Nov 1, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

One of the most crucial parts of your application to any school or program is the statement of purpose (SOP), otherwise known as the personal statement.

It’s the part of your application that allows admissions officers to see who you really are, what you’re about -- and it’s your shining opportunity to convince them they want you on their campus.

How do you do that? By writing about yourself. Yes, it’s hard -- but it’s worth it.

Why is it so important? It’s the one personal piece of your application that doesn’t pigeonhole you with mere scores and numbers.

It’s a window into you. It’s in your best interest to do a good job opening that window and letting folks in. It’s also in your best interest to get some help.

How do you write an effective statement of purpose? Here’s a handy guide…

1. Make it specific

You need to target your audience. If your writing is formulaic and reads as if you could have sent it to hundreds of other places, admissions officers may be quick to put it in the rejection pile.

While parts of your statement may be repeated across applications, you need to express interest in each school in your statement, and why you would be a good fit at that particular school and location.

Greg Rainey, CEO of McGovern Education Group, said, “Students often write ‘your university’ or ‘your institution’ which shows a lack of interest and research into the university. Use the complete name of the college or university as well as the complete name of the department to which you are applying: ‘College of Science and Engineering’.”

If you want to be really specific, contact a professor in a department that interests you and establish a rapport. Then use that professor’s name in the statement.

2. Make it stand out

This is not the time to hold back. Make it personal. Cast boring aside.

One of the best ways to do this is to tell a story only you can tell. Relate it to what you want to do with your life and how that particular university can help you get there. Make your readers want to know more and want to be around you.

Rainey explains, “Why you? Students must write at least three compelling reasons the student has chosen this university rather than another one. For example, the university could offer a low faculty to student ratio or have a specific high-tech lab. Again, you must convince the admissions committee to accept your application over thousands of others.” 

3. Follow the directions

Easier said than done. Before you follow the directions, it’s important that you read them.

It goes without saying that you can show your flair and originality with the confines of the guidelines. If not, then you’re not thinking hard enough.

Give the admissions committee what they ask for in a way that’s distinctly -- and positively -- you.

“Use the header feature to include your complete name as well as the degree program for which you are applying. At some universities, the admissions committee receives printed copies of admissions documents, which can be separated and lost. To ensure your SOP remains with your documents, simply use the header feature on each page,” says Rainey.

4. Proofread: check your spelling and grammar

Submitting a statement of purpose without proofreading just looks bad. You look like you don’t care enough to get at least a second opinion.

Rainey recommends at least three opinions. He says, “Have at least three other people you trust to review your grammar and usage as well as spelling. Nothing can ruin a well written statement of purpose like misspelling a professor's name or the title of your research project. When in doubt, refer to the AP Style Guide or the Elements of Style.”

Even then, you’re not done. After your first round of proofreading, take yourself through another round of revising your work and send it out to the same three readers. If they are not willing, find some new ones to proofread that piece again.

Then, once you have the best statement of purpose you can write, you’re ready to apply!

Questions? Contact McGovern Education Group.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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