A statement of purpose showcases your personality in all its glory to the Admissions committee so that you might be considered worthy of a position in the program. Apart from the interview, quite a bit rests on how well you’ve written your SOP. It is truly a chance for you to express subjectively who you think you are and who you think you can be. It doesn’t need any substantiation by data. It doesn’t need any certificate to prove that you are on the right track. It is simply how well you tell your story.
Also your SOP has to match what the school is looking for in a candidate. It has to be a perfect match or near perfect. That is precisely why it is tough.
Let me start from the basics.
1. Read up about the university that you will be applying to. The website will have sections on vision, mission and values of the university, what they believe in and information on illustrious alma mater. It will also talk about the school’s journey- read that and form an idea of the kind of people most likely to be running that school. Pick up on the values that they hold dear. For example, if you are writing an SOP for the Duke NUS Medical School, their values are courage, integrity, compassion and collaboration. Their vision is to transform medicine and to improve lives. Simple enough to incorporate as the theme of your SOP.
2. Start writing the incidents of your life that have hugely impacted you. Don’t be shy about dramatising them with some special effects. Write 5-7 such incidents and pick them up from different phases of your life. From the age of 10 onwards, break your life into groups 10- 15 years, 15- 20 years, 13- 16 years, 18- 22 years and such and write down what really was transpiring in your life during that time. Then let the matter rest for a day.
Come back to it next day with a fresh pair of eyes. Edit, proofread and add more detail if you must.
3. Try to marry the values to your incidents. If you have to stretch your imagination for it, then be it. Imagine what you would find courageous about learning a bike or going into a dark alley simply because you heard a cat whimpering. Imagine collaboration when you are working with multiple teams or playing a team sport. Think out of the box. Try to put in details of incidents that have most likely not been covered in your application form. You are far more than what they have asked in the application form.
4. Pick out 3 of those incidents that fit best with the overall theme of the university and try to put them into a flow. One incident doesn’t have to flow into the other. Use your language skills there. After you are done describing the first incident say something like “here I must make a mention of another incident that has been playing on my mind” and then write about it.
5. The committee starts reading your SOP from the top. Choose a quote , or a poem of your liking. Better yet, write a poem yourself. Don’t worry about it making sense, or being rhythmic. It has to say something about you and that’s that. It grabs attention and keeps the reader hooked.
Ink, pen, paper-
Just pick those up-
Bleed all that you have within-
Writing is not tough.
Bright, almost hurts-
Drowsy, almost fading-
Red, almost painful-
Life and its struggles.
Whatever you start with has to belie the essence of the SOP. The first one talks about what you think of writing. The second talks about what you think of life.
The easiest way to start an SOP is to start writing from the middle. Once you are done with the meat of it, the beginning and the middle flows naturally. Don’t worry if you have multiple drafts of your SOP already. Most probably you haven’t started thinking in the right direction yet. The thought process takes time, the writing is then simple.
Don’t obsess over the beginning, middle and end. An SOP should have all three, but it not necessarily be in that order.