Sample SOP for Engineers

A good SOP is well structured, well written but most importantly unique to you. Download a sample SOP and learn how to make your SOP stand out in a crowd

I am not interested in what they did or how. I am keen to know why,” said a senior Admission Director in one of our campus visits in NYU.

SOP is where you tell that guy – why you did what you did and how it makes you the unique you.

Why do we need a SOP

GRE score can show whether you have the aptitude to understand the coursework or not. Your GPA and undergrad transcripts can show whether you have the necessary academic credentials for this program or not. Toefl shows if you will be able to communicate and hence, adjust well in an english speaking community or not.

But alas, you cannot capture the awesomeness of a human being in 3 scores. If that was the case, only the highest qualified will get admits to the Ivy Leagues. But what about that girl from small town in Africa who frickin’ fought against the societal bias and her closed minded aunts to dream of studying in USA! Or how about that IT guy from a tier 3 school in Indonesia who has mediocre grades but wants to be a data scientist!

Good schools want these super motivated candidates instead of uni-dimensional 10 pointers. And this is how, we came to the concept of SOP – its a Statement of Purpose. They want to know why you want to study this particular program in this particular school. It’s a story that tells them how you have come to this point in your life – what incidences have shaped your thinking, how you think, what will you do with your education and will you put it to a good use. And, what remains unsaid is – will you be a successful and good alum for the school?

Now that we have an understanding of what SOP is, let’s look at an example.

Sample SOP for CS

This is the real SOP of a candidate of ours who got into CMU MSIT, ASU MCS, NEU CS and TU Munich CS programs.

You can download the full PDF below.

Structure of a good SOP

There are a lot of samples available on Internet but what you will struggle with is finding out the right style for yourself. Of course, since these samples are available freely to everyone, you cannot copy them either.

So, let’s understand how to structure your SOP.

After 6 years of being in business and working with 500+ candidates, we have developed a deep understanding of what works. The problem is there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. But, to the extent that we can generalise, this is what we recommend.

Introduction

The opening paragraph should give a solid summary of your profile to the admission committee. It should answer why you are applying to this program, what makes you qualified for it and what is impressive about you.

Academic Background

Start with a brief summary of your college life. Try to cover your relevant academic details here such as grades in important subjects, accomplishments (scholarship, hackathon prizes, TAship etc). Start talking about how your interests started evolving in college. Follow up with 1-2 important academic project paragraphs.

Professional/Research Background

This is where you write about your internships, fulltime work experience and/or research experience. Talk about most relevant projects and what you learned from them.

Extracurriculars

Here, you can showcase your leadership and teamwork skills apart from anything meaningful you have done outside studies and work. People can talk about their serious hobbies, sports achievements, volunteering activities, experiences of leading a team in clubs etc.

Caveat – avoid cliches. If you were just a member of the IEEE club or volunteered for a simple event, that does not really count.

Why MS

As we discussed above, the admission committee wants to see how does MS fit in with your plan. So, this section has to convince them that you know what you want to get out of your MS. Talk about your career goals and what will you do after MS.

This is a good time to read our other post which shows good example statements you can use in SOP 

How to make your SOP unique?

As you can see, everybody can follow this structure but what is really hard is to personalize a SOP so that it stands out from the competition. It needs expert storytelling and multiple iterations to evolve a rough draft into a winning SOP. It has taken us years to perfect this process in our consulting.

Here are three pointers you need to keep in mind to make your SOP awesome-

  1. It should be genuine – Admission committee develops an eye for the fakers. If you keep telling how great you are and how you developed passion for microprocessors since childhood, no one is going to buy that. Don’t try to exaggerate unnecessarily. Keep it real.
  2. Address your salient strengths and weaknesses – Winning hackathons? Had low GPA because you went to participate in Formula SAE? Had to return to your hometown to take care of an ailing mother which caused a gap in your work? Only you can tell your story and you should.
  3. Your goals should make sense with your background – Everyone is applying for data Science these days even if they have never worked with ML or have any fundamental knowledge of statistics. If this is the case, you should ask yourself why are you applying to this program. If you cannot justify it yourself, how is the admission committee going to ever be convinced with it?

Don’t 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.

Download the Sample SOP in a PDF 


Join our mailing list to discover inside strategies on how to get admitted to top schools in US  – sign up for our newsletter

For our paid professional counseling, check out our counseling packages

How to get your research papers published?

Significance of research papers publications

For the first time, China has overtaken the United States in terms of the total number of science research papers publications, according to statistics compiled by the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

As an aspiring grad student or researcher, one of the best things you can do to enhance your application chances is publish a good quality research paper. But many applicants do not know how exactly to go about it.

Tips for becoming a published researcher

So, we invited Utkarsh Sinha who is a Petroleum Engineer, graduating from University of Houston and a published researcher to share some tips about the same. He is currently working with Hicor Technologies and is a JPSE & ATCE Published Author. Utkarsh has also been a summer research fellow at IIT Delhi!

