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.

As a final piece of advice, take a walk.

Alone, and without your phone.

It can be around a basketball court or in that garden next to your university’s main office. Cal Newport,* an associate professor of computer science and the author of many bestsellers, says in a famous talk,*

The way to find your passion is to be so good at something that the people around you can’t ignore it.

And the way to be so good at something is through unadulterated practice and deep work, an ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. That cannot be attained by sitting in a noisy cafeteria surrounded by people and distractions.

A quiet walk 🡪 clarity of thought 🡪 a great essay

So take a walk, every day if possible, for thirty minutes to an hour and observe your thoughts without judging them. You will be surprised at the kind of insights you generate about yourself and your environment. It is no surprise that the best ideas come to you when you least expect them.*

Graham Wallas,* a social psychologist and co-founder of the London School of Economics, broke down the creative process into four steps in his 1926 book The Art of Thought. The four steps are: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

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Most people tend to overlook stage two in this process, where they are supposed to incubate themselves somewhere far away from a problem, so they can generate novel thoughts and be more efficient while they return to solve it. Your brain likes it when you let it wander on its own after putting in cognitive effort in the preparation stage.

So take a walk alone with your thoughts, and you just might figure out the opening sentence of your essay.

storyI performed the painful task of re-reading the different versions of my statement of purpose I had written more than three years ago. In one sense, it acted as a time-travel lens to magnify the level of specificity (or lack thereof) I possessed when I was applying for my graduate program. My essay was all over the place.

It began with a childhood memory of how I was inspired to pursue science. The body of it battled between an overview of my research and the organizations I managed. The ending was lackluster with a generic mention of a professor’s name and a recent paper of his from the university I was applying to. I ended up not following many of the qualities that make a great essay, many of which I’m asking you to follow now.

If I was reading my essay right now, and had to decide to select or reject 2017-me solely based on the essay, I would probably reject me.

That is why I want you to learn from my mistakes. I want to shine a light on the many invaluable lessons that someone can learn in hindsight, and hope you imbibe some of them right now.

Student Testimonials

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

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