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Questions about SOPs and personal statements in general

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So I have seen a lot of different opinions on what should be in an SOP or a personal statement so I thought I would create a thread to ask general questions about what should or should not be included so I (and maybe others) will have a better idea where people stand.

Right now I'm trying to write an SOP. I have one school that requires an additional personal statement and another school which asks for a personal history statement, so I basically just realized I may have elements of a personal statement in my SOP!

My questions as of right now:

1. I'm trying to address "why I want to go to graduate school", but I think I may be answering "why this field?" And I have heard that since you're applying to graduate school you obviously like that field, so why elaborate? Otherwise my answer is just "because I want to be a professor and to be a professor you need a phd lolz" (and I feel like this falls under future plans). So - should I leave out this personal touch part in trying to explain why grad school or no?

2. I have heard that I should try to answer a question/explain how I would go about solving a problem in the field today... Should I do that? I guess I just don't want to seem too specific. I know someone who wanted to do immunology and now she's doing drug discovery, so I don't want to seem inflexible, I guess?

3. How do we feel about quotes in the SOP? I have a quote from a famous scientist in my field and I'd like to use it, but then I feel like that may be more for the personal statement as it goes along with "why this field?"

4. Any tips on how to talk about your qualifications without simply rehashing your CV?

Thanks if you made it this far :) I'd love to hear from other people who have general questions about application essays as well!

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All good questions. Indeed, doing both a personal history statement and a personal statement can be challenging because often, there is a lot of overlap, but look at it as an opportunity to include more information than what's normally allowed by the narrow confines and limited word count of a standard SOP/personal statement.

A couple months ago I helped another member of this forum with the exact same problem and together we came up with a good way of distinguishing one piece of writing from the other in a way that hit all the major points of what the program to which he was applying was looking for.

First, it is important to elaborate on why you're interested in that field. Obviously, you want to say more than just "I want to be a professor", even if you have to "fake it 'til you make it"; demonstrate a true passion or driving interest in this field among all the different areas of study you could pursue. Of course, do work in your interest in becoming a professor; just "spin it" in such a way that communicates your strong interest in teaching and pedagogy (rather than, say, because it's a good, well-paying career - a totally legit reason, but one best to leave out of the SOP.)

Specificity is a good thing; don't shy away from it. It's what distinguishes you from others, and makes your writing unique and genuine-sounding. Addressing a problem in the field you'd like to solve is a good jumping off point. As for quotations, I generally advise my clients to avoid them, since the SOP should be in your words, not those of someone else, and quotes (especially of the inspirational variety) easily fall into the realm of cliche. If you feel you must use a quote, definitely don't start the essay with it - this is a huge no-no of SOP writing.

Edited by fuzzylogician
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