"Fools Quote Others. The intelligentsia win bread by making up quotes" - G.B.Shaw
In the SOP
Applicant 1 writes: "I always wanted to be a ComputerScience/Mechanical/Signal Processing engineer".
Applicant 2 writes: "I noticed that I had good talent in Math/Phy/Chemistry. I stood 147th among 1 billion zillion trillion people who appeared for engineering exams in my 14 villages put together and I got selected on merit to a top-60 private engineering college in Ramnathapuram District. My quantitative and analytical skills led me to chose Electronics & Communication Engineering as my Major."
Admissions Officer 1 :: Rolling on the floor laughing her/his ass off.
Admissions Officer 2: In catatonic state because of extreme boredom caused by reading applications.
Rules of The Statement of Purpose
1) Don't start the Statement of Purpose with a definition from the dictionary. Like this blog has at the beginning. It is boring.
2) Don't start the statement of purpose with a fake made-up quote (seriously! I made-up the quote above myself. Shaw didn't say any of that. Its easy to make-up your own quotes and credit it to big names. Its probably as good as any other quote Shaw has out there). Like this blog has at the beginning. Seriously it makes you look like a fool. If you have anything to say - just say it. The Mark Twains and G.B Shaws have said a lot of interesting things. The admission folks know them already. They'll look at P.B.Shelly's work when he applies for Digital Signal Processing to University of William Mary Community College, Bloomington, Indiana. Right now - focus on what you have to say.
3) Never use the phrase "I Have always wanted to....". Nobody ever always wanted to do anything. Its not even a logical analysis of your professional goals. If at all this sentence says anything. It says that you have always wanted to Bull Shit. I have seen SOPs which said " Ever since my childhood, I have always wanted to work in Image Processing working on binomial filters....bla bla bla"
4) Okay the reason why you chose engineering. I know you chose it because everybody around you said its a cool thing. Your parents said its a cool thing. You chose it because it was reputed to be the best you could ever do. I understand you cant say this openly.But at least don't go and say the same boring stuff as to why your Math Phy Chem scores made you suddenly feel analytical/horny/logical and so among the 1 million options you had in front of you ran off and applied for Engineering. That too Electronics and Communication Engineering.
If you have started working on your SOPs and if you are still reading this blog at this point you might've realized that every Indian before you has thought of the same things you wanted to say in your SOP. You might've also realized that you could potentially send many admissions officers to an ICU like your predecessors. You would understand how patterned we are -- when it comes to presenting ourselves. Look at all the sample SOPs your friends/contacts/seniors send you. You will find one or all of the above BS in that SOP. But one thing is true. They (the seniors) still made it to M.S. So will you -- even if you write the drivel that I mentioned above. While you may make it to Morlockin Community State College located at the intersection of highway 133 and interstate 135 you maye not make it to the top 20 engineering schools.
As you talk to people who made it into the top schools ( dont ask me for definition of the top schools, I don't know. Just see the gzillion rankings out there and find out) you will find that the SOP dominates the admission decision and not the GRE. I have always felt :-) :-) that it is not worth going to a school which gives you an admission just based on your GRE score. While it may confuse some Indians who may think "score is everything". I think the right thing for a school to do (which the really good schools do) is to have a minimum threshold for GRE to determine whether the student will withstand the academic rigor and then focus on what the students has done/aspires to do.
In an SOP, start with a good opening paragraph that immediately makes the reader want to know more about you. Don't spend too much time reverse-justifying why you did an engineering. You are almost done with the B.E. Don't talk about things 4 years ago. Unless you have won some national math olympiad etc there is no point in trying to convince the admissions committee that you were "simply brilliant and totally fantastic" from childhood. The point is to try and be practical and realistic while at the same time hit the buttons (like PhD) an admissions committee is looking for. Except for coursework the only other interesting thing you have done in BE is your project. So it really helps if you have done(or going to do) your final year project in something related to what you want to do.
The essay should flow cogently from your learnings during engineering (these learning must be directly related to your goals). What you learned during engineering through paper presentations, reading stuff on the net, reading other IEEE papers ( again this should directly relate to your goals). You are writing a 2 page statement. So it is really wise to spend a lot of time on "what did I do in BE" in the first few paras than wasting on your fake "why engineering" story. So what you did -> leads to what you know about your field of interest -> leads to what you want to do in the 2 year M.S future. Here it helps if you have done your research of the university and know what the professors are doing. Don't list the things the university does and say - the university does research on signal processing, VLSI, high performance computing, automotive engineering by great professors such as mark, ben, axl rose, van halen, ross and phoebe and "I can do any of those if they provide me funding". You pick one field and stay with that field. Don't name professors if you aren't familiar with their work. If you have contacted profs and they have responded mention that as a re-affirmation of your credibility. Its all goals goals goals and your knowledge about the goals.
It helps to have a powerful ending. Try and mention that you are open to doing a PhD. Don't commit to a PhD if you aren't really interested. PhD is a big commitment. If you are doing it for the money think carefully. You may be offered a direct PhD admit -- if they decide to buy your lie. Then you could end up with a silly smile on your face or worse you could actually take up the Ph.D and go around lying "I always wanted to do a PhD". The SOP ending should have a vision of a thesis or paper that you will work on in your M.S. The kind of contributions that you hope to make at the research labs. The whole SOP depends on how well you know about the topic *you say* you want to specialize on. You can even hint that you maybe open to a PhD without actually committing to one.
Don't write sentences like " I aspire to enter the hallowed portals of the university and genvambobulate the manvostulerity of the vivaciousness moving forward". If ever there is a good time to forget your word list -- Its during the SOP. Don't make the admissions officer think that you wrote a normal SOP and you replaced every normal word in your sop with a super complex synonym. If you write "peter" English by nature then do it otherwise don't try and be someone you aren't. Be yourself (but be grammatically correct unlike this blog). Good essays were simple and straightforward. It cut off the bullshit and told the "matter" in a blunt fashion. That is business writing. Your SOP should be to the point, brief, and sentences should transition smoothly and professionally. If you know something about business writing - it helps. Also, if you can demonstrate your verbal ability (paper presentations - seminars) then show it. Always quantify - don't wonder. Don't Say "I am good in doing xyz". That's a conclusion. Admissions Officers want to make their own conclusions. They don't want you doing their job. Say that there was a competition on xyz and you participated in it and did abcdef and won an award. That speaks the conclusion for itself.
It is also a good idea to mail to professors and tell them about your interests. The mails should be 1 para long and should have your resume as an attachment. Your 1 para mail should contain a brief outline of your interests and your knowledge about that professor. Mostly the professor will shift-delete the mail before opening it when he sees in the subject field, " Hi! New prospective Student" or "Funding Opportunities". So have a subject line that actually relates to the research topic. I think what you would have found out by now is that your knowledge on the subject, which you say " is your passion" determines a lot of things. I am not saying that everybody who goes into M.S has everything sorted out and are "super dooper" folks. Ofcourse people who say one thing in the SOP do something else in reality. But the key is whatever you say in SOP, say it well. With the best knowledge you have about the subject and yourself at the moment. You may go into the university and find that something else interests you. That is normal. But Don't embarrass yourself by coming across as half-baked and superficial.