You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

I found myself trying to write an essay amidst the stress of senior year coursework, thesis work, and placements. A friend of mine suggested I obtain a free profile review by a consultancy. I was a top student in my class and proactive when it came to extracurriculars. So when I saw that the consultancy recommended universities that were all tier 3, I was shocked. I decided to take things into my own hands and began drafting my SOP.

I wrote the first draft without giving it too much thought. Then, I looked for SOP questionnaires online that provided guidance on questions to answer. Once it got to a good stage, I began removing unnecessary information, followed by getting feedback from my alumni and mentors. Finally, I began fine-tuning it to adhere to the word limit set by each university. I went through the editing process separately for each university.

—Nivedhithaa Santhakumar, Purdue University

Around mid-October, I created a rough mind map, trying to answer some basic questions around my academic interests and long-term goals. I thought hard about how I can contribute to a university’s research work and what I can take away from it. In hindsight, these were the main segments of my essay, but the journey wasn’t smooth. As soon as I began writing, I experienced the dreaded writer’s block. However, soon after, I wrote 2,500 words in one sitting and ended up with a rather verbose essay.

In the end, what helped was putting myself in the shoes of the admissions committee and imagining having to read a hundred essays a day. That made me talk about only the most pertinent ideas and be parsimonious with the whitespace. Of course, this was followed by iterative alumni reviews that helped fine-tune the sentences and improve the presentation of the content. In short, be original, and come up with a way to stand out from the crowd.

—Vishnu Chandrasekhar, Carnegie Mellon University

Final Thoughts on Writing Your SOP

Humans will always be riddled with cognitive biases. Rather than trying to escape them, think about how you can use the knowledge to your advantage. The statement of purpose is one part of your application, not all of it. Don’t overstate its importance. The person reading it wants you to show them how you plan on utilizing the time spent at their university as a bridge to go from where you are now, to where you want to be.

As you begin to think about writing the essay, first take a step back and try to answer a few questions: Why are you choosing this university and major? How do you want to spend your time at graduate school? What is your long-term goal? Do you have the experience needed to provide value in return? Can you think and write clearly? These questions should be used as guiding principles, and ideally, your essay should answer all of them.

Getting your SOP reviewed is very critical, but don’t begin sending emails to dozens of seniors without wording it carefully first. Be very selective in the people you choose, and try to reduce the friction from their end as much as possible by sending it in a collaborative document where they can add comments, and send helpful reminders if they don’t respond after a week. The people you reach out to have been in your shoes already, so they understand the need.

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