Common Mistakes to Avoid in SOP
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Common Mistakes to Avoid in SOP

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Aishwarya
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Jul 8, 2024 17:46 IST

Is your Statement of Purpose (SOP) up to snuff? Many applicants work hard on their SOPs, but even the most dedicated students can make mistakes that sink their applications. This article reveals the 10 most common SOP mistakes and provides actionable advice to help you write a winning SOP that will get you noticed by admissions committees.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in SOP

When we prepare our SOP, we all want to create a winning statement, which can get us admitted into our desired college or university. The process of SOP writing may take multiple attempts, many hours invested, frequent online research for sample SOPs, or even taking external help. However, there could be some common mistakes which can jeopardize your efforts. Sounds confusing? You may think about all your hard work and efforts done in creating the SOP. However, what is not true in case of SOP is that hard work always pays off. Hard work is essential, but smart work is what you need when it comes to an SOP. Even a simple mistake as an exceeded sop word limit or adding unnecessary details, can take away all your effort, resulting in an unfavorable outcome. In this article, we will look at some of the common mistakes to avoid in an SOP.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in an SOP

Here are the most common mistakes that should be avoided while writing an SOP:

1) Random details and abrupt structure

When you start writing your SOP, you will be able to think about many events, reasons, achievements, or failures from your life, which you feel like including in it. However, this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. It is important to choose those details or experiences from your life which are relevant to the programme you are applying for. In fact, these random details may make you go beyond the expected SOP word limit. Besides choosing relevant information, you need to structure them in such a way that there is a proper flow and everything seems connected to the purpose of the programme. Remember the formula of LRCF (Logic, Reason, Coherence, and Flow). Every event that you mention, for instance an event that motivated you to pursue a particular course, must be connected through LRCF (logic, reason, coherence, and flow) with your background and your future goals. Do not commit the mistake of writing events that are randomly and abruptly connected. Make sure that there is structure, coherence, and flow in your SOP. The Admissions Committee must not be confused while reading your SOP.
2) Talking too much about your childhood fantasies
Childhood fantasies when discussed in a graduate application or an MBA SOP make a document less considerable. These can nevertheless be discussed in an undergraduate application. Childhood dreams help you decide what you pursue in your secondary education (11th and 12th grade) to achieve your undergraduate aims by enrolling in a Bachelor’s programme. While making an application to higher education (Master’s degree), you need to sound more focused and clearer rather than a dreamer. Your goals need to be precise instead of discussing how you ended up developing an interest in a certain field, which works for the undergraduate applicants on the other hand.

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3) Not giving it enough time
It is essential to give enough time to write, rewrite, revise or proofread your SOP. As we know that a statement of purpose is one of the important documents for admission into a foreign university; it will need your considerable time and attention. After preparing your initial draft as per the format and guidelines, you must revise the draft a few more times, to check for relevant details, grammatical errors, sop word limit and chronological flow. Your SOP needs to be drafted with patience not keeping time as a constraint.

4) Beating around the bush and not paying attention to career goals
SOP is a reflection of the previous achievements and plans. If we focus more on our achievements and less on discussing our career goals, then the Ad Com would regard us as someone more proud and less focused. Every aspect discussed in our SOP has a defined space of its own. Things need to be explained, but in a way that nothing overshadows anything. Our achievements should portray our strengths and determination while goals are required to showcase our focus and clarity of vision. Both need to be explained in a manner that our candidature seems to be an absolute fit for the chosen course and university.
5) Not taking a second opinion
Always take external help. It may be someone you know or someone who understands your purpose enough to help you in stating it properly in a draft. Write on your own, but always take 
a second opinion, because what is ordinary for you may be extraordinary to someone else and the same goes the other way round. This can either be avoided or corrected with a secondary perspective. However, at the same time, you need to remember that ‘When You Write the Story of Your Life, Don’t Let Anyone Else Hold the Pen’. If you let someone else write your essay, it would turn out to be a completely different story, because it is always you who understands your aim in life. Taking help from an industry expert would make a huge difference in your profile presentation. They can assist you in presenting your academic strengths and professional desires strongly. However, referring to a lot of people would lead you nowhere. It would result in confusion and you would end up with a messier document that you would not be able to finalise. Hence, it is always better to take help from a subject matter expert, who knows what to include in your SOP and what not to include in your SOP.
6) Making the SOP flashy or unrealistic
Considering that the aim of the SOP is to impress the Ad Com and get an offer letter, you may end up getting distracted and using wrong ways to grab attention; this may not lead to favorable results. Focusing your SOP only on your achievements, may give the impression of you being boastful. It is important to keep a balance in such a way that these accomplishments should not create unrealistic perception of you. Despite your achievements, the SOP should present you as a humble, keen learner, and curious person. Moreover, using complex vocabulary, just to showcase your verbal ability may not fetch you great returns. Sticking to simpler word choices and clear ideas always works the best when it comes to an SOP. Another big ‘No’ is using bold letters, italics, random fonts, colours or unusual type of formatting. The SOP should have a formal tone and clear presentation of ideas and content.
7) Not conducting your research
Writing random stuff about the chosen course, university or college, and country in your SOP would not give a good impression. If you talk about your fantasies of studying abroad without any goal, or mention a popular destination you have always aspired to join without giving any relevant reasons for choosing that destination or give out reasons like college infrastructure or a country’s weather conditions, or even some familiar people living in the chosen country, then the Ad Com may consider you to be naive. Conducting proper university research on the course curriculum, college faculties, campus facilities, and the industrial exposure you might get by studying in the country, when related to your goals, would bring out your candidature as a more focused one.
8) Writing more or less than needed (not understanding the value of space and SOP word limit)

