Statement of Purpose (SOP) for PhD: Writing Tips & Format

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Aprant Agarwal
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 10:57 IST

SOP for PhD: For a PhD application, each and every document in the application process plays a significant role in pitching your profile to the Admission Committee (AdCom). Each of the documents, such as the SOP, a sample research paper, research essayresume, and LOR, can be a deciding factor or act as a tie-breaker for the university while selecting one candidate from a pool of applications with the same profile. Thus, a Statement of Purpose for a PhD carries a lot of weight in the whole process. In this article, we cover all the aspects of a PhD SOP including its format and requirements for top universities.PhD SOP

How is a PhD SOP different from an SOP for UG, MS and MBA SOPs?

It is important to understand the difference between a UG SOPMS SOPMBA SOPEssay and a PhD SOP. While there are common guidelines all over the internet on how to frame an effective SOP, not all of them apply to a PhD SOP. For instance, in a UG SOP, the candidate should concentrate on his or her childhood, interests and hobbies, and other such details. On the other hand, an MS SOP should fundamentally talk about his passion for the chosen field and goals. Similar to an MS SOP, an MBA SOP/Essay is essentially based on goals, leadership, and managerial abilities.

Similarly, a PhD SOP is largely centred on extensive research and only research. Whether it is talking about one’s own research, an interesting field of research, or an interest in a professor’s research, the SOP should showcase the candidate’s research ability, time-management skills, efficiency, and analytical and reasoning abilities. Also, the reader (in this case, the AdCom) is likely to focus on two major points in a PhD SOP. The first thing that they will note is whether you have the potential to qualify as a scholar and whether you will be able to contribute significantly to the research work and the university’s reputation. The second thing they will analyse is the alignment of your research goals (topic and objective) with those of the faculty and university, or how the university or department can benefit from your research topic (research work).

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How to write an SOP for PhD?

While the format of a Statement of Purpose for a PhD programme is similar to the format of SOPs of other courses, here are a few points to be kept in mind while drafting an SOP for PhD:

1) Make a statement for yourself

In short, tell the admissions committee about yourself. The main purpose of an SOP is to describe who you are as a person. The essay should describe your intellectual trajectory and why it is important for you to broaden your horizons in education by doing a PhD. Try not to spend time reminding the university and faculty how wonderful they are; rather, tell them why it is important for you to train under such mentors and how this will impact your life further.

2) Answer the why question

Try to answer all the reasons for pursuing a PhD in your SOP for a PhD. Mention why you are interested in pursuing this degree, why you want to specialise in this area, why you want to attend this particular university, etc.

3) Be straight-forward with your research interest

In the introduction itself, describe or relate how your interest in or passion for this particular field is initiated. This is where you propose your research topic to the university. Even if you are not clear about your research topic, you can talk about the field instead and what possible options it might provide you with. If you are considering two or more topics, you can mention that as well. Make sure you have addressed the following questions in the first paragraph:

  • What is your research topic or field, and why?
  • What have you learned in this field so far that made you take up this topic?
  • How passionate are you about pursuing this further?

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4) Academic and research background

Briefly mention your academic background, starting with your bachelor's studies. Mention your Master’s thesis or projects and relate them to the research topic you have selected. Here you can talk about your research projects if you already have one or two. Mention the topic or dissertation title clearly and explain what exactly the motive is. You can elaborate a bit on the procedure as well. For instance, a description of how you took help from some faculty member, conducted a survey of the general public, or even referred to other research works Also, note that you do not have to copy your entire research here. You just need to mention its objective, procedure, and the learning or outcome from it. If your paper has been published or is in the process of approval, highlight this fact as well. Focus on the knowledge, skills, and expertise you have gained so far and how they will help you further your research while pursuing a PhD. If you have any practical experience, discuss your learning and the skills you gained through this practice.

5) Be direct in addressing the previous issues

If you have any negative marks in your previous qualifications, try to talk about these issues in a direct manner in your SOP for PhD. It is advised to talk about these defeats and mention how they helped you as a person. Talking about such issues will give the admissions committee the idea that you can handle the problems on your own and emerge as a strong person.

6) Reasons to join this specific course/ programme and university

Perhaps the most important part of your SOP is answering the main question of the Adcom, that is, why you chose this course program and why that particular university? This is what makes or breaks your whole profile. Initiate by choosing a particular professor and his or her research group/topic. Refer to the department, faculty, professor, amenities such as labs and research centres, and so on. Also, mention how it will help you achieve your goal (short-term and long-term). Make sure you cover the following points while answering the ‘whys?’:

  • Why this programme?
  • Why this university/ department?
  • Why this specialisation?
  • Why study/ research under the tutelage of a certain professor?

