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SOP addressed to canadian universities

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I come from Europe and I am thinking of applying to an MLIS program in Canada. My main problem, so far, is the Statement of Purpose. I have read several of them on the web (addressed mostly to universities in the US) and by european standards they look simply ridiculous (no offence intended). My question is, do the same norms apply to Canadian universities, as well?


Many thanks to anyone who bothers to answer!

Edited by steve89
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I am not sure what you mean precisely, since obviously our different backgrounds means that what I assume is the "norm" to me could be completely crazy to you! I also don't know which US SOP samples you've seen so I don't know if you've seen samples that are the norm, or you've seen some really weird ones! If you saw them online, maybe you can put a link? I have to say that a lot of the SOPs I've seen posted on this forum are not really the "norm", in my opinion. 


Some Canadian programs don't actually ask for SOPs, from my experience. For example, one program asked me a series of five questions (with space for a paragraph response) that address the information the program would want from an SOP. For example, they would ask questions like "What kind of research interests do you have?", "What previous experience or skills do you have that will help you in the graduate program?" and "Who would you like to work with in our department, and on what projects?" etc. For schools that request a SOP (i.e. uploading an essay format document), then I think they are looking for similar things as a US school would. 


Also, I think a MLIS program's SOP may be very different from a PhD SOP. I only really know PhD type SOPs and in my opinion, it should clearly and concisely communicate the following things: what you hope to get out of the PhD program, what type of research you are interested in, what past experience and skills do you have that will allow you to succeed in their program, and how will you fit into their program (by identifying a match in research interests and/or philosophy). Some other people will want to include things like a story of how they got into the field, and I think these are fine as long as they don't detract from the main message you want to communicate (and that it's probably not worth spending too much time on). I think that while a brief anecdote might work in some cases, it's often very easy to misuse a story or a quote and then sound completely ridiculous and/or cliche in an attempt to make oneself look original/unique. However, I don't think doing this is a major mistake that will get your application tossed out either -- just do what you feel comfortable with!

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Thank you very much for your reply!


What looks ridiculous, in my eyes, are these childhood stories that try to make the SOP look more "personal". I think the one that follows is a typical example:




What you wrote makes perfect sense. My question is: Am I expected to make my SOP look "personal" (i.e. invent a childhood story) or is it ok to make it look purely academic?


Thanks again!

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Interesting article. When it comes to adding a "hook", to me, it is basically the opposite of what I would write / have written in an SOP. But a lot of the rest of the writing is something I would definitely agree with. For example, reusing most of the SOP for each of your schools and only changing the materials that refer to a particular program directly. I definitely agree with:


Remember your statement of purpose should portray you as (1) passionately interested in the field;(2) intelligent; (3) well-prepared academically and personally; (4) able to take on the challenges of grad school; (5) able to have rapport with professors and fellow grad students — in other words, collegial; (6) able to finish the graduate degree in a timely fashion; and (7) a potentially outstanding representative of that grad school in your future career.



but I would not necessarily say that ranking is the way it should go. For example, passion is important, but you don't have to show it through vivid stories. You can show that through the way you write about the topic you love to study and through all of the work you have put into your preparation. I don't fully agree with:


Here's an organization I would recommend: (1) passionate hook; (2) segué to your background in the field; (3) specific classes by title and professors you have had (especially if well-known in the field); (4) related extracurricular activities (especially if they hint at some personal quality you want to convey); (5) any publications or other professional accomplishments in the field (perhaps conference presentations or public readings); (6) explanations about problems in your background (if needed); and (7) why you have chosen this grad school (name one or two professors and what you know of their specific areas or some feature of the program which specifically attracts you).


I think (1) is unnecessary. (2) is important but you can just jump into it. (3) is not important in my field, but might be important in others -- I think the transcript does a good enough job of conveying this. Also, many applications in my field asked for a separate page listing X most recent courses with a description of the course outline and textbooks used. (4) is good. (5) would normally appear on your CV, but I would also include them in (2) as I discussed my background/experience working on certain projects. (6) is optional and (7) is super important.


I don't know who the person who wrote the article is -- perhaps they are a prof on the admission committee for that particular program. If so, then if you apply there for that program, it's probably a good idea to do what they say they want! Also, I noted that the example was for a English Literature MFA program, where your actual writing skills are more valued. So, it would make sense for such a program to expect their applicants to convey their message in a vivid and extra-interesting way. However, I still think that you should make your SOP interesting by what you are saying (i.e. your skills and experiences) instead of how you say it (there was a similar discussion awhile ago and I am stealing this sentence from fuzzylogician, who said what I intended to mean much better than what I had originally said!)


