What should a Statement of Purpose (SOP) include?

What should a Statement of Purpose (SOP) include?

15 mins read90.5K Views 1 Comment
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on May 6, 2024 13:07 IST

Writing a Statement of Purpose or an essay is perhaps the biggest challenge for students applying to universities abroad. There are many reasons for the same. While the language in itself can be a challenge, there are bigger worries that cloud a student’s mind while writing the application essays. As you are aware an essay/ statement of purpose is perhaps the only aspect of your application that is subjective. An SOP lets you highlight how you are different from others, how you are more than your scores, and how you would be an ideal candidate for a particular university/ college. In this article, we have provided a brief overview of certain elements that one should include in his/her statement of purpose.

What should a Statement of Purpose (SOP) include?

What is a Statement of Purpose?

A Statement of Purpose is an essay that talks about your career path, professional contributions, interests, goals, and the motivation behind pursuing a particular course. It is a crucial component of your application and might as well fetch you a scholarship.

Importance of Statement of Purpose

The Statement of Purpose is the decision maker of your admission. It allows the admission committee to assess your views on life, beliefs, vision, career goals, and subject knowledge. In all, a well-written SOP will demonstrate your overall personality in front of the admission committee.

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Through an SOP, you can pitch your vision to the committee and compel them to believe that you are suitable for the course that you wish to pursue. A well-written SOP also reflects how well you can use your writing skills in expressing your thoughts. In all, an SOP tells your attitude, ambition, clarity of thought and personality. While your GPA and the test scores are objective, the SOP is the subjective part of your application. In addition, a well-written SOP might make you eligible for a scholarship as well.

What should an SOP contain?

There are some points that must be included in your SOP. A general SOP format consists of the following points:

  • Introduction
  • What do you want to study and why?
  • Why this university?
  • Why did you choose to study in this particular country?
  • Special classes, special courses or projects that you have taken as per your interest.
  • Any leadership experience or community service.
  • Why you should be admitted to this course?
  • What do you understand about the college culture and student community?
  • Why do you think you are a great fit?
  • What are your career goals?
  • How is this course going to help in achieving your career goals?
  • Your extra-curricular activities, interests and hobbies.
  • Any unique quality or skillset that you possess, and how it can contribute to your goals/ course/ University.
  • Conclusion.

What is the basic SOP format?

Generally, a Statement of Purpose should have 5-7 paragraphs of about 150-200 words each. Given below is a basic SOP format.

  • Paragraph 1: In this paragraph, introduce the academic field of interest and mention why it interests you. Also, mention what is your purpose in opting for this university or course.
  • Paragraphs 2 & 3: These paragraphs should mention your past academic achievements. You can also mention your professional experience (if any). If you want to be admission to a UG or MBA course, do not forget to mention the extra-curricular activities.
  • Paragraph 4: Here, specify why you want to study this particular course. You can also discuss your goals and future expectations from this particular course.
  • Paragraph 5: In this paragraph, clearly specify your career goals. Mention, your long-term plans after the completion of your desired course
  • Paragraph 6: Here, in this paragraph mention why have you selected this university for your education and what features suit you. Also, mention how studying here would help you in achieving your goals.
  • Paragraph 7: This can be the last paragraph of your statement of purpose. Conclude your SOP by summing up what you have already mentioned.

What should an SOP contain: Details

Check the details about the points that must be included in your SOP. 

  • Background: This paragraph is confused with self-introduction most of the time. However, it should rather discuss what you are about to state in your SOP. In short, it should introduce your chosen academic field. You can explain your background in 2-3 lines and connect it with your future goals.  When the universities screen your applications, they look for areas that set you apart. If you are a story of beating all odds, do include that in your essay. Again, do not go on and on about how humble your background was; rather, you should state it as a fact, and focus on how you overcame the same. For instance, if you belong to a rural area, mention how you beat your limitations (e.g. lack of access to infrastructure).
  • Extracurricular activities: It does not matter that you are not a national-level hero or a state-level champion; rather, it is more important to mention the activities you have participated in. Sports are an ideal way to highlight your leadership abilities, and so are debates, clubs, and other activities. Working individually or in a team are an important aspect of your personality. Universities want to know whether you are a team player or an independent. These qualities also reveal a lot about your personality and help the admissions committee make better decisions. This is how you can mention extracurricular activities in an SOP.
  • Failures: That is right. It is necessary! Many students wish to hide behind the trophies they have won and never talk about the failures that have made them what they are. If you flunked a paper, lost a tournament, or faced any personal accidents, don’t be ashamed to talk about them. The idea is to lay stress on your ability to rebound from situations and personal/ professional failures. They are interested in knowing how confident you are about winning and more importantly, how positive you are to failures and criticisms.
  • Work Experience – part-time, full-time, voluntary, etc.: While MBA aspirants are required to provide mandatory work experience, the same might not be the case with other bachelor's or master's courses. However, if you have any work experience, even voluntary – you can include it. Do not think that it was only a two-month summer job. The point is that you must have learned something during that experience – the universities would be interested in knowing all about that.
  • Published works, papers submitted, etc.: This is an extremely important aspect for students applying for Master's and doctorate programs. Have you ever submitted a story for a magazine? Have you worked on a research project during your 11th or 12th standard? Did you submit a research report for that? If it was an important aspect and you managed to get some appreciation – albeit internal, include that. It talks about your ability to think scientifically and work towards a goal in a dedicated manner.
  • Short and long-term goals: This point can be a total game changer of your SOP as it reflects how focused you are regarding your career and what steps you have planned for your future. The short-term goals aim at the plans just after the completion of your course. You can describe the job profile in which you are interested, along with the names of companies where you would like to work. For the long-term goals, you can tell your plans for 10-15 years after the completion of the course. You can continue how the short-term goals will lead to the achievement of your long-term goals.
  • Why this particular university/ college: Specify a good reason that will justify your aim of pursuing this course from a particular university. You can mention some specific features of the university that meet your requirements for your career. In addition, you can give the names of the teachers that you think will be good mentors for your life. Additionally, you can include the research, subjects in the curriculum/ electives, clubs, and activities of the university that interest you.

