3. Key documents for your applications
Once you have shortlisted which schools and programs you will be applying to, you need to go ahead and actually fill out the applications for each of them. Most of the schools now accept online applications, all you need is good internet access, valid email account and a credit card to pay the application fee in dollars.
Each application will ask you to fill out personal details. Tip: This can get repetitive, so it is advised that you create a text file and store your basic information from which you can copy and paste it into each application.
You will be required to upload some specific documents as well. This includes-
1. Statement of Purpose (SOP)
2. Letters of Recommendation (LOR)
3. Resume (in some cases)
Statement of Purpose
This is one of the most important components of your application because this is the only document that is totally under your control. This is the place where you can tell your story and differentiate yourself from other candidates. Usually, you’ll cover these topics in your SOP-
Background and Aspirations – In a typical SOP, you will begin with a brief background/description of yourself and what you hope to achieve through studying MS at this university. Caveat: Don’t quote cliches here as everyone is doing it! Also, avoid getting too poetic. Remember you are applying for MS.
Academic and Professional relevance – Every school wants great students who will carry its name and reputation higher. For that, you need to show your academic and professional brilliance. So, talk about the academic (or professional if you have work experience) projects that can tell them about your subject expertise. Tip: Give more space to what you contributed and learned from that project instead of just describing it. How many and what kind of projects you want to highlight is up to you. But we recommend expanding on at least one and show your involvement. MS is about a lot of course projects and some research. You have to demonstrate that you can not only handle it but excel at it. Similarly, talk about any papers you might have published. Research papers and project become more important for PhD and MS programs that require a thesis to be completed.
Personal Story – Admission Committee consists of people who are reading your applications. Since they handle a large volume of applications every day, it is important to make your SOP stand out or be memorable. You can stand out by being academically brilliant too but if your experience is not that distinguished, try to put forth a strong story that connects your background and aspirations and aligns it with your passion to do MS at that school. For e.g. even if you have not published big papers or done great research projects, you could have still started a startup with couple of friends and done some relevant work through it. The startup could be as simple as a website that offers building surveys for companies who want to do some marketing research. You could be highlighting some personal angle here such as how you came up with the concept and what were some of your lessons. Here, you can also talk about extra-curriculars esp if you excel at something such as playing in a band, professional photography (something that is more than just a hobby), blogging (may be how you applied your php programming lessons to customize wordpress) etc. Tip: Remember, anything that helps the admission committee personnel see a face behind your application is good as it will help him in remembering you. Caveat: But, dont spend too much space talking personal story that is not directly relevant to the course as that alone can’t get you admitted. Personal stories are good to supplement your acad/professional experience section.
Talk about how you have applied your learnings – Be it professional or personal section, remember to talk how you have applied your education or lessons into real world. This is a GREAT way to show that you’ll be able to translate your classroom lessons to your professional life. A naive example but you’ll get the point-
“Having learned how xyz and abc help improving the signal strength of the wireless networks in my CCNA certification course, I was excited to help the system admin at my current company do so and so.“
“My brother’s company wanted to get customer feedback on one of their new products and I offered to get the surveys designed, filled and collected for them. Initially, I was doing it manually with my friends but then I realized that we can automate and package the service in a very easy-to-use way and put it online. To our surprise, we got contacted by lot of local companies in first month itself. Slowly, we iterated and developed pro packages that charged a premium for nicer result analysis. By integrating our services with right social media platforms and offline distribution channels, we had built a fully functional survey building service in six months. This gave me an inspiration to test new ideas online.“
The above concludes the topics that should feature in all your SOPs (irrespective of the school). Next, you should be talking specific points about each school-
Why are you applying to this school? – This will typically discuss specific coursework, professors and research that you are interested in. This should tie up with your experience and background sections as well as your aspirations. You should have selected universities based on these anyways, so you should just be tying it all together at this point. If you are not finding good stuff to write here, you should rethink why you are applying to this school in the first place?
Caveats: Whenever you are mentioning specific professors, avoid talking about very famous ones as everyone will be talking about them. If the schools feels that your education will be hampered unless you are able to work for that professor only and if that professor is over subscribed, it might actually get you rejected even if your profile was great otherwise. So, exercise some caution when selecting professors with whom you want to work. A good strategy is to mention a couple of them and dont make your plans look too contingent on the availability of one professor.
Why should this school admit you? – As I said, its all about the ‘fit’. Talk about why you will excel at their program and afterwards professionally. The more you can convince them on this, better your chances are.
Dont use Templates
Please refrain from using templates given by counselors or websites. The whole point is to make your application stand out and by using a template (especially the ones where you just change your specific information), you are looking similar to thousand other applicants. In fact, try to write the first SOP yourself without seeing any sample SOPs. After writing the first draft, check out some good SOPs and tweak accordingly.
In next post, we will discuss how to get great LORs.
Join our mailing list to discover inside strategies on how to get admitted to top schools in US – sign up for our newsletter
For specific SOP tactics and samples, check out our bestselling MS Book: Smart Engineer’s Complete Guide to MS in USA.
For our paid professional counseling, check out our counseling packages.