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The SLP SOP


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When I started this process in earnest last year, I had no clue how to craft a strong SLP-specific SOP. It was exceedingly hard for me to find resources and samples since most books and websites for professional programs focus on getting into law, business, or medical schools. I ended up taking some cues from a book on med school SOPs due to SLP's place in the healthcare field; still, it wasn't perfect. I knew I needed a strong SOP that would be memorable, detail my strengths/experiences/professional aspirations, and prove that I could communicate effectively, but I didn't want to write something inappropriate or incomplete. After hastily writing my first draft so one of my former English professors (I’m out-of-field) could get a feel for my academic and professional goals before writing an LOR for me, I just kind of guessed my way through fleshing out and editing my SOP and hoped for the best. I included some unorthodox content that made sense to my professor and me, but I truly had no idea how adcoms would respond to it.

 

I recently stumbled upon a few really solid tips and guidelines for writing a good SOP that I'd like to share.

 

From Emerson College's CD admissions page (any emphasis mine):

 

  • "Your personal essay is an important part of your application because it allows us to learn more about you. We look at both your writing ability and what you have to say. Tell us things that are not apparent from the rest of your application. Make it interesting."

 

I like how Emerson spells it out: An SOP shouldn't be dry or rehash what's readily apparent from your transcripts and CV. It should be interesting, descriptive, and a chance to show your personality. It has to be well written and professional, but it also has to grab the adcom's attention.

 

From a Bright Hub article titled Improving Chances to Get into a Speech Pathology Grad School (http://www.brighthub.com/education/postgraduate/articles/99050.aspx):

 

"Admissions Essay or Personal Statement

 

You must typically write an admissions essay or personal statement explaining why you want to earn a specific degree and describing your goals for a career with that degree. For instance, ASHA recommends you identify the following professional goals:

  • Determine which clients you prefer: children, adolescents, or adults.
  • Decide what area you desire for your specialization, such as a particular disorder like autism or hearing impairments.
  • Establish if your preference is clinical administration in a health or education setting, or if you may plan to pursue a Ph.D. to conduct research in the field or become an audiologist.

The essay or statement is usually included in the application package and therefore should represent your best work. It presents your first chance to impress the grad school professors who read the essays and influence decisions about your acceptance. Check the resources at the end of this article for a thorough tutorial by Education Planner.org about how to create a high quality, professional essay."

 

The above format is in line with the SOP instructions from the schools that I applied to (obviously you should always follow schools' explicit SOP instructions above all else). I made it very clear which populations I wanted to work with and why. I specified my interests (e.g., neurogenic disorders) and potential setting preferences. Perhaps most importantly, I cited specific professors whose research and work match my goals and referenced specific elements of the programs to personalize my essay. Schools appreciate when you’ve done your homework; they want you to tell them why you believe their programs are right for you—don’t hesitate to mention clinic names, unique tracks, appealing course offerings, geographical location, etc. Your SOP should read more like a love letter than a form letter (within reason, of course)!

 

Finally, you should proofread your essay! And then proofread it some more! And then…MORE! Make sure there are no misspellings, typos, or glaring grammatical errors. Have your family and friends read it to double-check, though unless they’re familiar with the field and specifically with admissions, they likely can’t help with much more than the superficial and stylistic aspects of your SOP. For more focused help and advice regarding the meat of your SOP, ask a few professors or your graduate adviser to look it over so that they can offer any suggestions, improvements, edits, or major restructurings.

 

I would love to read more SOP-writing tips and suggestions. I really believe that as programs become more and more competitive, the SOP will only become more important as well. In a sea of applicants with strong GPAs, high GRE scores, and relevant work and volunteer experience, the SOP is a big deal since it’s one part of the application where we have complete control from beginning to end.