Word limit for SOP is a very important factor that most of us do not consider while writing. It is essential to understand that time is precious. The people sitting out there to evaluate your profile have a limited time to get this job done. There are thousands of students enrolling in the same course in the same college in a particular country right before the deadline. Evaluating such a huge number of applicants based on their profiles needs both time and patience. Hence, you should always consider sticking to the sop word limit communicated by the university. If not, the ideal word limit for any given generic SOP is anywhere between 800–1000 words. Therefore, if you have a lot to discuss, it is better to choose your words wisely and wrap up everything in the least possible words. On the other hand, if you do not have much to describe your profile, then you should focus on explaining your goals and talking about the industrial trends with facts and figures.

9) Being too direct or too casual in the beginning and conclusion

It is important to be careful when you are writing the introduction and conclusion of the SOP. The introductory paragraph should be written in such a manner that it can create a ‘hook’ for the Ad Com and they get interested in your profile from the beginning. The best way to start an SOP is to include an interesting anecdote which can justify your motivation for the specific programme. It helps to build a good and catchy beginning for the reader. If you will be too direct in stating the reason of choosing the programme, it may be possible that the reader may not wish to read the complete draft. Also, a casual start of the SOP with a quote or general overview of the programme must be avoided. The idea is to create a good impression from the beginning which can build interest in the mind of the reader. Similarly ending the SOP on a positive note is equally important. Concluding your draft by showing your preparedness for the programme and mentioned what makes you a worthy candidate will help to create a lasting impression. 
10) Using jargon or technical terms more often
Please ensure to use simple language, keeping in mind that members of the Ad Com may not be technically sound as per your industry. Using too much jargon would confuse them, making them feel disconnected, and they may end up losing interest. It is okay to use technical terms a few times just to explain your motives clearly and let them know that you know what you are planning to do with your life. They should be able to relate to your decision to apply to a particular course and your plan for the future.

Common Mistakes that lead to Rejection or Permanent Blacklisting!

Did you know that if not drafted honestly, an SOP may lead to a rejection or permanent blacklisting, which is even worse? Check out the most essential points you should keep in mind while drafting your SOP or Admission Essays:
1) Never lie or provide false information in documents
The Ad Com expects you to provide information that is 100% true, which is why you are required to submit proof for everything you have, done ranging from your academics to your extracurricular activities. If you are unable to provide them with the desired proof of your endeavours, such as academic transcripts and participation certificates for all the activities done, the authorities find you at fault and reject your application. In some cases, they may permanently blacklist your profile.
2) Never copy your SOP or essay from your friends or the Internet
Plagiarism is considered a serious offence in universities abroad. Never copy anything from the Sample SOPs or Sample Essays spread across the Internet or any ex-applicant’s documents. Copied/plagiarised documents may lead to a straight-away rejection from foreign universities, which may also result in permanent blacklisting of the aspirant’s candidature. Always write your essay/SOP on your own. To save yourself from this situation, you might want to refer to tips and tricks for writing a winning statement of purpose.