We have given a prioritization matrix that can be used as a reference:

What to Include in Your SOP

SOP key points

The following SOP points must be considered in order to write the best SOP.

  • Weave the achievements of your life into a story, not statements.
  • Do not go beyond the mentioned word limit.
  • Be direct in addressing your life trajectory. Do not use flattering language.
  • Try to avoid too many technical terms in your SOP.
  • Do not lie in your SOP.
  • Be specific with the timeline of events.
  • Try to use a format yet conversational tone.
  • Give a strong reason stating why you chose the particular course and university.
  • Be willing to accept your mistakes and explain how you will work on improving them.
  • Proofread and edit properly once the draft is ready.

SOP key points for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Studies

What should an SOP contain? This question always remains in the minds of the applicants who are eyeing a particular university. Here are some points that you could in your SOPs.



Your purpose for choosing the program and opportunities you wish to explore

Your short-term and long-term personal and career goals

Your academic journey and achievements

Personal achievements

Motivation and career aspirations

Anecdotes of teamwork, leadership and other leadership qualities

Extra-curricular activities

Career expectations

Assignments undertaken during your studies

Noteworthy projects undertaken at work

Internships, if any

Volunteer work, if any

What to avoid in an SOP?

Now that you are aware of what to include in an SOP, it is equally important for you to understand what not to include in an SOP. Here is an overview of the common mistakes you must avoid in an SOP:

  • Exceeding the word limit: If a university or college has specified a word limit for an SOP, you must make sure that you adhere to it. If you exceed the specified word limit, it shows a lack of attention to detail and an inability to communicate concisely. However, if no word limit has been mentioned, you may consider writing your SOP in 800-1,200 words.
  • Procrastination: If you wait until the last minute and write your SOP just before the application deadline, you might come up with a poorly written document. You must have sufficient time to think, write, and revise your SOP.
  • Generic or vague content: Avoid using too clichéd language and generalisations. Instead, give precise details, evidence, and justifications that showcase your special skills and background.
  • Using the same SOP for all applications: Every programme and university requires a tailored SOP to show that you fit well in the programme. You should tailor your SOP as per the university and programme needs. For this, you need to research the university, its faculties, research projects, etc. In addition, you also need to visit their vision and mission statement.
  • Including test scores: You should not mention your scores of exams such as IELTS, GMAT, etc. They already form a part of your application. Avoid mentioning redundant information.
  • Not following a structure: If your SOP is incoherent and the ideas mentioned in it do not flow in a logical order, the admissions committee might get confused while reading it. It is essential for you to write a well-organized and coherent SOP.
  • Being dishonest or overconfident: Avoid making misleading claims or exaggerating your accomplishments. When outlining your credentials and goals, be sincere and modest.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your SOP effectively showcases your qualifications, motivations, and aspirations to the admissions committee.

How do you write the best SOP?

Before you pick up your pen and start writing, remember, that the key to a good SOP is not including everything but balancing the information. You can say so much in a few words. Keep it short, keep it simple, and do it for a reason. Even if you are talking about saving a puppy on the street or helping your area’s residents understand water-saving techniques - the essence of your essay should be the purpose of your life. You must mention how motivated you are about achieving your aims and what things matter to you.

So the advice is to start noting down the things that come to your mind and start by ranking them in order of their importance and relevance. List down what qualities they highlight about you and then start eliminating them. This would help you understand what has led you to the decision to study abroad. Once you understand your purpose, simply state it!

