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Oh, you know...just another Personal Statement question...


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Hi everyone,

 

I'm going to begin applying in September (yikes!) and am trying to get my personal statement/letter of intent/whatever other name you have for it done before it opens so I don't have to worry about it. 

I've gotten as far as jotting down things I want to mention in a sequential order. However, I'm pretty clueless on what exactly grad schools want to hear. 

Does anyone have an outline of sorts (or something else that would be helpful) that would make composing a personal statement from scratch a little less daunting?

 

Thanks!!

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There are plenty of threads to go through to get an idea what grad admission committees look for.

 

However, a warning. If you think your SOP can just be done in a month and left alone, you are sorely mistaken. These things take months to revise and perfect.

 

My main template for my SOP was written and revised within a month (November). I spent 0.5-1 hours to customize it further for each application in the week before each due date (between December and February). It might depend on the type of program you are applying to, but I felt that any more time than this on my SOP would have been wasted time (I could only afford to take so much time away from my current MSc studies while I was applying to PhD programs) and I was very happy with the results of my applications. 

 

I approached my SOP the same way as the OP. I thought about a list of talking points I would want to mention if I ever had a face to face conversation with these profs and outlined them. Then, I filled them in with the details. I edited and revised to make sure I'm only saying important things and one last edit at the end to make sure it flowed as one piece of writing instead of several paragraphs just placed next to each other. 

 

For the programs I applied to, I figured that the school would care about the content of the SOP far more than the writing style or form (as long as it's logical). So, I spent most of my revision time picking and choosing which details to share and how to present them. I would say that my SOP format/style is very standard, nothing special. Just a retelling of facts that would interest the committee. I'm not saying this is the only right way to do it--instead, I want to say that there are a lot of right ways to write an SOP and you can be successful with writing your SOP as a simple statement of facts. However, I know people who have been equally successful with very elaborate SOPs that sound much nicer than mine. 

 

Things that I think they want to hear:

 

1) What do you want to achieve in grad school? Show that you have motivation to finish the program and that you know why you are signing up for this

2) What have you done to demonstrate your ability to succeed in grad school? Discuss previous academic or research experiences as necessary

3) Why is this particular graduate school a good fit for you and your goals? And why are you a good fit for this program? They want to know that you picked their program for a reason, not just because you picked random schools from some list. Discuss why the program structure, the people, the courses, the facilities etc. are going to help you meet your grad school goals.

4) What do you want to do with your degree after grad school? Again, in the same theme as the above, show that you have thought about your decision to apply to grad school carefully and that you are picking their program because you feel that it is in line with your long term career goals. Don't forget that grad programs want their alumni to have success--that's how they get a good reputation and basically the reason they would invest in you as their graduate student. 

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My main template for my SOP was written and revised within a month (November). I spent 0.5-1 hours to customize it further for each application in the week before each due date (between December and February). It might depend on the type of program you are applying to, but I felt that any more time than this on my SOP would have been wasted time (I could only afford to take so much time away from my current MSc studies while I was applying to PhD programs) and I was very happy with the results of my applications. 

 

I think it depends on how much time you spend on that month I guess. I just don't think it's something that can be done haphazardly. I also think that since you went through a masters program, you had already been through the process so that might have helped you quite a great deal. Not to mention you could probably use a lot of similar things that you did for your masters application SOP.

 

I have been working on my SOP for a few months now and it is still not where I want it to be. I give it to a lot of people, especially profs, and they always have comments about how it can be better.

 

Depends what works for you though. But I don't think only spending a month on a SOP and then submitting it is the best approach by any means. 

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Thank you both for your input! I think the hardest part for me is going to be cutting out things that the admissions committee is not going to care about - no matter how much I want to say it!

 

Clarification: I definitely am not expecting to have a pristine copy ready for sending to schools in one months time. What I meant was that I want to have a solid draft done so that it does not need to be my main focus while juggling the other application needs as well as classes/work.