Do’s for SOP Writing

  • Interesting Introduction: Begin your SOP with a captivating opening that grabs the reader’s attention. This will help make your SOP stand out from the rest.
  • Originality: Your SOP should showcase your distinctive perspective and life experiences. Avoid using generic templates or replicating someone else’s SOP. Instead, concentrate on highlighting your own goals, skills, and aspirations.
  • Tailored SOP: Create a unique SOP for each institution to which you are applying. Learn about the university’s principles, strengths, and requirements for applicants, by doing research on the programme. You can better match your objectives and interests with theirs by doing this.
    Relevant Supporting Details: Give instances, accomplishments, and experiences to support your qualifications and programme fit. To strengthen your arguments and improve the persuasiveness of your SOP, use specific examples.
  • Be Clear: Avoiding unneeded jargon or sophisticated words will help you write in a straightforward and succinct manner. Keep the topics of your sentences and paragraphs clear and concise. Use appropriate sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Proofread: Spend some time carefully editing and proofreading your SOP to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes. To acquire alternative viewpoints and suggestions for development, ask your instructors, mentors, or friends for their opinions.

Don’ts for SOP Writing

When writing your Statement of Purpose (SOP), there are certain things you should avoid to ensure your document is effective and impactful. Here are some don’ts for SOP writing:

  • Don’t be vague: In your SOP, stay away from clichés and generalisations. Be precise and include real-world examples to back up your assertions. Your SOP will become more 
    interesting and memorable as a result.
  • Don’t focus solely on your achievements: Highlighting your accomplishments is crucial, but you should not rely on them to win over the Ad Com. Instead, concentrate on your development as a person, the difficulties you overcame, and the lessons you learned. This will demonstrate the strength of character you possess.
  • Don’t exceed the prescribed SOP word limit: Adhere to the specified word or page limit for your SOP. Going over the limit may give the impression that you cannot follow instructions or that you are unable to communicate concisely.
    Avoid irrelevant details: Avoid including irrelevant details or excessive information that does not contribute to your overall narrative.
    Don’t make unsupported claims: Make sure that any assertions you make in your SOP are supported by data or examples. Unsubstantiated statements can undermine your document’s trustworthiness and raise suspicion in the minds of the Ad Com.

All the points discussed above need to be considered seriously as they would help you make your application remarkable and outstanding. You may always seek help from industry experts as they are updated with the latest industrial trends and hence would be able to guide you with what is best for you. With proper research, you can always apply on your own, though when taking professional assistance, you would understand the difference between self-applying and taking help from outside agencies. In both cases, we wish you all the best with your application.

Mistakes to Avoid in SOP FAQs

Q1. What should be included in an SOP?

A. While writing an SOP, students need to include the following points:

  • Introduction: Start your introduction with a captivating instance that grabs the reader’s attention and describes your educational or professional history. You can briefly indicate the programme you are applying to or your area of interest.
  • Academic Background: Clearly describe your educational background, mentioning your undergraduate degree, major, and any pertinent coursework or research projects. Highlight any honours or academic accomplishments.
  • Professional Experience: If applicable, mention any relevant work experience, internships, or research positions you have held.
  • Research Interest: Discuss your specific research interests and how they align with the programme or field you are applying to.
  • Motivation: Explain why you are passionate about the topic of study and why you are pursuing the programme in clear, concise terms. Talk about any formative events or inner inspirations that influenced your academic and professional goals.
  • Future Goals: Outline your short-term and long-term goals and how the programme you are applying to will help you achieve them.
  • Programme Fit: Explain why you think the programme is a good fit for your academic and professional goals while demonstrating your comprehension of it. Mention specific programme components, such as courses, professors, or research opportunities, that fit your objectives and interests.

Q. What should be avoided in an SOP?

A. It is crucial to steer clear of typical mistakes that can undermine your application while creating an SOP. First, stay away from generalisations and evasive comments that don’t offer particular details about your objectives, experiences, or intentions. Instead, focus your attention on highlighting the special traits and experiences that make you an excellent candidate. Exaggeration or excessive self-promotion must also be avoided because they can come out as 
insincere. Instead, make an effort to take a balanced approach, emphasising your accomplishments and strengths without going overboard. Another typical error is failing to relate your past accomplishments and long-term objectives to the particular programme you are applying to. Make sure your SOP explains in detail how the programme fits with your aspirations and how it can aid you in achieving your objectives. You must ensure that the document length must be within prescribed word limit for SOP. Finally, make sure to proofread your application thoroughly because language and spelling mistakes might distort the message.
To guarantee that the final version of your SOP is polished and devoid of errors, carefully proofread it and think about asking for comments. By steering clear of these mistakes, you may submit a strong and well-written SOP that clearly expresses your enthusiasm, credentials, and fit for the programme.