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I really have to echo what has already been said. When I applied, my SOP detailed my experiences working with clients who have aphasia, and how that led me to neurogenic disorders. I really believe having a strong tie to an area in SLP is something that helps a lot. You can always change that later on, but initially, it shows you're committed. Schools love love love hearing about themselves as well. This means do your homework. They want people who know about the program. You're going to get classes wherever you go. You'll get clinical placements. But what specifically about that school makes it stand out more to you than others? Having a strong section in this area of the SOP is probably the most helpful. It how's commitment on your end to the school and program, and if you can put it together in a coherent way, it how's strong writing skills. I personally believe these two areas are the most influential in a SOP for grad school, especially in SLP. Like midnight said, check, double check, triple check, and maybe even quadruple check your work. It'll pay of later on.

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I apologize in advance for the lengthy post, but I hope what I have to say is helpful regarding SOPs.

 

Several schools have specific questions you need to address in your SOP.  Make sure you read the whole prompt (if there is one) and answer every question asked, giving supporting anecdotes from your educational, work, and life experiences that answer those questions.

 

For example, I was asked to discuss my experience working with multi-age, multicultural, and socioeconomically diverse populations.  In my essay, I specifically mentioned all three subcategories of diversity and the work I have done in each.  I figured that if I didn't, I would automatically take myself out of contention due to not fully answering the question.

 

I also had a variety of people read and edit my essay: Professors in the department, Professors outside the department, faculty, high school English teachers, friends, family, professionals currently working as SLPs or Audiologists, etc.  They will help with not only content, but structure, grammar, spelling, and making sure it isn't full of SLP jargon.

 

Follow page and word limits using standard fonts and margins if any are specified.  One school to which I applied had a limit of 1 page, double spaced in a size 12 font with standard margins.  I had the good fortune of attending a workshop at this school and was told that while they may not scrutinize each measurement, if it looks too far off the standard, they don't read it.  (For example, using size 10 font with 1.75 spacing to fit more content on your 1 page limit.)  Not following the guidelines tells the admission committee you either can't follow directions, didn't bother reading the prompt, or think that rules don't apply to you.  Regardless, you don't leave a good impression.

 

Make your opening statements interesting.  The professor leading the previously mentioned workshop told us how she hates the cliche of "I knew I wanted to be a speech pathologist when my [insert relative here] suffered a stroke / Alzheimer's / dementia / TBI / cancer / other illness, injury, or birth defect when I was age [insert young age].  Watching my [relative] go through speech therapy and seeing how regaining speech improved my [relative]'s quality of life influenced my decision to become a speech-language pathologist."  Every time she sees one, she rolls her eyes and thinks, "Here we go again."   (Funnily, at that workshop, another professor walked into the room as the session leader was giving this very tip. The second professor literally cringed when she heard the cliche opening line, stating, "Oh my gosh, if I EVER see another one of those tragic sob stories of how I knew I wanted to be a speech pathologist at 2 years old when my grandfather had a stroke.... I just.... just don't write it!  Please!  I'm sorry about your family member, but we see enough of those!")

 

Even if your inspiration actually is a family member going through therapy to recover from injury, illness, or trauma; phrase it in a way that makes it more interesting and more personal.  What is it about that relative's struggle that stood out to you?  What was it about that therapist's approach to treatment and care for your loved ones that appealed to you?  Mention the illness / injury, but focus more on the therapy itself, not just the fact your family member received therapy.

 

If you can, showcase some of your knowledge in your essay; citing specific examples.  Obviously, don't mention client names or other identifying characteristics, but you can mention circumstances of their cases.  Example:  "In my volunteer work, I work with patients diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. One patient in particular was experiencing difficulty with motor planning with regard to speech and word recall due to demyelination in those areas of his brain."  If you are going mention a case, make sure you protect patient privacy.  Revealing patient information- including location, age, and gender, is a great way to automatically put your application in the reject pile.

 

The physical appearance of what you send makes a big difference.  The same workshop leader mentioned how students send her SOPs on thin paper, looseleaf, have ink splotches or faded ink, have torn edges, are crinkled, coffee stained, food-stained, etc.  Get a good quality paper, quality ink, and make sure it's physically clean, with your name on each page.  You can have the world's most brilliant essay, but if last night's spaghetti sauce landed on your paper, the professors will be too grossed out to even read it.