 

Is it imperative to leave out details that do not directly relate to Speech Language Pathology?

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As I've said to many people in this forum, if you're still in school take advantage of services on campus because they saved my butt last year! Career services center and finally the writing center helped me write, edit and perfect everything from my personal statement to my resume and so on... The general format that I followed was 1st paragraph: short introduction about me and how I found this field, 2nd: tie in from how I found this field to why it interested me and made me want to pursue a degree. 3rd: more elaboration on "finding my career" and the steps I've taken to obtain this goal (move from community college to bachelors program, getting A's/Dean's List, NSSLHA, volunteering, etc etc all connected to my coursework and the field). 4th: more of why I want into THIS school, what areas I'm interested in and why they should choose me, 5th: reiterate my overall goals, why I want to attend this particular program and ultimate conclusion.

 

Don't over think it. Just make a basic guideline and fill in all of the middle. Get rid of anything that runs on for too long since you don't have more than 2 pages typically (for example: I briefly explained that my low GPA came from classes I took in community college when I didn't give a flip about my grades bc I wasn't driven to ace classes since I had no end goal in mind. Flash forward to when I transferred and found the field that I loved, I've been on the Dean's List and nearly all A's. Keep it short and sweet, not a sob story!). And lastly, admission committees will roll their eyes if they see any generic sayings like "I love this field because I love to help people" or "I want to help people communicate"... Well duh, don't we all?? Lol Keep your statement memorable, unique and interesting so they'll remember you. Good luck to you and definitely check out all of the other posts here on the gradcafe (not just the SLP forum but this is discussed in other areas too) and on various blogs/websites for more tips.

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I think it depends on how much time you spend on that month I guess. I just don't think it's something that can be done haphazardly. I also think that since you went through a masters program, you had already been through the process so that might have helped you quite a great deal. Not to mention you could probably use a lot of similar things that you did for your masters application SOP.

 

I have been working on my SOP for a few months now and it is still not where I want it to be. I give it to a lot of people, especially profs, and they always have comments about how it can be better.

 

Depends what works for you though. But I don't think only spending a month on a SOP and then submitting it is the best approach by any means. 

 

Definitely agree--I'd say the original template might have taken about 6 hours of actual writing and editing (i.e. sitting down in front of my computer and typing stuff) and a lot of time that is hard to count thinking about what to write (but this would be happening in the shower, walking, driving etc.). Having written SOPs for Masters programs definitely helped though (but a lot of Canadian schools I applied to did not require SOPs like this at all; and my PhD program is a different field than my Masters).

 

Ultimately, my SOP is a 1.5-2.0 single-spaced page document. I probably spent as much time on it as I would writing up a short paper for my first-year English class (it's about the same length). There is only so many ways you can write or rewrite such a short document anyways. My strategy was to spend as much time as needed before diminishing returns started to take effect. That is, I spent time on it as long as I felt every hour I put into the SOP made it significantly better. After ~6 hours, I found that my small edits would still improve it, but it would be at the tiny level where it's no longer worth it to me. My goal of editing was to make my SOP not sound bad, but I didn't take the time to perfectly craft it to sound perfect. My rule was as soon as I felt I was happy with it, I would create a PDF and check it once for obvious errors like getting the school name right, and then submit the application and never open the SOP again--I definitely did not want to realise that I made a mistake after I already sent it off!!

 

But I do agree that what each person wants to submit and what is actually needed really depends on a case-by-case basis. I am not advocating that my way was the best or even necessarily a good way to approach it. I was only trying to provide a counterexample to your claim that implies no one will be successful without taking months to revise and perfect their SOP. To be honest, I think the SOP is one of the less important aspects of applications in my field. If I had to rank it for my field, I would say it goes: LORs / how well your work is already known to the department, CV / your research history, GPA, SOP, GREs (wow that's a ton of acronyms).

