Ingredients of an impressive SOP

In last post, we discussed how to think about the Grad School finances and get over your financial fears to take the next step towards your dream career. Lets look at some of the best practices for SOP in this email. The content is taken from the MS Book: Smart Engineer’s Complete Guide to MS in USA.

What is a good SOP?

Let me show what I mean. Look at the following examples, which one do you think is a better approach?

A: “I have CCNA and CCNP certifications in most of the fields to serve as a proof for my knowledge in these fields


B: “For instance, in my math class, I found myself getting frustrated with my calculator because it could not handle matrices with complex numbers. I took the matter into my hands and wrote a java program to find the determinant of a matrix involving complex numbers, which would run on my mobile phone. It worked well, and this was just the beginning of bigger things for the next three years.

Approach A tells what you have done, something that is easily mentioned in the resume itself. B tells me why you did something and gives me an insight into your thought process.

A is wasting precious space by repeating stuff on your resume. Clearly the Admission Committee will prefer to know your potential better as a candidate and B shows them exactly that.

A: “As it is evident, my academic qualifications in the field of networking are exceptional.


B: “During the internship, I faced a crunch situation while designing a Cost-effective Power Generation Unit. Since factors such as time to procure and implement the solution were not considered by me before designing the circuit, the entire complexion of the solution got changed – which taught me my first lesson in engineering management.

Approach A is to state your opinion (which in this case makes you sound arrogant anyway even if you are not). In B, you are giving facts and letting the Admission Committee form its opinion. This is known as TELL vs SHOW. Don’t tell me what you think you are, show me examples and let me form my own opinion. Obviously approach B will give better results.

How to approach a SOP?

Now you know that SOP is not your verbose resume and it is not simply a collection of what you did. It is your story and unless you understand what is the Admission Committee looking for in your story, you will have a hard time writing the SOP. Trying to cover the following pointers has worked well for students working with me-

      1. Background and Aspirations
        • Clear goals help
      2. Academic and Professional relevance
        • Show you are good in your field
      3. Personal Story
        • Show a face behind the application
        • Talk about how you have overcome challenges, what motivates you?
        • Talk about how you have applied your learning
        • Show that you can execute your lessons in practice
      4. Why are you applying to this school?
      5. Why should this school admit you?


Next, let’s look at a real introduction used by a candidate who is now studying MEng at Cornell-

“From programming cells of an excel sheet with math formulas in my fourth grade to building a security plugin for Mozilla Firefox considering the current threats to privacy and security on Internet, I have realized that problem solving is what excites me. After a year and a half as an Application Developer in Risk Technology at JP Morgan Chase, I have found my passion in improving the way Information is used in businesses. Therefore, I wish to return to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science that will allow me to explore the subject in greater depth, particularly the fields of Data Mining, Database and Software Engineering, and use it effectively to address real-world challenges.”

  • First line shows that the candidate knows about his field
  • Second line shows that he has solid background and proficiency
  • The last line clearly identifies his goals

In the MS Book, we use something called SOP Canvas to help build your story. If you fill it out sincerely, I’m pretty sure your SOP will end up better than majority of applicants out there!


One major mistake that I have seen in students’ SOPs is that they all look same. It is tempting to pick out 5-6 SOPs from Internet and hash them up to create your own SOP. That is where you will dig your own grave because using templates or copying will only get you to come up with things that others already have. The key to a successful application is to stand out from the crowd, not copying them.

Check out some other common mistakes in this guide –

In summary: understand what AdCom is looking for

So, those were some insights into the tricky world of SOPs. It’s a rookie mistake to think that SOP is a description of your resume or that there is a set template that you can use as a shortcut. Use SOP to highlight your strengths and tell your unique story. This is why we do a detailed call to craft a student’s story and then formulate strategy for SOP and LORs in our paid counseling – Do not use shortcuts for your SOP, give it time and let it evolve into a solid personal statement.

In next post, we gleam over some other things that you can do to make your application stronger. See it here –

If you missed the last post, please view it on

Showing 8 comments
  • Preethi

    Thanks, this is good to know. My question is how much does SOP matter?

    • Nistha Tripathi

      While there is nothing to conclude but I believe SOP can help you a lot in highlighting the strengths and turn an average application into a strong one. So yes, if you already have a stellar profile, an average SOP will work too but if you have a mediocre profile, SOP can really make a difference.

  • Jyoti

    I do not have good GPA so I am worried of mentioning it in the sop…wht do u suggest?

    • Nistha Tripathi

      Do check out the SOP guide link that is mentioned in there, it has some relevant examples

  • ayush

    can u share sample sops?

    • Nistha Tripathi

      Look out for the book launch announcement for that!

  • chaitanya

    i need more help with my sop, does ur team help with that? does the book provide more examples?

    • Nistha Tripathi

      Yes, book has more information on the SOPs that you can check. If you need personal guidance, you can ping me to know more about the counseling packages! Good luck

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