He answers the following in this short video-

  1. How to approach Professors to work on a research project
  2. How to write a good research paper

Go through it and start cranking on your own research!

How to plan the timeline of your Fall applications?

MS in USA application process can be overwhelming and cumbersome. So, here we have tried to simplify it for you so that you can keep a tab on what’s happening.

GRE/TOEFL

Take by end of Aug so that you have enough time to retake if necessary
Retake GRE if required by end of Sep (need 21 days between reattempts)

Shortlist Schools

by end of Sep – mid Oct. Here’s full post on how to shortlist schools.

Email Professors

Drop emails to relevant Professors you are interested to work with (especially for people interested in research) by mid of Oct.

Apply for WES

If any of your shortlisted schools require a WES evaluation, apply for it by the end of Oct since it can take a month or more to get their results.

Check for scholarships

There are some third party scholarships available for MS applicants. Search these by end of Oct (so that you can apply by their stated deadlines)

Order transcripts

from your undergraduate college by end of Oct

Finalize SOP, essays and LORs

by mid Nov

Fill the application online and send application packets where required

by end of Nov – mid Dec

Follow up on the status of your applications

and if the required material has been received by the schools in Jan. Resend if anything is amiss

Receive results

by end of Mar-Apr

Submit financial docs for I-20

by end of Apr

Finalize your school and apply for education loan

by May

Appear for visa interview

by end of June

Arrive on the campus

by Aug (2 weeks earlier if you need to look for funding on campus)


That’s it – it is not as cumbersome if you know what to expect. Save this infographic for a quick reminder.

Timeline for MS applications (fall)

 

For personalised assistance for your applications, check our counseling packages.

How to strengthen your profile for MS in USA

There are many ways to improve your profile before you apply to MS. Here are few things that can make the most impact-

Publish papers for thesis-based degrees

You can work with your college Professors to stay engaged in research. Publishing papers add a whole new depth to your candidacy by showing your research potential.

Freelance projects and build portfolio

Even if you don’t have clients, you can build interesting projects and publish on github. Shows you are a pro-active learner. (can do along with taking MOOCs in your areas of interest). Keep doing competitive coding, any accomplishments in there can improve your profile. Certificates directly don’t matter but participating in such things ensure that you stay hands-on and get to explore deeper concepts of programming.

Read papers on latest developments, connect the dots. You will start talking more intelligently about it. The biggest point where applicants stumble is that they have nothing intelligent to say in their SOP – everyone is saying ‘how they were attracted to computers since childhood’. The more you code, more you explore, better stuff you will be able to talk about. Your goals will be more specific.

Switch to a job closer to your area of interest if possible

One of my students switched his job from a business analyst role to a research based startup in ECE. First time, he did not get good admits but second time, he got into some decent schools for MS in ECE. He headed to UC Santa Cruz. The idea is to proactively push towards your passion. If your job is not helping in what you want to do, look for something more relevant.

Take MOOCs if you lack confidence in your subject

For people who have low grades or relatively less working knowledge of the subjects of their interests, doing online courses (reputed certified ones) can add some more credibility to your academic background. Read how much can MOOCs help you.

Get 320+ on GRE or 710+ on GMAT

Lastly, if your test scores are holding you back, get that sorted. There is no point in being held back if you think you can do much better on the tests. This becomes especially more important if your GPA is low.

How to fund your MS/MBA education

While the education in USA seems prohibitively costly at first glance, the good news is that there is decent possibility of funding if you can get into a reputed grad school (depends on other factors too). Universities and Professors in USA are funded by government and other agencies that invest in research; these funds are, in turn, used to support research students. Except when recession hits the funding grants, schools do try their best to support as many PhD students as possible. This is the reason why getting funding in PhD is easier than getting for Master’s because it is understood that PhD students are contributing more towards research. Similarly Master’s in Engineering schools has more grants and research funding than Management oriented programs such as MIS/MEM and MBA. MBA is practically not funded because the goal of a MBA grad is to join corporate world and not research. Schools are more likely to fund students working closely in research.

How Grad School funds its students:

1. Scholarships

These are the monetary awards given to students based on some qualifications, which could be academic excellence or extra curricular talent (sports related scholarships). There might be additional qualifications for these awards such as nationality, ethnic background, gender etc. These can be given in the form of a one-time cash award or be yearly covering your length of study. A school may have few such scholarships and they might ask for a separate application for these scholarships. Given the competition and scarcity of such awards, it is better to not bank on one. However, do find out about these especially if your academic record is excellent.

2. Tuition waivers

Sometimes, a school may offer full or partial tuition waiver to few students. It is usually awarded in conjunction with teaching or research assistantships (see below). A student still needs to pay other kind of fee (health insurance, administrative, library etc.) as tuition waivers only cover the tuition fee. These are most likely announced along with the news of your admission. For example, Case Western Reserve University typically offers 40- 50% tuition waiver at the time of sending the admission letter to its MEM students. In this case, the I-20 will only show remaining tuition fee to be paid by the student.