7) Career goals: Short-term and Long-term

Another vital aspect of your application is your career goals. Whether it is a UG student or an MS/MBA aspirant, if you are not clear in your mind about your future career goals, then the reader will instantly lose interest in your profile. It also showcases that the student is not serious about pursuing this course to get something tangible in return and is just applying for admission for the sake of it. Thus, your career goals should align with the course/program chosen and the research you have described previously. You can also write about future research topics you would like to pursue and the amount of impact or kind of contribution they would make to the specified field or society at large. Divide the goals paragraph into two parts, wherein the first section you talk about your short-term goal (what do you want to do just after completion of this course?). It can be further research, practical application of the research, pursuit of other topics or fields, joining the research and development division of any firm or industry, and so on. The next part, the long-term goal, is where you see yourself in the next 10-15 years. This would be your ultimate goal in life, whether it is starting your own firm, holding the post of general Manager at a reputed firm, starting your own R&D division, or anything else. However, whatever you are mentioning should be plausible and directly linked to your profile.

8) Some soft skills to include in your SOP for PhD

In order to pursue your PhD, there are some soft skills that you should highlight in your SOP for PhD. It is important to talk about the things given below:

  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Analytical thinking
  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Passion for success
  • Willingness to learn

Letter of Motivation for PhD Programmes

At times, you may be required to write a motivational letter for a couple of PhD programs. This will be slightly different from your SOP format as it will be directed to the department or the professor under whose guidance you will be studying/writing your research paper. For a number of MS fellowships as well, you might be required to draft a motivational letter or letter of interest. To know more about the difference between a PhD SOP and a Motivational Letter, please read How to Draft an Impressive Motivational Letter. 

SOP for PhD Requirements for Top Universities

Statement of Purpose for a PhD at top universities varies as per the course and university requirements. The method of writing an SOP for a PhD does not change; however, the structure, word limit, etc. may vary as per the university requirements. Here is a look at the PhD SOP requirements for top universities (as per the QS World University Rankings 2023):

University SOP for PhD Requirements
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT (QS Rank 1)
  • Your SOP for PhD must persuade the admissions committee that you will be able to produce to-notch PhD work
  • Introduction = Background + Motivation behind your research
  • Body Paragraphs = Background + How do you fit in the university and the school + Career goals
Stanford University (QS Rank 3)
  • 2 pages
  • The following points are compulsory:
  • Past work experience
  • Reasons to Choose a particular field
  • Areas of research
  • Research projects
  • Any faculty’s research
University of Oxford (QS Rank 4)
  • 1,500 words
  • Reasons for pursuing a PhD
  • Reasons for applying to Oxford
  • Research interests
  • Preferred supervisor
  • Post-PhD plans
Harvard University (QS Rank 5)
  • 1,000 words
  • Qualifications
  • Research interests
  • Motivation for pursuing a particular degree
  • Why pursue research
  • Career goals
  • Past work experience (related to your chosen area of study)
California Institute of Technology, Caltech (QS Rank 6)
  • 800-1,500 words
  • Not more than 2 pages
  • 1-inch margins
  • 11-12 pt. font
University College London (QS Rank 8)
  • 3,000 characters (not more than 2 sides of an A4 sheet)
  • Why this programme?
  • Academic and research interests
  • Why do you wish to study at UCL?
  • Professional background
  • Extracurricular activities and community involvement
  • Future goals
ETH Zurich (QS Rank 9)
  • 1 page
  • Reasons and motivations to pursue a particular programme
  • Relevant information about your background
  • Why are you the right candidate?
  • How familiar you are with the degree, course, university, etc..
  • Future plans
University of Chicago (QS Rank 10)
  • 1,000 words
  • Background
  • Strengths, achievements, and accomplishments
  • Future goals

Note: The above information has been sourced from the official university web pages. However, it is important for students to visit the official university and course webpage for exact and any other relevant information.

While a lot of information and samples are available on the internet, it is advisable to write your own documents or get help from experts to help you with the format or type of content required. However, plagiarism becomes a major issue if you copy any sample online or otherwise. Plagiarised documents are rejected outright by Adcom, as they are strictly against them. In the case of PhD applications, it becomes more of a criminal offence. Hence, it is best to write the documents yourself and be honest about yourself and your achievements. For further help and support in regard to your PhD applications, contact our experts here.

Also Read:

LORs for PhD (format) Comparing PhD from Europe and PhD from the USA
Life in a US campus: What is it like to do an MS or PhD? SOP for Electrical Engineering

SOP for PhD FAQs

Q. How to write a statement of purpose for PhD?

A. In order to write a great SOP for PhD, make a statement for yourself. Include who you are as a person and how this course will help you in achieving your career goals. Explain why you want to specialize in a particular area and why you want to study at a particular university. Your SOP should portray how you are a good fit and for this, you need to be familiar with the university’s research program and how your goals connect to it. Also, include your research experience and skillsets in your statement of purpose.