 

Finally, make sure your personal information is correct.  Having a typo in your own name or address is not only embarrassing, it tells the committee you are careless and don't proofread your work.

Edited by lexical_gap
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The professor leading the previously mentioned workshop told us how she hates the cliche of "I knew I wanted to be a speech pathologist when my [insert relative here] suffered a stroke / Alzheimer's / dementia / TBI / cancer / other illness, injury, or birth defect when I was age [insert young age].  Watching my [relative] go through speech therapy and seeing how regaining speech improved my [relative]'s quality of life influenced my decision to become a speech-language pathologist."

 

Ha, a large part of my SOP was about my mother-in-law's aphasia and acting as her caretaker over the summer! Her struggles with language have absolutely informed my decision to become an SLP.

 

The key is, like you said, to write well and make it personal.

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Ha, a large part of my SOP was about my mother-in-law's aphasia and acting as her caretaker over the summer! Her struggles with language have absolutely informed my decision to become an SLP.

 

The key is, like you said, to write well and make it personal.

I think using personal stories can go either way. I wrote ( very briefly-- like 1 sentence) about how my mom is a special ed. teacher, and I became interested in that population early on. However, rather than dwelling on the touchy-feely stuff, I went on to give concrete, logical examples of how that has played out in my life (buddies program in school, volunteering) which led in to my experiences in college and employment doing respite/hab.

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I realize this is a serious thread, but every time I see it come up, I just hear "slip slop." In my head. :-)

 

I don't really have any advice to contribute, seeing as how I don't know if my SOP was successful or not (still waiting), but I will post my tips here when I find out!

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I think using personal stories can go either way. I wrote ( very briefly-- like 1 sentence) about how my mom is a special ed. teacher, and I became interested in that population early on. However, rather than dwelling on the touchy-feely stuff, I went on to give concrete, logical examples of how that has played out in my life (buddies program in school, volunteering) which led in to my experiences in college and employment doing respite/hab.

 

Yeah, true. Nearly one-third of my essay was devoted to describing my mother-in-law's decline and how it significantly affected our entire family dynamic; I knew it was potentially risky, but I wanted to stress that speech disorders are far-reaching. I went on to cover all of the other important SOP topics.

 

Also, it's possible that I was given a bit more leeway since I'm an out-of-fielder.

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I think using personal stories can go either way. I wrote ( very briefly-- like 1 sentence) about how my mom is a special ed. teacher, and I became interested in that population early on. However, rather than dwelling on the touchy-feely stuff, I went on to give concrete, logical examples of how that has played out in my life (buddies program in school, volunteering) which led in to my experiences in college and employment doing respite/hab.

 

I completely agree.  I didn't mean to come off as saying use only personal stories.  Personal stories can be a hook to get the reader's attention, but you still need to show that you have the knowledge and experiences that would make you a successful grad student and therapist.  Passion is good, but you also have to have the skills to back it up.

 

If you know a professor on the committee hates the mushy-gushy touchy-feely sentiment; don't put it into your essay.  On the other hand, if the event truly is life-altering, by all means, explain how your life changed.  In short, know your target audience and package your message in a way that is appealing.  Isn't that what communication is all about?

 

Ultimately, the school is investing in you as a future clinician / professional.  The school's name is forever tied to you after you graduate.  The accomplishments you make in your future career will give your institution bragging rights, potential funding, and make that school more even favorable down the road.  It's your job to convince them in your SOP that you are worth that investment and they'll get something in return by choosing you (other than your tuition money).

Edited by lexical_gap
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If you know a professor on the committee hates the mushy-gushy touchy-feely sentiment; don't put it into your essay.  On the other hand, if you the event truly is life-altering, by all means, explain how your life changed.  In short, know your target audience and package your message in a way that is appealing.  Isn't that what communication is all about?

