Top engineering graduate programs will expect a high GPA and impressive GRE score. Those nice high stats get your foot in the door at elite graduate engineering schools.
However, it is the statement of purpose (SOP) that allows 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 your short- and long-term goals, as well as how their school can help you realize your dreams. This is the application section that enables an admissions committee to view the whole person and assess whether you are a good match for their program.
Structuring an Engineering Statement of Purpose
An SOP usually includes:
• An introductory paragraph that grabs the reader’s attention and sets the stage for the following paragraphs
• A few highlights of your abilities, education, and work accomplishments (but don’t repeat your resume)
• Reasons for gaps in your chronological work history or lower than average GRE or GPA
• A description of your short- and long-term goals
• A detailed explanation of your interest in the program and school, often including courses or professors (and their research) of interest to you
• A closing paragraph that in some way ties up the essay by highlighting key points and closing the loop opened by the introductory paragraph
Tell a Story in Your Statement of Purpose
While including the above elements is important, a winning essay is also creative and interesting to the reader. It is not formulaic and shouldn’t read like a checklist or a computer program.
In essence, you are telling a story, your story. One engineer recently said to me with a somewhat panicked voice, “I know how to write facts; I don’t know how to tell a story!” A typical MBA candidate loves to discuss their background, and is frequently delighted to relate the many exciting adventures 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 right and wrong answer. A graduate application expects you to explore the “gray” in your life. What made you decide upon that option? What motivated you to take that action? Why is 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 need to step away and look at your life with a certain objectivity, so that 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 first create your story from your outline. A good engineering admissions consultant can help you tell your story effectively and meet the word limit requirements. Telling that story compellingly 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 can be the reason that the adcom at the top engineering graduate program you’re aiming for decides in favor of your admission.
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