Katie Schenk - May 12, 2017
Your statement of purpose is critical because it’s the only aspect of your engineering application that provides the admissions team with an understanding of you as an individual. As you can imagine, engineering schools can’t admit all the talented students that apply; they’re looking for a mix of talent, the ability to exceed expectations, and a good fit in the university culture. Throughout this essay, you should demonstrate your ability to research.
In some cases, the admissions team (which varies from programme to programme), can make an instant judgment call on an application. But, there are always cases where the statement of purpose pushes an applicant into the yes pile. A sloppy statement of purpose, on the other hand, may end in a rejected application. So, even if the other submitted materials speak for themselves, you must put plenty of effort into writing an awesome statement of purpose.
What is a statement of purpose?
Even though a statement of purpose (SoP) essay is the only time you get to differentiate yourself, you don’t want to confuse it with a personal statement (PS).
Personal statement essays are more frequently requested by undergraduate programmes than grad schools; they focus on your personal experiences and serve to highlight your interests, show how you’ll fit into the school’s culture, and how active you’ll be in and outside of the classroom. As you’ve not had any practical experience and it’s unlikely that you’ve performed any practical research, personal statements can only be about yourself and your interests.
Grad-level engineering programmes request a statement of purpose essays which focus on your research interests. The inclusion of personal experiences should relate directly to research, engineering, and the way your brain manipulates information. You’re not taking yourself out completely, but demonstrating that you can interact with the school and department for mutual benefit.
What should you expect?
The admissions process varies between programmes. Most will provide a list of questions they hope to have answered. And, they’ll provide parameters such as word count and spacing instructions. It’s important that you ensure you meet the mechanical specifications in the editing of your work. But, focus on answering the questions first.
Questions, whether explicit or implied can be grouped into a few categories:
What do admissions teams want to read?
Above all, you’ll need to answer all the questions asked in the brief. But, you don’t want to list the answer to each one and then push them into paragraphs. If the admissions team still has questions after reading your statement of purpose and reviewing the other aspects of your application, you probably won’t get a positive response.
You want to demonstrate passion for the field, the programme, and the university without gushing. So, feel free to make your accomplishments shine, but avoid boasting. It’s better to convey pride in your work rather than brag. And, nothing says that better than quantifiable successes. But, don’t stick only to facts and figures; indeed, much of that will be gleaned from your CV and transcripts.
When you can, use stories, themes, and metaphors to link the aspects of your essay and your application. For example, when discussing your work experience, don’t just talk about your responsibilities; rather describe your experience. How did it make you feel? What inspired you? What did your workspace feel like when you realised you needed to return to school to achieve your goals? Even if your undergrad or work experience was miserable, remain upbeat and never denigrate the organisations you have been affiliated with.
If you have a less-than-stellar undergraduate record, or there are other aspects where you feel you make be lacking, don’t avoid talking about this gaps. Admissions teams would rather know why you didn’t achieve top marks in core classes than be left wondering. Try to make it positive by showing how you persevered or what you learned from a negative experience.
When it comes to tone, try to achieve a balance between talking to a friend and writing to a head of state. Write as if you are speaking to someone you know, but avoid being too casual. If you’re having a difficult time getting this right, pretend you’re writing to the most senior person that you have a relationship with such as a dean of your undergraduate university.
Every department at every school in each university has its own review process. While they may place a different weight on the SoP, they all expect to see a polished, detail-oriented work. Every paragraph should relate to your experience, research, or the future the university can provide. So, make sure you illustrate the research you’ve done with regards to the programme and university.
A few DOs and DON’Ts
Don’t pretend this degree or line of work has always been your “purpose” in life. It may have been something you dreamed of from a young age, but it wasn’t always your purpose, and that’s what you need to stick to in this essay.
You do want to add specifics as much as you can, but you need to have your facts straight. If you speak about a professor, make sure he’s still at the university. If you speak about work in a field, make sure they’re included in the school’s recent research portfolio.
Try to avoid quotes from famous people. A quote from a professor in your department is, however, not a bad idea as long as you can demonstrate that it inspired you to pursue a field or further research in some way.
Don’t add humour for the sake of it. If you’re relating a comical experience that prompted you to pursue your field of study, feel free to make it a little funny. But, there’s no point in adding jokes… really.
Editing your statement of purpose
Your first draft is never your final draft. When editing, you’ll need to do several passes, and it may be easier to look for one or two errors at a time.
Look for ideas and or self-descriptions that you missed in the first edit. It’s now that friends and family may be of some use. They may be able to provide you with examples of how you approach work, times when you were inspired (or inspiring), and whether you’ve described yourself accurately or not.
On your second pass (or third… or fourteenth), take a look for common grammar mistakes. Look out for passive voice, comma and semicolon errors, contractions, spelling mistakes. Don’t rely on your word processing programme to point out mistakes (though a free resource, such a Grammarly will point out issues with passive voice as well as spelling.)
Also, make sure you write out the entire name the first time you use it. For example, statement of purpose rather than SoP or World Health Organisation instead of WHO. Check for varied sentence structures - starting too many sentences in a row with “I” will detract from your work. And, remember that simpler sentences that are clear and concise are better than long, unwieldy ones.
You really should write a unique statement of purpose for every you apply to, but if you copy and paste or do a search and replace for parts, always make sure that you’ve got the right information in every essay. And, don’t expect your proofreaders to pick up on that; they haven’t spent weeks researching the universities as you have.
When you’re secure with your statement of purpose, have someone else look at it. Indeed, you should ask a few people to look at it. Ask for grammar and sentence structure assistance - especially if you’re writing in a language that’s not your mother tongue. More importantly, turn to your undergraduate professors or engineering advisors on the job. They’ll be able to offer technical insight and may have insights to your work and approach that you may have missed.
After your final changes, wait a few days to do a final proofread where you check for grammar, omitted words, and double check that it all reads smoothly. Check the word count and formatting instructions before submitting; you really don’t want to put in all that work to be ruled out on a technicality.
Katie Schenk - May 26, 2017
Every grad student needs to sleep somewhere. No matter how much time you plan to spend in the... Continue reading
Prodigy Finance - May 23, 2017
Thinking about an international postgraduate degree? Having trouble finding the financing?... Continue reading
Katie Schenk - May 16, 2017
If you’re planning to pursue your masters overseas, you’ve got plenty to do - and obtaining your... Continue reading
Investing - Risk Policy
Investment is restricted to high net worth and sophisticated investors who can demonstrate that they have sufficient knowledge and experience to understand the risks of investing. Risks include the potential loss of capital and limited liquidity. Capital at risk. Investments are long term and it may not be possible to sell your investment prior to maturity. See our full Risk Warning and Terms and Conditions.
© Prodigy Finance Limited 2007 - 2017. All Rights Reserved. Prodigy Finance Limited is incorporated in the United Kingdom (Company Number 05912562) with its registered address at Palladium House 1-4 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7LD and registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner (Reg. No. Z9851854). Prodigy Finance is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (firm registration number 709641) for certain consumer credit activities and for investment activities for investors who have agreed to its terms. Prodigy Finance loans are offered to eligible borrowers who are studying outside of their country of residence and the loans are governed by English law.
Prodigy Services Limited is incorporated in the United Kingdom (Company Number 10201413) with its registered address at Palladium House 1-4 Argyll Street, London, W1F 7LD. Prodigy Services is an appointed representative of BriceAmery Capital Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Prodigy Services Limited promotes offers of securities for third party issuers to eligible investors.