 

You know, that has always been an admissions conundrum for me; adcoms tend to have pet peeves, but there's no way to know what they are unless you're somehow intimately familiar with the professors from the program or other people who participate in making the decisions (e.g., when someone's applying to an SLP grad program at her undergrad institution). And even within the same group, there may be disparate viewpoints (there's a great pinned thread about this in the sociology subforum).

 

It's a tough process! I mostly tried to temper my personal story with my academic and professional goals, and I tried to write as clearly and cogently as possible.

Edited by midnight streetlight
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So grateful for this topic. My mom relearned how to speak and swallow after an epic brain surgery (it all but destroyed her vagus cranial nerve... and vestibulocochlear nerve, for that matter!  Her abilities have improved tremendously and she's doing much better now, thanks to an excellent SLP at Appalachian State).  It was so closely related that I was struggling to decide whether to include it or not, even though her brain surgery truly has very little to do with my interest in SLP.  Now, it's clear that it's not necessary, and in fact, potentially harmful.

 

that midnight streetlight mentioned, which I also serendipitously stumbled upon a few days ago... A grad student on a sociology admissions committee is answering anybody/everybody's questions about the adcomm process (at least for the sociology department in his program--which seems to be either Northwestern or Yale).  Here were some of his key pointers on the SOP:

 

How are the writing samples judged, like what are people looking for?

So there are three kinds of personal statements.
1. The super vague: These almost always mention C. Wright Mills and a moment where someone realized they wanted to study sociology. I love CWM, but it's also something that SO many people mention that it instantly makes you forgettable. That isn't to say that if you mention him that you won't get in, but it's definitely a cliche.
2. The wildly personal: I tried to come up with a rule like "would you tell this story to a stranger on a bus", but people have different levels of sharing. If it's something you might talk about in therapy, you probably shouldn't write about it in your personal statement. You might be incredulous, but I assure you, these were COMMON. They are memorable, but also risky. Sometimes the risk pays off (you lived in a yurt in Mongolia for 4 years) and sometimes they aren't (stories about suicide, sexual abuse, etc.).
3. The just-right: A memorable anecdote that helped me remember them and a strong command of grammar, English language, etc.

This might be contentious, because I'm sure some people will say "oh I'd tell a stranger that!" but you have to remember that this is your one impression on a group of people. Higher education can be slightly snobbish and some topics are just NOT discussed. None of these rules are 100% right all of the time. I'm sure we admitted someone with a vague statement and a stellar GRE score and didn't admit someone with a bad fit but an outstanding personal statement.

Things I looked for in the personal statement: identification of faculty members they wanted to work with, clear definition of research interests (you don't need to state your intention to study fertility preferences among American Indians in South Dakota, but you should mention that you're interested in domestic fertility or something like that), and why they wanted to attend THIS school.

Things I looked for in the writing sample: indicators of ability to do research, correctly interpreted statistics, interesting research problem 

 

What I would have changed on my own applications: Probably my statement of purpose. I didn't tailor them as much to each school as I should/could have. I think I did a good job on explaining deficits in my application, but I basically substituted each school's name into a couple of slots and used the same SOP each time. That was clearly a mistake now, but given how many similar applications we got this year like that, it's not something that's widely understood. Part of that was because I wasn't sure why I wanted to go to graduate school, other than desiring a Ph.D. and having a lot of smart people telling me that I should go.

I also think I would have done even more research than I did ahead of time. Although I checked out school's websites, I now know that that information isn't always updated frequently and doesn't have details like that imaginary department that you mentioned. There's no way to tell by looking at a department's website if the person you really want to work with wants to move closer to their family and has been looking for open spots on the East Coast. Or if a young hotshot is about to get poached from a school that can offer them more. Or if a 4th year professor failed a tenure review and is on probation. I would email DGSs, graduate students, and professors I was interested in working in to get a feel for a department before I applied. I get several of these emails/visits each year in the fall and I never mind answering questions.

Edited by katie-bird
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