Around 60,000 Bangladeshi students go abroad every year after getting done with the hectic long application process, which consists of submitting a Statement of Purpose (SOP), Letter of Recommendation (LOR), IELTS score, Visa process, etc.
Coming from Bangladeshi private and public universities, a student has little idea about how to write an SOP consisting of several sections on personal attainment, planning, and goals only within one page. A good SOP can change the total view of a student the admission committee gets about a student applying for grad school, even if they have a mediocre CGPA or low test scores.
To give a better idea of writing an SOP for graduate school, especially for the Ph.D. and graduate program application, the writer is in conversation regarding the matter with Shweta Majumder and Faiyaz Elahi Mullickwho are pursuing PhDs in their dream universities.
Shweta Majumder is doing her PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania after her Bachelor's in Physics from Brown University. Among the very few Bangladeshis stepping into the door of an Ivy League school, Shweta proved her worth.
On the other hand, Faiyaz Elahi Mullick is doing his PhD in Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) from the University of Virginia just after finishing his Bachelor's in Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) from the University of Dhaka with an excellent profile as a DU student.
Both gave the writer time to briefly describe the writing pattern of personal essays with the important inside notes. The following segments will deal with how an applicant has to deal with the answers of their SOP with smartness.
Answering the question of 'why this degree'
The unique features of the particular department/degree that appealed to you must be mentioned, such as faculty, research labs, facilities etc. The more specific, the better. Finding the relevancy between the work done by faculty, research labs etc., at the department offering the degree with what you have done in the past is important.
"If you can provide reasons upon how your past work can be organically built upon if you enter this department etc., it can help," Shweta mentioned.
Faiyaz Elahi said, "Think about personal experiences which made you choose to study the degree. Especially for a PhD, think about what scientific and technical questions you are thinking of understanding and answering through the degree. How will courses in the degree help with it?"
The tone of the SOP
"A formal tone is not a bad idea, but try using words such as 'I can do it' or 'I believe I can'", Shweta advised the applicants, as this portrays a strong resolve and faith in one's self. Faiyaz also agreed with a similar statement.
Undergraduate Essay vs. Graduate Essay style
Faiyaz thinks an undergrad admission essay is to convey the personality more than a particular interest. For graduate school, applicants need to let them know their specific interest in the program (the courses, projects, facilities, etc.) and why it is an excellent fit for them. This is also the time to talk a bit more about long-term career goals.
"You need to show that you are interested in this specific field rather than showing a broader area of interest (what you will do in undergrad essays)."
In Bachelor's earlier, it was mostly just the ECAs and grades. Now it's time to sell the skill set you learned during your undergrad. The ECAs evolved as well.
Shweta added, "Your essay should portray your professionalism and maturity. Also, your essay will become more specialised because now you have narrowed down your knowledge to a specific path."
Preparing the SOP and the stuff to elaborate
The SOP should be written, taking at least one month since it is the only piece the admission committee often sees as a written sample.
"People here had also taken 4 to 5 months to write the SOP. The first draft does not take much time, but the changes you have to make after every criticism takes a bulk of time," Shweta talked about her experience writing her essay.
Relevant experiences and why they made you decide on this particular degree, along with particular courses, training, and thesis advisors you are interested in at the department, are important to mention.
Lastly, personal reasons for choosing the program/degree/grad school with future goals and what you can bring to the table should be there, as per Faiyaz Elahi.
Notable mentioning the personal statement
An application will already make the committee view the CV, Transcripts, LOR, Test scores and journal or papers etc., so it is important to give some time to describe the struggles, life experiences and character of personal experiences.
"The SOP should be precise. The more precise the better. It should not include the details of hobbies or something unrelated to a graduate program. The more precise it is, the more scope you will get to talk about your other experiences from life," Faiyaz Elahi mentioned while connecting the important dots of writing an SOP.
Common mistakes which should be avoided
The first thing is that the essay must have a story. It must be a coherent text that tells the admissions committee about you from start to finish: how you began your undergrad, what you learned, the struggles, etc., and how you finished.
What were the takeaway skills and achievements? How did you achieve them? This will let the admissions committee know how much you did and how much effort you put in.
Shweta advised, "Of course, get your essay critiqued by as many people as possible. Also, never get your essay written by someone else. Most university graduate programs, if not all, call their applicants for an interview over zoom. They can easily determine whether it was you or someone else who wrote the essay from how you talk."
"Be concise and make sure every sentence talks about your research/professional interest, your interest in the field, and your interest in the department." Faiyaz Elahi advised the applicants.