Do You Have the Required Experience?



Updated June 8, 2022

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The nail in the coffin for the two questions above is your response to this one. Expressing your interest in a topic that is being worked on by the university would bear no fruit if you don’t have some relevant experience already in the said topic. A best-selling author does not start out asking publishing houses to look at her manuscript without spending years conducting painful research and writing relentlessly.

You need to show tangible work you did, along with the results.

We have admitted some students because of projects they talk about in the SOP, but we want to see results (publications, etc.) and what the faculty letter-writers have to say about it. The SOP itself is not driving this evaluation, but may help to put what you have done into context for us. The SOP is your chance to tell us what you want to do (at this point) and why, and to put all the other information in the application into some sort of contextual or narrative framework that helps us make sense of what you have been doing.Professor Emeritus, CMU

We understand that not everything you have worked on in the past might be relevant to your future, at least not directly. That’s completely fine, as you can see from my own story. The admissions committee understands that students like to explore their interests and dabble during their undergraduate degree to find their passion(s), so to speak. While they’re OK with a student not having multiple relevant experiences, they do want to see someone who has taken things to the finish line before.

thinkHave you published a paper?

Did your team get to the final stage of a hackathon, maybe even win it?

Were you the founder of an organization or community that created an impact?

All of these carry an enormous weight, because it shows them that you have what it takes to finish what you start.

The Discrete Mathematics course during my sophomore year introduced me to predicate Calculus and prepared me for a research internship in Logic at the [university] under [professor]. Under his tutelage, I developed an automated problem solver for the famous Einstein puzzle, which involved translating user input to meaningful predicates and extensively used resolution principles to arrive at the solution for the puzzle. Drawing inspiration from my experience at [university], I took to developing an automated Boggle solver back at college. I drew on the ideas I picked up in my algorithm course to use a greedy approach involving recursion and backtracking to find words in sequences of adjacent letters in a grid. […] During my final year, the elective course on Data Mining drew me to explore Recommender Systems. In my final year thesis, my work involved enhancing the traditional memory-based filtering technique by effectively using singular ratings to improve the accuracy of existing recommender systems. The proposal was prototyped using Python and received an award of S grade, the highest one allotted.

—Graduate Student at Stanford University

Why Did You Do the Things You Did?

This is a crucial question to answer, because this is not answered anywhere else in your application. While your grades and scores talk solely about outcomes, this question gives you an opportunity to justify them. This question can be used to explain anomalies in your application (such as a very low CGPA or test score) and/or walk them through your thought process during the moments you took an important decision in your career, such as choosing to work on a niche topic under a professor.

Understanding the reasons that led to something, accepting it gracefully and striving hard to get better, are all the signs of maturity, and top programs hunt for mature people. For something as basic as failing an exam, a mature person will always realize where (s)he is at fault. More than the ‘situation’ itself, the admissions committee is interested in the experience of it, how you overcame it and what you learned from the entire experience.Overseas Education Specialist at MINDLER*

If something changed the course of your career path, or you faced a hardship that influenced your future goals, this is the place to address that. Sai and I changed our course of careers after undergraduation. We studied core engineering (mechanical and chemical respectively) but then switched to a degree in engineering management which led to a career in product management. We understand the difficulty in writing a cogent essay, hoping the admissions committee will see where you’re coming from without having met you.

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