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I took me about 4 hours to write the template of my SOP; and about 15 - 20 minutes for each program. It all depends on your writing style, ability, and what you want to include.

This sounds more or less like how much effort I put into mine. One weekend I wrote the thing. The next weekend I did some revising. I was never the person in college who had to do three or four drafts of a paper; I'd just write the thing, give it a once over, and turn it in. I think it worked out well enough.

 

Now, as for submitting the final application, I had to work up the guts to actually click the button and tell myself that it was really, truly finished.

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Damn, I am pretty jealous. I would consider myself a good writer, but I have spent upwards of 25-30+ hours on my SOP already. Will probably spend at least half of that in the future. My field takes SOPs pretty seriously though. 

 

I didn't have that kind of time, after a few hours I found it was diminishing returns: how much better could it be? I am pretty sure most fields take it seriously.

 

Writing a Thesis >>>>> SOP imo.  Are you sure its a good use of your time? could you spend that time doing other work that would ultimately help your application (like research).

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WARNING: shameless plug ahead!

 

I am beginning my grad program in less than 2 weeks and wanted to start a blog! I've noticed many blogs have started after completion of a grad program and I wanted to start a blog that focuses on the application process as well as the journey through the program!

It is very new and I am making efforts to post at least twice a week :) I actually wrote a post about the Letter of Intent which may be helpful in your case!

 

Feel free to check it out!

 

biancaslp.wordpress.com or search Bianca's SLP Odyssey

 

Good luck to everyone during this application process :)

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I didn't have that kind of time, after a few hours I found it was diminishing returns: how much better could it be? I am pretty sure most fields take it seriously.

 

Writing a Thesis >>>>> SOP imo.  Are you sure its a good use of your time? could you spend that time doing other work that would ultimately help your application (like research).

 

This is exactly how I felt. Also, I feel that a SOP is one of those things that can hurt you if it's poorly written but can't really help much if it's well written. That is, if you are a great fit for the school and have all the experiences they are looking for, but you write a terrible incomprehensible SOP, you just wasted your chance to get that information across (although it might still come through in your CV and LORs). That's why I spent just enough time so that my SOP is not terrible and can clearly and concisely get my points across.

 

On the other hand, if you have poor grades** and no research experience, it doesn't matter how well written your SOP is, it's not going to make up for a non-competitive GPA or GRE or whatever the school cares about. 

 

(**Here, I define "poor grades" as grades that are not competitive for the program you are applying for, which can really depend on the program!)

 

So, that is why I don't think it's helpful for me to spend more than 6-ish hours writing it--there is almost no gain for me to sink more time in the SOP. However, as victorydance mentioned above, this might indeed be very field specific!

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Perhaps there is a degree of diminishing returns in my case, but I have the time. I took a year off after my undergrad so have ample time to do my applications. And I am also currently a research assistant so it's not like I am eschewing things to make it better. 

 

The reason why my SOP was/is taking so long is because political science SOPs expect you, in most cases, to have well defined research interests and to propose possible research questions in your SOP. I have very defined interests, and most of my previous research experience, my thesis, and courses were geared towards the investigation of something fairly specific so if I weave everything together well and present a coherent gap in the literature it will really make a difference.

 

So the vast majority of my time has been spent on strengthening this section and finding the best way to identify a gap and propose good questions while also tying together a very targeted application. 

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The reason why my SOP was/is taking so long is because political science SOPs expect you, in most cases, to have well defined research interests and to propose possible research questions in your SOP. I have very defined interests, and most of my previous research experience, my thesis, and courses were geared towards the investigation of something fairly specific so if I weave everything together well and present a coherent gap in the literature it will really make a difference.

That does change things a bit, I think. When I wrote my SOP I included more broad interests, but not a specific research project as the program I'm entering does rotations so I don't even know for sure who I will be working with yet and my thesis project will depend upon the aims of my advisor's lab.

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