3. Assistantship

This is the most common form of funding offered by the graduate school to its admitted students especially PhD students. Getting an assistantship involves getting a cash stipend in return for some work that you do officially in the school itself. Normally, a student is allowed to work up to 20 hours per week. These are frequently combined with a full/partial tuition waivers in research oriented programs such as MS. However, assistantships offered in MIS/MEM programs may be only paid hourly and not include a tuition waiver (exceptions apply). There are three main kind of assistantships:

Teaching Assistantship

As per Virginia Tech, “graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) provide academic program support under the supervision of a faculty member. GTAs may assist faculty in the department in teaching undergraduate courses, including laboratory teaching assignments, or in providing other appropriate professional assistance, including grading examinations, problem sets, and/or lab assignments, setting up displays for lectures and laboratory sections, and preparing or maintaining equipment used in laboratory sections.”

Research Assistantship

As per Virginia Tech, “graduate research assistants (GRAs) are graduate students conducting academically significant research under the direction of a faculty member, who is generally a principal investigator on an external grant or contract. Graduate research assistantships are awarded by departments and professors who are engaged in research projects. Since GRAs are often funded by sponsored research grants, they may be paid at a higher stipend level than GAs or GTAs.” When I was studying at University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, I received an RA by a Professor in Wireless Networking that paid me a cash stipend (for 20 hours per week work) along with a full tuition waiver. It meant that I did not have to pay any tuition fee and got a stipend that easily covered my living expenses and helped me save some money as well.

Graduate Assistantship

Again, as per Virginia Tech, “graduate assistants (GAs) are graduate students who provide academic and program support. GA responsibilities may be administrative in nature and consist of duties unrelated directly to teaching or research (such as academic advising, program planning, advising student groups, and assisting with the administration of student services offices). GA responsibilities may also be academic in nature and include grading examinations, problem sets, and/or lab assignments, setting up displays for lectures or laboratory sections, and preparing or maintaining equipment used in laboratory sections.”

4. Grants

These are similar to scholarships but awarded solely based on the financial need of a student. American universities may offer several forms of government-supported grants but these are usually available only to American citizens.

What if I do not receive any funding from the university at the time of admission?

Do not write off your funding chances just yet. These days, schools have stopped giving funding except to PhD students but it does not mean that you cannot find one after being admitted. In most cases, Master’s (especially MIS/MEM) students will not receive funding at the time of admission. First, you should have done some research on funding possibility at a school before deciding to apply for it. This includes contacting current students and recent graduates and asking them how did they fund their education. If you hear favorable funding news (let’s say multiple students tell you that they received some form of funding after reaching the campus), then you can still consider attending this school and hunting for funding after arriving on campus. The downside to this is that you still need to manage and show higher finances for your visa interview since you have no funding to show to the visa officer. Many students take a loan if they cannot show sufficient personal funds and go to the school. There, they start looking for funding and return the loan as soon as they find it. This is what I did because I had not received any financial assistance when I was admitted to UIUC. However, it is a risk and you must do some background research on how likely it is to find funding before making such a decision. Again, if you have shortlisted schools after proper research, you would have applied only to the schools where you can manage the finances.

Outside Funding

There are other types of funding that you can look for outside what is offered by the school. These include:

  1. External Scholarships/Fellowships – You can look for scholarships offered by private organizations external to your school as well. These are given to students with exceptional records and pass some qualifying criteria. To compete for these, you have to fill out a separate application which usually includes writing few essays explaining why you deserve the scholarship and how will you use it. All reputed universities often have a database of merit-based scholarship and fellowship opportunities available to its students.
    For example, University of Washington lists it at Student Financial Aid. Other than that, you can search on Internet for opportunities available to you. Scholarships In India 2016, Fellowships In India 2016, Internships In India 2016, Financial Aid For Education 2016, Students Grants For Schools And Colleges, Scholarships 2016 lists a lot of active scholarships in India. Fulbright Program is one of the most reputed scholarships available worldwide on a merit basis. As expected, there is a lot of competition for these awards.
  2. On-campus jobs – These include helper positions on campus such as the school library, dining hall, housing office, bookstore etc. and allow international students to work up to 20 hours per week. Students working in these jobs are paid hourly (usually sufficient to cover living expenses) and do not get tuition waivers. These are the least preferred form of funding since they do not usually involve building any valuable skills.
  3. Bank loans – Lastly, if nothing else works out, a student has to look for loans to finance her education. There are a lot of loan schemes now available but most of them are processed only once you receive an admit. Since loan processing takes a long time, it is advisable to start early.

I have covered funding, finances, employment opportunities, application strategies more comprehensively in MS BOOK: Smart Engineer’s complete guide to MS in USA