Q. What is the importance of SOP for PhD?

A. Your statement of purpose is an important part of your PhD application. It can make or break your chances of securing admission to a PhD. If your SOP for PhD is well written, it could also help you get a spot if the rest of the application is not up to the mark. For the cases where scholarships do not require a separate essay, your SOP might be considered for it. It is advised not to underestimate the importance of an SOP in your overall application.

Q. Do research and publications matter for selection in a PhD programme?

A. Yes, research and publications do matter for your selection in a PhD programme. PhD itself involves research, and having a prior experience in research and publication will definitely give you an added advantage over others. If you have pursued research during your bachelor's or master's, do mention it in your statement of purpose for PhD.

Q. What should be the structure of an SOP for PhD?

A. Your SOP for PhD should start with a very concise introduction. You can start by telling your interest in PhD, the subject, and the university. Then, your first paragraph should specify your previous academic and research achievements. Here, try to convince the admissions committee that you are capable of tackling research. Then, in the second paragraph, write the reason for choosing PhD and the specialization. Then, in the rest of the paragraph mention why you wish to study under a particular mentor only. Also, add your short and long-term career goals as after specifying these you can point out the vision you have for your job in 10-15 years.

Q. What makes a good statement of purpose for PhD?

A. A strong statement of purpose is a brief, convincing essay that explains your goals in applying to graduate school. You ought to detail your qualifications for the programme and why you suit it well. Also, a strong statement of purpose should describe your long-term objectives and how the programme will aid in achieving them. It should also reflect your passion for the initiative and dedication to its goals. Lastly, it should mention any pertinent experiences from your personal or professional life that might help to strengthen your application.

Q. What are some of the mistakes that you should avoid in an SOP for PhD?

A. Avoiding a few common errors is crucial when crafting a statement of aim. Some errors include writing an autobiography rather than concentrating on your objectives and reasons, using casual language, making the statement lengthy, not allowing enough time, beating about the bush, failing to stay relevant, and improper editing. Furthermore, remember the word limit and refrain from boasting or exaggerating. Next, do your study on the university you are applying to, and be sure to highlight its advantages and how they relate to your objectives.

Q. What should a statement of purpose for PhD answer?

A. A statement of purpose for PhD must answer the details like why you want to complete further research in this field, why have you chosen to apply at this university, what are your transferable skills, and how this program aligns with your career goals. Make sure that your SOP does not have randomness in it. It is essential that your SOP states your background, professional experience, and future goals clearly. The admission committee should not be confused while reading your SOP.

Q. How can you end an SOP for PhD?

A. The ending of the SOP for PhD should summarize the key points discussed in your essay. You can possibly restate the thesis statement in the conclusion and highlight your motivation once again. You may also want to include your ability and skills that can prove to be an asset for the university. Your conclusion should be able to convince the admission committee that you are suitable for the PhD scholar position that you have applied for.

Q. What is the intention of a statement of purpose for PhD?

A. The statement of purpose for PhD will help the admissions officers to know how serious and convinced you are about the programme and how can you use the strengths you obtain from the programme in your career. They also want to know about your future goals and motivations. GPA, GRE, and previous work experience are all relevant but the admissions committee would want to see if you would integrate them into the curriculum. This is where an SOP for PhD comes into the picture. You must portray how well you can fit into the program and what you can add to it.

Q. How long should an SOP for PhD be?

A. Your statement of purpose for PhD should be between 500-1000 words. Meaning, it should not exceed one to two pages. Being succinct and making sure to include all pertinent details without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail are crucial. Make sure to visit the official university and course webpage for exact details. It is important that you follow the university guidelines strictly.

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About the Author
Aprant Agarwal
Study Abroad Expert

Aprant has scored 700 on the GMAT and likes to write articles and blogs in his free time. He has considerable experience in the study abroad domain, especially in MBA admissions and want to provide authentic guidanc... Read Full Bio



4 years ago

Thanks for your valuable information. Would you please let me know about the differences between CV and SOP ? According to these descriptions, we should only write about our academic interests of experiences. Then, what about our biography, our social activities or volunteer careers and etc.?

Reply to

To know about CV, please read: PhD SOP should mainly focus on academics and research. Other activities can be highlighted in your CV/Resume and in SOP, you can mention it only if it aligns with your academic interest/research.

4 years ago

can we mention something more than two times like some example which is related to other thing also

Reply to

Hi Faizan, it all depends on what you are mentioning, the context of the matter and relevance. Extracurricular activities, too, need to be aligned with either your work or future goals. For more help related to your application, you can enrol for our expert services for free:


4 years ago

at which place should we include extra curricular activities

Reply to


Aprant AgarwalStudy Abroad Expert

3 weeks ago

Please refer to the following link:

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