Also Read:

What to include in an MBA SOP

What to include in an MS SOP

What to include in UG SOP

Sample Statement of Purpose for MS in Civil Engineering

Statement of Purpose FAQs

Q. What should an SOP contain?

A. Your SOP should contain personal and financial background, academic details, professional experience, immediate and long-term goals, reasons why you are interested to pursue a particular course in a particular college, extra-curricular activities, published works, etc. You should be able to justify every information that you have provided in your SOP. Make sure that the content of your SOP is not plagiarized. It needs to be original. Moreover, take care that the events mentioned in your SOP are connected logically and there is a smooth transition from event to the other.

Q. How important is an SOP for my admission?

A. When submitting an application to a university or college, a statement of purpose is a crucial document. The admissions committee can use it to assess if an applicant is a suitable match for the programme by learning more about the applicant's academic background and interests via a written statement. The candidate also has the chance to highlight their distinctive credentials and perspectives, as well as how they differ from other applicants. In short, it can make or break your chances of getting selected in your dream university and course.

Q. What is the basic SOP format?

A. A simple SOP format should include an introduction, academic background, why have you chosen this course, career goals, why you want to study at this university, and conclusion. Here are some tips that will help you write a good SOP:
  • Write original content. You must avoid plagiarism. If you include any information that you will not be able to justify in your interview, it might leave a negative impact on the admissions committee.
  • Make sure to connect everything with the help of logic and reason.
  • Make sure that there is a seamless flow in your content.

Q. How to write an introduction in SOP?

A. A good SOP introduction can help the aspirants in grabbing the attention of the selection committee. An introduction in SOP is often confused with self-introduction. However, here you should only introduce your chosen academic field. Here, discuss your long-term goals and connect them with the course for which you are applying. Showcase your understanding of the chosen academic field and specify how you want to contribute to that field. You can explain your background in 3-4 lines and relate them to your future goals.

Q. How to write extra-curricular activities in SOP?

A. An extra-curricular activity is any activity that you can participate outside of your class. It can be related to your school, such as a sports team or club, or completely separate. Extra-curriculars can include a great range of activities or interests, from painting to debates to helping the homeless or more. Extra-curriculars are a necessary part of your college application. The colleges wish to understand what type of an individual you are and what type of leadership qualities you portray. So, mention the extra-curricular activities in such a way that highlights your ambitious personality and determination.

Q. How should I conclude my SOP?

A. The main ideas presented in the essay should be summarised in the statement of purpose's conclusion and everything should be tied neatly. The reader should also come away from it understanding why the applicant is the best choice for the programme they are applying to. The conclusion should also reaffirm the applicant's excitement for and dedication to the programme, as well as their aptitude for success. The conclusion, which will leave a lasting impact on the reader, should be brief and well-written.

Q. What should not be included in your SOP?

A. Try not to include too much personal and family information and situations. Also, do not mention your IELTS, GMAT, GRE, GMAT scores, etc. Also, avoid using copied information and content picked from websites. On top of this, avoid mentioning any false facts in your SOP. When you write an SOP, make sure that you do not include any random information that will not contribute to your admission. Any random or abrupt break in the content, which is not related to your admission, can disturb the flow of the content. Hence, you must make sure that everything is connected logically.

Q. List some of the tips to make your SOP stand out.

A. In order to make your SOP stand out, first of all, understand the purpose of your program and then, accordingly make sure your SOP is aligned with the objective of the program. With this, develop a vision of how you would implement what you have learnt by making a positive difference to the concerned industry after the completion of the course. Also, mention how your previous qualifications and experience align with the objective of the programme in which you have to take admission.

Q. Can I copy someone’s Statement of Purpose?

A. A statement of purpose (SOP) is not something you should replicate verbatim from another source. Your SOP must be unique and represent your personal objectives and experiences. Plagiarism might come from using another person's SOP, which would be bad for your application. Spend some time creating a special, personalised statement that reflects who you are and why the programme and the university is a suitable fit for you. Make sure to connect everything with the help of logic and reason.

Q. How do I write a Statement of Purpose for a scholarship?

A. Your statement of purpose for a scholarship should include an explanation of your selection of a specific programme, the information and skills you aim to acquire, and how you intend to apply these knowledge and abilities to advance your career. You should also draw attention to any special abilities or experiences that make you a great candidate for the scholarship. Last but not the least, you should offer proof of your dedication to your academics in the form of a list of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and employment history.

Q. What should be the length of an SOP?

A. Your statement of purpose should be between 500-1000 words. In other words, an SOP should not exceed one or one and a half page.
About the Author
Written by
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert

Rahul Singha is a seasoned editor with Shiksha Study Abroad, specializing in overseas education. With over 8 years of domain experience, he has made a significant impact in contributing to the study abroad industry ... Read Full Bio

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5 years ago

where to include failure activities in the beginning or in the last.

Reply to

Swameeka Medhi

5 years ago

There is no particular order, but you can follow the order provided in the article above if you are confused and need a guideline to follow.