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.

Answering this question takes a non-trivial amount of effort.

​danger​ Here are two things to avoid while answering this question: First, don’t assume it is obvious to the admissions committee that you are pursuing a graduate degree in computer science because your undergraduate degree was in computer science. Second, don’t search for the most recently published paper on the department’s website and include that as the reason you wish to pick the university.

Making the above errors indicate that you are lethargic and put little thought into this.

You should not try to answer this question alone. You should start off by collecting research guides (or brochures or summaries) from the different departments where you will apply. You’ll look through these things and you’ll find summaries of ongoing research in the different areas that [that school] offers. You’ll find a few projects (and possible faculty advisors) that interest you, and you will ask yourself this question: ‘If I worked in this [area], and if I worked on chunks of these projects, what would I try to do on my own?’ The answer to this question should form about a third of your Personal Statement.Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology*

The admissions committee generally uses the statement of purpose for a few reasons:

  • to weed out anomalies, such as students who claim they’re pursuing graduate studies because their parents asked them to or students who have extremely poor writing skills (which we’ll talk about soon)

  • to gauge the interest of the applicant and

  • to potentially match the student with a faculty from the department.

While it’s understandable if you don’t end up pursuing exactly what you stated in your essay, there needs to be a strong correlation or reason for you to have digressed. For those reasons, it is highly recommended that you do your due diligence in understanding the boundaries of what research is possible, what interests you, and what you have experience with from your undergraduate degree before answering this question (or choosing the major and university).

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I’ve been fascinated by solving problems that are an amalgamation of business and engineering principles. I’ve focused my coursework on two key pillars of the program—operations research and information systems. Within operations research, I have a strong foundation in probability and statistics, optimization and stochastic modelling. I’ve not only performed well in all classes, but also applied the concepts learned in real world situations. For example, I led a small team of two students to determine the outcomes of possible breast cancer screening policies (e.g., annual, biannual, every three-year mammography). We built a decision tree (with 3 health states and 3 different screening policies over a ten-year period). Based on analysis of the tree, the optimal screening policy was determined. […] My undergraduate education and abundant internship experiences have shown me I have the strong quantitative and qualitative skills necessary to thrive in all the core courses and electives in the IEOR department and the business school at Columbia. I believe these factors would enable me to excel in Columbia’s Management Science and Engineering (MS&E) program.

—Graduate Student at Columbia University

What Do You Want to Spend the Two (or Five) Years On?

Graduate school is not easy, to put it mildly. You are putting yourself through financial debt, cultural transformation, grueling hours of schoolwork, and possibly developing imposter syndrome.* All in the hopes of getting a job that will pay off for all your hard work.

​think​What is it that motivates you to go through this?

What questions are you trying to answer?

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