Anyways, to answer your actual question in the follow up post, I don't think including a childhood story will make or break your application. Profs are people of all backgrounds and expectations and some will want to see a childhood story and some will be turned away by one, and some (the majority probably) won't even care. It's okay to make it purely academic (within reason). It's okay to have personal stories (within reason). I really doubt a committee will check for a story and throw out applications purely on the basis of whether or not there's a story! In the end, you want to feel good about what you are submitting, so if you don't have a story, don't try to force one. If you do have a story that you really want to share, don't censor yourself (within reason). If you are overall comfortable and happy with what you wrote, then I feel that it will come across in the writing and make your SOP better. 


Extra side story: I don't think there are any real strict rules about SOPs. The article you linked mentioned not to submit photographs. I know someone who got into a top science program and they had included photographs of important parts of their lives in their SOP. I'm not saying that everyone can pull this off, but for every "don't" you hear, you'll probably hear about an exception! So take these "rules" and "guidelines" with a grain of salt.

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They want to know who you are. Not just credentials, but who you are as a person. You're essentially transitioning from "student" to "co-worker" for these people (many grad students teach classes.)


You'd never hire someone to be your coworker from just their resume, right? You interview to weed out if they're crazy, annoying, etc.. Well, colleges don't typically want all that expense and flying people around and getting the committee to actually meet someone. So, the SOP plays stand in. "Who you is" needs to be expressed.


Keep in mind that when a school is looking for an SOP and a "Personal Statement" often the PS is the informal life-story-drivel-blah-blah while the SOP is more academic and "professional." When a school asks for just the SOP, they commonly combine the two into one object.. just be careful to read the prompt and interpet what they're looking for.


And most people think the since-childhood-life-story nonsense is just that, nonsense. Most people are awful, awful writers. People who are awful writers still get into grad school though.. so there's a lot of passable essays about people's lives - that the adcom agrees they didnt ask for nor care about but by golly they're gonna see it anyways - that meet the standards.


If you've ever interviewed people for a job this all makes more sense. Most people, while they could do the job, havent the foggiest what they're doing to interview.. and if a job high turnover or needs to fill a lot of positions quickly? You're going to start accepting the "meh" applicants. I mention this because you'll see a lot of "great" SOP essays online. Essentially people who got in to whatever school. Doesn't mean it was particularly good, just that they got in. As hard as it may seem, many people do go to grad school.. awful essays or not.


So write what you feel comfortable with, but you do need to reflect yourself. Creating some fake persona and made up story is going to be seen from a mile away and treated with contempt. Unless you're some amazing writer.. and i mean really amazing, not "i wrote a grad school essay and got in so that must mean i'm good" type writer.


Some people can't write, or their lives are really boring or they just cant express themselves. That doesn't mean you can't get in.. it just means your SOP wont be the strongest part of your application. Some schools weigh it heavier than others. Such is life.

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Also looked over the link..


It's really not about writing a life story.. the author of the article is ironically framing it poorly. It's about good storytelling and engaging the audience. Your audience is the adcom and they need to like you.


Write something awful, boring, trite, or uninteresting.. they'll think you're awful, boring, trite, uninteresting.

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I wrote a first draft of the SoP but since I am not a native speaker i am not sure if it's gonna do the trick. If there is someone here who would be willing to proofread my SoP I would be eternally grateful!!!


Many thanks!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I hope I'm not too late in this thread.


There is one crucial difference between Canadian universities and US universities and that is the role of the primary investigator in the admission process. I'm a Canadian master student and my graduate chair told me the most important thing is that your target professor wants to work with you as compared to going through an admission committee first. I got into graduate school because my professor wanted to work with me and that seems to be the same story for a lot international applicants at my school. If you have that then the admission process becomes exponentially easier. A friend of mine had secured a PhD position at Western University simply because the professor likes her research abilities irrespective of her grades and SOP. Ditto for a lot of my colleagues (quite a few iranians among them) who secured masters and PhD positions while not able to write very well.


Go e-mail professors that you want to work with and if they agree then you pretty much don't have to worry about your SOP. 


Just don't use "eh"

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