Q. What is the ideal length of an SOP?

A. Depending on the university and programme you are applying to, the appropriate length of a SOP can change. While some colleges might set strict requirements or word limit for SOP, others might not. Usually, it is between 800-1,000 words. It is usually advised to abide by the university's word count requirements. Keep the SOP brief and to the point, typically one to two pages, even if a word count is not specified. Quality must be given precedence above quantity, though. Along with focusing on how many words should an SOP be, you must concentrate on writing a strong SOP that clearly conveys your objectives, experiences, and motivations. Don't forget to customise your SOP for the particular programme and emphasise how it fits with your goals and qualifications.

Q. Can an SOP help me win a scholarship?

A. Yes, a statement of purpose (SOP) can aid in your scholarship application. Your academic accomplishments, objectives, experiences, and motivations can be effectively highlighted in a well-written SOP, which can leave a lasting impression on scholarship selection committees. You can prove why you are a deserving applicant for the scholarship by emphasising your enthusiasm for your subject of study, commitment to academic success, and future goals. It is crucial to emphasise in your SOP how earning the scholarship would advance your academic and professional objectives. Emphasising any distinctive experiences or difficulties you have faced might also help your application stand out. To make sure that your SOP meets all relevant standards, remember to carefully examine the scholarship requirements and rules.

Q. Can I copy someone else’s statement of purpose?

A. No, you should not plagiarise a statement of purpose (SOP) from another person. Plagiarism is a serious offence; hence it is strongly advised against. Universities and scholarship committees frequently review applications for plagiarism, and if they find that your SOP has been plagiarised, it could seriously harm your chances of getting accepted. Your SOP should be unique and represent your own objectives, aspirations, and driving forces. Instead of 
plagiarising, concentrate on creating a one-of-a-kind, personalised SOP that clearly conveys your qualifications and goals. Keep in mind to be genuine and present your unique viewpoint and opinion.

Q. Can I use same statement of purpose for every university?

A. No, it is not a good idea to use same generic SOP for all the universities you are applying to. It is important to customize the SOP as per the university. You must check any specific SOP guidelines provided by the university. These guidelines may include particular question, instructions or even SOP word limit. Incase, no guidelines are provided by the university, you must prepare the SOP as per the university course and requirements. An SOP, which includes 
specific details about the university resources, facilities, and impressive features, and how they align with your goals, is certainly more impressive than a generic SOP. You can even gain an edge when university finds that you are serious enough to research about the university and its offerings. Aligning your SOP with the core values, mission and vision of the university can also earn you brownie points when comes to selection process.

About the Author
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Written by
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert

Aishwarya is a professional Writer currently working as a Study Abroad Expert in the Editorial Team at Shiksha. She has over 5 years of experience and is skilled at creating Online Content with leveraged knowledge i... Read Full Bio

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Comments

(19)

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Sandesh

2 years ago

Hi, I am applying for MIT college, Australia. Today, I had a call from MIT today and I couldn't talk clearly because of network issues and the call ended. Would it impact on my application process??

Reply to Sandesh

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Thouhidul Islam

2 years ago

hi, how can someone verify what Extracurricular activities i have done in University ?? People can exaggerate their achievements in universities right?

Reply to Thouhidul Islam

You need to submit the certificates related to those activities when you upload the application documents.

K

KOMALPREET KAUR

2 years ago

Is the rejection from usa tourist visa have negative impact on my profile for study?

Reply to KOMALPREET KAUR

No, it does not.

K

KOMALPREET KAUR

2 years ago

Hlo mam.i got schengan visa in school time and visit with my school staff but at the same time i got usa tourist visa interview on the basis of school tour but it didn't approve ..now in 2021 i have cleared my ilets with 6.5 and want to go canada for study.should i have to mention this in my SOP?

Reply to KOMALPREET KAUR

This is not required unless the university specifically asks you to mention previous visa rejections in the SOP. Very few universities ask for this. So generally, this is not required to mention.

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Bhargavi Reddy

2 years ago

Hii mam....i got 6.5 in IELTS but in reading section i got 5.5....can i get admission in humber or any other colleges in canada

Reply to Bhargavi Reddy

Which programme and course are you targetting? It is advisable to check the respective college/university website for eligibility requirements.