A motivation letter or statement of purpose (SOP) reveals your intent or motivation to apply for the desired course and university. While your resume, test scores, recommendation letters etc. factually present your experience and personality, the SOP is the only means of conveying your narrative in your voice to the Admission Committee directly.
SOP content heavily depends on the course type: for bachelor’s, the Admission Committee wants to know you as a person or potential adult, your interests and hobbies and whether you’re a well-rounded person; for master’s/doctoral, they want to know exactly how you are prepared, why are you interested in this particular problem/field, why you are applying here and how you intend to take this further.
This checklist covers SOP dos and don’ts to adopt while drafting your letter.
- Follow the university’s guidelines on drafting your SOP closely and be responsive to their instructions
- Customise your SOP for the applied program, institute and university. Recognising the distinctiveness of the applied program shows your research and motivation to pursue this over any other program/institute. Avoid sending the same SOP to all the universities
- Avoid grammatical and typological errors. Any proofing error may reflect a lack of motivation and thus lead to non-acceptance
- Reveal your preparedness for the course and your plans for the future. Your motivation letter can give you a competitive edge over applicants with better scores, thus reflecting on your potential thoroughly and carefully
- Be precise about what/where you want to study but leave aside the individual names of professors or facilities if unsure about the availability of seats. The Admission Committee will recognise the indicated facilities/professors based on your focus areas
- Make a point with each paragraph, contextually building up the point further to create a coherent flow
- Show how you can increase diversity by talking about your passions, interests, hobbies etc.
- Be concise and always use an active voice
- Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to write your statement
- Do not digress from your purpose. Cliches and unnecessary associations between your childhood experiences and your intentions today as an adult appear dull.
- Do not merely repeat your resume content but supplement it with contextual, relevant examples. This is most pertinent for question-type SOPs where applicants tend to repeat the information between essays
- Do not mention too many projects; focus on those that have an impact (2-3)—projects that support your purpose and exemplify your learning, problem-solving, growth etc.
- Merely narrating your experience doesn’t suffice; each narrative should demonstrate your growth into a potential and contributing individual
- Do not provide general content about your field and industry—the Committee recognises the values of various courses/fields; hence, focus on why you should be admitted rather than why your industry is good
- Do not take your SOP as the chance to explain anything that you think might raise questions, for example, a poor academic quarter or so.
- Do not use highly emotive language or provide excessive personal information
Bonus: Basic SOP Format
A chronological narration of your experiences and growth often helps in maintaining a flow between paragraphs. Consider the following format while reflecting on your SOP content.
- Captivating introduction
- Academic experience, including relevant projects and extracurriculars
- Professional experience (internship, work); leadership/managerial experience
- Justification for your motivations to apply
- Supporting statements for your candidature: Why should they select you?
The Berkeley Graduate Division shares some essential tips for writing your SOP and recommends a word range of 500–1000.
If your university doesn’t stipulate a word count, a range of 1000–1200 words is recommended.
For STEM fields, UCLA states that the‘[SOP] describes your “brain,” the scientist you have become and will grow to be ….any personal information should be related to your scientific approach and how you will enrich the scientific world.
Lastly, Eamonn Callan, Associate Dean for Academic Services, Stanford University, also wrote that ‘… we will be quick to deny admission if we have insufficient evidence that the candidate is well-suited to the program by virtue of his or her interests and ambitions, regardless of how intellectually well qualified the applicant might be.
Thus, be sure to reveal that the program meshes with your interests and ambitions!
Head, Admission Consulting
Editor, Admission Consulting
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