Most common mistakes to avoid in SOPs

As the phrase suggests, a Statement of Purpose (SOP) is an essay or description written by a student about himself/herself.  This statement is taken seriously by the Universities in the UK in the process of assessing the eligibility of applicants and subsequently admission.

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Significance of SOPs

SOPs should explain clearly the purpose of a person. Education can empower a person to pursue their dreams and passions. From this perspective, the basic expectation from the universities is that you have clarity regarding the purpose of joining the course.  A higher level of competition can mean SOP can be the differentiator between two prospective students. Thus, writing SOP in a manner ensuring admission is a key step in the process of applying to a UK University.

Structure of SOPs

SOPs are not expected to be written following a specific format. They should be specific, and sincere, and effectively communicate your passion and logic behind the selection of the course.  Course selection, therefore should not be a random choice but rather a well-thought-out decision, the rationale of which can be explicated by a student.

Meeting the SOP expectations

As we discussed, SOP to serve its purpose must be properly linked to the course selection and your overall purpose which can be career related. The life journey you have undertaken so far and the course selection are likely to be linked at some level.  Such links should be highlighted.  The course selection and the impact that will have on your future should be delineated.  As a generic rule, you will be benefitted from the inclusion of the following details:

Introduction part

The introductory paragraph should be focused and to the point.  The basics are to explain who you are and what prompted you to select the course. Why this particular course and how it will change your life and possibly positively change the lives of others?

Students may tend to overstate their past accomplishments or the impact the course will have if they are given admission.  

Refrain from making sweeping statements. The University has your transcripts of recent academic performances. Remember that you are communicating with the support of past performances and in most cases, those who have performed well in the past are likely to continue with that performance.  You must include all relevant details pertaining to recent jobs and the skills acquired.  The employment history can be used as a pivot point to explain the selection of a course if you were influenced by the employment.  

As an example, you worked as a volunteer for a charity and you would like to take Master’s in Social Work.  Or you developed computer software programs and you now want to take computer science.  Such connections should be well established and leaving them can result in you losing opportunities to present your case unambiguously.  

Body of SOP

Mention of research interest

Academic achievements have the highest possible weightage in the student selection process of a program.  When many candidates applied to have a bright academic profile, additional achievements in the form of projects, research reports, as well as leadership positions held, can strengthen SOP and overall application success. 

 If you are applying for Ph.D. or Master’s, then any research publication, particularly in reputed journals can be of absolute significance in enhancing your chances of getting selected.  Such publications give confidence to the selection panel that the student has an aptitude for research and therefore is more eligible to be selected if candidates with a similar profile without research experience are present.  

Having a positive perspective on previous experiences can be extremely useful. You can use those experiences as to how you undertook reflective learning and how such learning is linked to the present application, if possible.  Don’t mention your lack of interest in aspects of life such as “I am an introvert, don’t like many social interactions, but I am good with research”.  You are aiming to establish research aptitude, but this statement can counteract because a lack of social interaction can be an unattractive proposition. 

Universities are striving to enhance their social appeal to remain as attractive to the young population as possible. The brand personality concept is increasingly applied by Universities and if you create an SOP that appeals to the vision, mission, and research interests of the University, then the probability of success can be enhanced. Mention academic grades if they are outstanding or else since you have given a transcript along with the application, ignore that.

Don’t underestimate the power of SOP to influence the selection board.  If your grades are not that impressive, you must ensure that your SOP stands out. People can change at any point in time and you can explain how you aim to transform your life by studying at the University.  Make sure that you are genuine with this claim and committed to transforming in a way meeting the academic demands of the course.   

Coherence of statements

The SOP must have a logical flow enticing the attention of the readers. Introducing yourself and your experiences should be undertaken coherently.  This demands that you write down the sequence of events to be discussed and then make paragraphs. The use of mind map techniques to identify all relevant aspects discussed in a structured manner can be useful as well.   

Honesty is the best policy

Universities and those in charge of the selection of students must have assessed thousands of applications and as such, they are likely to know whether the claims you make can be trusted. False claims can prompt Universities to blacklist your application. Honestly explain your passion and the benefits of being offered a place at the university.

Proofread and format

Get the SOP proofread by someone who has the knowledge to undertake such a task.  Such a person may be able to identify mistakes that you did not and add new perspectives as well. Format the document to ensure that standard fonts like Times New Roman or Arial are used and the alignment of the document is attractive.

Don’t copy and paste

One person’s SOP can’t be similar to that of another person because every person’s life is unique. Therefore, copying the SOP of another person is not an option at all.  Besides this, copied SOP means plagiarised content revealing integrity issues with the personality of the applicant. 

While many people may think “copy and paste” behavior is normal, Universities take it seriously. A person who cannot create an SOP independently without plagiarism is unlikely to write academic assignments successfully.

An SOP template can be created to modify easily while applying to different universities.  Make sure that University names and details are modified as required.

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