia and racial structures of New Orleans.

I guess my main question is about this last issue: the original proposal was connected to 18th century american lit/political situation. But given the constraints of length and time of an MA thesis (you only have a semester to write it, and it's only supposed to be 60pages, whereas mine was 90) I realized that my project was more of dissertation project. If I mention this, will it make me seem like I'm unable to gage the scope of a project or its appropriateness, or will it show that I have a great deal of interest and ability to conduct serious research? I'm sure it's all in the wording, but if anyone could give me their opinion it would be much appreciated.

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