I used to think I was good at writing. I thought I had a good grasp of how to convey what I felt and thought onto paper in a somewhat eloquent manner.
Really I did.
And then the SOP happened.
Yes my friends, the gnarly cobra that I seem to have been given a tuba rather than a flute to tame.
For those of you who have never looked into graduate school, allow me to explain.
The SOP, better known to some as the Statement of Purpose, is essentially the subjective portion of a grad school application. It is the place where (in theory) we pour our souls into explaining why this particular program would be the best fit. Why we are so outstanding as students, researchers… human effing beings, that they should accept us – faults and all. That the adcoms (admissions committees) should look beyond the C, or W that casts a bleak shadow on our transcripts because our intentions are pure and just and noble.
All we want to do is better society through our work at this particular program.
In our midst of rose-colored dreams of what could be if only we had the Master’s or Ph.D… we are faced with unwritten rules about writing the SOP.
Rule #1: This isn’t a creative writing essay. Save the storytelling for your therapist.
Rule #2: Don’t take a paragraph to explain your low GPA, GRE score, the F you got in a class completely unrelated to your major or the two years worth of Ws. Consolidate. A few sentences – max. And don’t rehash the past, adcoms don’t want excuses, they want maturity.
Rule #3: Keep it concise. You’re lucky if they allow for 1000 words. Luck-effing-y. Remember 500 words translates to 1 page single spaced, or 2 pages double (approximately). Don’t get winded talking about the faults.
Rule #4: The future is crucial, but you’re probably not going to be Marie Curie. Talk about your goals, but realistically. Sure, everyone wants a Noble Prize, but most people want puppies and not everyone gets to live in a pet-friendly apartment, do they?
And lastly, I partake, Rule#5 I’ve learned (thus far) in the process: Proofread. It sounds stupid, but I’ve read message after message of applicants that wind up forgetting to change school Y to school Z on the SOP (since a lot of programs ask the same SOP questions or ask for a general SOP) and then SUBMIT the application with the wrong school name. That’s gotta look good, right? At least they won’t have to ask what other schools you’re applying to at the interview. *This is by no means an insult to those candidates – I can totally see myself making this mistake.
So, when I read the requirements for these various introductory essays this is what I tend to see:
In 500 words please explain (without being anecdotal) how your past, present and future (which we can assume you can predict – you DO want a Ph.D someday don’t you??) has made you a good candidate. On top of this we want to know your research interest, the reason for your crappy (and by that we mean under 3.5) undergrad GPA, oh and while we’re talking about your transcripts what’s with the multiple withdraws? Explain that at length without sounding like the smallest violin or a douchebag trying to excuse sleeping through a semester’s worth of lectures. We’d also like to know about you as a human being (again please refrain from anecdotes, metaphors, similes or anything of that nature… this IS a graduate essay afterall, har har). We’d like that in 1 page, single spaced. And if you could avoid using phrases like “I hope, I wish, or I feel,” that would be just dandy.
Which also translates into:
So of course…
Thankfully I have another 9 months worth of lattes to go before deadlines are upon us 🙂