Statement of Purpose (SOP)
What is it?
Each applicant must submit a Statement of Purpose. The Statement of Purpose is your opportunity to help reviewers better understand your academic objectives and determine if you are a good match for the field to which you are applying. The statement of purpose should convince the faculty on the selection committee that you have solid achievements behind you that show promise for your success in graduate study.
If necessary, the SOP gives you the chance to address any gaps or weaknesses in your academic record. Be honest, but brief. Turn your weakness into strengths and illustrate how you overcame obstacles, showed resilience and remained persistent in your goals.
Why is it important?
- One of the most important pieces of your graduate school application
- Gives the reviewers an understanding of your academic background and interests
- Helps them determine if you are a good match for the program
Length, Format and Style
- Unless otherwise noted 1-2 pages is typical
- Use a standard font and font sizing for easy reading
- Included your full name and proposed program of study at the top of each page
- Your reasons for undertaking graduate study
- Explanation of your academic interests
- Information on your undergraduate study and any research experiences and how they fit with the program you are applying to
- Skills you have learned from academic, lab or research experiences
- Professional goals
Essential SOP Writing Tips
- Follow instructions carefully - some programs have specific items they want you to address in the essay.
- Look on the web for information about departments you’re interested in, including professors and their research. Are there professors whose research interests parallel yours? If so, indicate this. Check the specific program. Again, some require you to name a professor or professors with whom you would like to work.
Reading Between the Lines
- Admissions committee is looking for self-motivation, competence, potential and resilience
- Be honest – address any important things that happened to you to affect your grades. Be positive and show your perseverance in overcoming obstacles
- Evaluate rather than narrate – give specific examples and illustrate
- Keep the language simple, positive and focused
- Write with an active rather than passive voice
- Proofread and pay close attention to details – they matter!
- Have others read your essay before you submit it
Four Part Outline
Part 1: Introduce yourself, your interests and motivations
Part 2: Summarize your academic career
Research you conducted – title of project, research mentor, your role and the outcome.
Important papers or thesis project you completed, as well as anything scholarly beyond your curricular requirements.
Relevant work or internship experience as related to the field you are applying to
Part 3: Discuss relevance of your recent and current activities
- If you graduated and worked prior to returning to grad school, indicate what you’ve been doing, what you learned and how this helped you prepare for and focus your graduate studies.
Part 4: Elaborate on your academic interests
- Indicate what you would like to study in graduate school in enough detail to convince the faculty that you understand the scope of research in their discipline, and are engaged with current research themes.
- Pose a question, define a problem, or indicate a theme that you would like to address, and questions that arise from contemporary research.
The College of Arts and Sciences (AS) is the largest of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges, and also contains the widest range of majors, from Africana Studies to Statistical Science to Philosophy to Astronomy. Unlike the other colleges at Cornell, there’s no common thread running through AS. For that reason, it’s especially important that your supplement be as detailed and specific as possible to the field of study you wish to pursue. Bring in examples of how your experiences throughout high school led you to your desired major.
For example, if you want to major in computer science, try writing the essay about the apps you’ve developed or the meticulous manner in which you organize sections of code. When explaining your interest in government, don’t try to connect your experiences in model congress to something completely unrelated, like art history — maximize your message by focusing specifically on what’s relevant to the field of study. If you aren’t yet positive about a major, take advantage of the opportunity to explain what you’re considering through your “intellectual interests.”
In transitioning between the two parts of the prompt, illustrate why specifically you chose the major you did. This provides a logical pathway from your interests to why you wish to study at Cornell. Try to isolate a specific moment in your life, or a series of moments, that made you absolutely certain that you wanted to devote your education and career to this particular course of study.
An uncommon example could be: You went on a trip to the Middle East, participated in an archeological dig, and discovered a piece of ancient Roman pottery that was determined to have been used by Constantine in the fourth century. Ever since, you’ve strived to pursue a career in archaeology, so you can continue making connections with lost civilizations. Don’t feel intimidated if you haven’t done anything “crazy,” either. As long as the experience is important to you — that’s all that matters. The ultimate goal is to humanize yourself in the eyes of the admissions staff.
The second part of the prompt asks, “Why Arts and Sciences?” Make sure to provide concrete examples of courses, concentrations, clubs, and/or research opportunities that have drawn you to AS. That being said, be careful not to appear as though you’re just quoting the website: elaborate on how each of the examples you provide will be meaningful to you and help you advance your academic interests and goals! Also, try to avoid dropping names of professors, unless you’ve had personal contact with them. Instead, refer to the course they teach or the research they’re doing.