Top engineering graduate programs will expect a high GPA and some schools will require an impressive GRE score. Those nice high stats get your foot in the door at elite graduate engineering schools.
However, it is your statement of purpose (SOP) that will allow the admissions committee to view you as a person with unique goals, potential, interests, values, inspirations, and motivations. It helps adcoms understand what drives you and what your short- and long-term goals are, as well as how their school can help you realize your dreams. This is the part of the application that enables the admissions committee to view you as a whole person and assess whether you are a good match for their program.
Structuring an engineering SOP
An SOP usually includes the following:
- An introductory paragraph that grabs the reader’s attention and sets the stage for the subsequent paragraphs
- Highlights of your abilities, education, and work accomplishments (without repeating what is on your resume)
- Reasons for any gaps in your chronological work history or a lower-than-average GRE score or GPA
- A description of your short- and long-term goals (explaining how you want to make an impact on society)
- A detailed explanation of your interest in the program and school, often including specific courses and/or professors (and their research) that interest you
- A closing paragraph that in some way summarizes the essay by highlighting key points and closing the loop opened by the introductory paragraph
Tell a story in your SOP
While including the elements listed in the previous section is important, a winning essay is also creative and interesting. It should not be formulaic or read like a checklist or computer program.
In essence, you are telling a story in your SOP – your story. One engineer recently said to me, in a somewhat panicked voice, “I know how to write facts; I don’t know how to tell a story!” The typical MBA candidate loves to discuss their background and is frequently delighted to relate the many exciting adventures they’ve experienced. In contrast, if I ask an engineering candidate to “tell me about yourself,” I am sometimes met with silence and a reluctance to divulge personal information.
Engineers are taught to think logically, rationally, in black-and-white facts and figures where there is a clear right or wrong answer. But a graduate school application expects you to explore the “gray” areas in your life. What made you decide on a certain option? What motivated you to take a particular action? Why is/was it important to you? There is no right or wrong, which can be freeing. However, for some engineers, it is uncomfortable to talk about that “gray” area and their personal lives.
Engineering schools want to know what or who inspired you to become an engineer. At what age did you first believe that this was the right career path for you, and why? You will need to step away and look at your life with a certain objectivity, so you can explain your life trajectory and the reasons you took certain turns.
Most schools have a page or word limit, but don’t let that inhibit you when you are first creating your essay from your outline. A good engineering admissions consultant can help you tell your story effectively and ultimately meet your target school’s word limit requirements. Telling your story compellingly typically requires multiple drafts, and some of my clients write several drafts before they are satisfied with the final product.
As with other elements of the application, give yourself sufficient time to write your SOP. It could be the reason the adcom at the top engineering graduate program you’re aiming for decides in favor of your admission.
With 30 years of career/admissions experience at four universities, including Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Business and College of Engineering, Dr. Karin Ash has met with thousands of recruiters seeking to hire the best students from leading schools. She has served as a member of the admissions committee, ensuring that the applicants who ultimately enroll are a good fit for the program and prime candidates for employers. Karin has been a Consultant with Accepted for 8 years and has facilitated students’ entry into top engineering, data science, MBA, and other STEM graduate MEng, MS, and PhD programs. Her clients have been accepted into MIT, the University of Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, UPenn, and USC. Want Karin to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!