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B-school admissions: How to write an SoP

October 11, 2010 11:37 IST

An important aspect of B-school admissions is the submission of the Statement of Purpose candidates need to submit. But what is it and how do you go about writing it? Read on to find out...

Your Statement of Purpose (SOP) is your personal assertion of who you are, what or who has influenced your career path so far, your interests (both professional as well as personal) and what you intend to do for the rest of your life.

Why do B-schools ask for an SOP?

An SOP is a way a management institute can know you beyond what can be known from your performance in academics and the entrance tests. It provides a means of qualitatively evaluating your clarity regarding your career goals, how an MBA will benefit you, and ultimately your suitability for an MBA (which also includes how you will add diversity and value to the MBA class).

What should a good SOP contain?

A well-written SOP will offer clarity on why you would like to pursue management studies in general, and the institute that you have applied to in particular. Your SOP should mention compelling reasons why you are suitable for an MBA, and how an MBA connects to your goals. For example, your goal may include gaining international exposure in banking and eventually becoming a top banker in a foreign bank. OR you may want to join your family business and knowing management principles will empower you to modernise the business and make it grow.

Brevity is of the essence since you need to communicate a lot about yourself in a few words. Create a list of points that you would like to address in your SOP, then write them, and then edit them. Show your SOP to as many people as possible -- but make sure that the final version is something that you completely agree with.

Begin with the end in mind when writing your SOP. It will be used to evaluate your motivations and aspirations. It may also be a starting point for questions during your interview stage. Be prepared to back up each word, item and point that is written in your SOP with data or opinions. If you have written that you are good at communication -- be prepared with examples where your communication skills have resolved or prevented issues.

Leadership is a keyword that attracts and excites every panel but it can turn out to be a double-edged sword. If you want to make use of the word, rest assured you will be questioned on this during the interview. Back up your claim with hard data regarding your achievements at leading teams -- either formally or informally. For example, if you organised your college fest or even your elder sister's wedding, it is a feather in your cap.

Given the length constraints, you may not have the space to explicitly state and justify how the given college is the right choice for you or what specialisation you are looking for -- marketing, finance, HRM etc. But keep in mind that this may come up as an adjunct to the points that you have made in your SOP. Avoid writing in glittering generalities; such as 'I am attracted to the vibrant student community in your college' (which student community is not vibrant?) OR 'the ambience/ environment in your college is conducive to learning' OR 'I am impressed by the broad depth of learning that your faculty brings to the table' (don't most colleges have that?) unless you can substantiate these statements in a  convincing manner.

Link your undergraduate studies to the role of a manager

Try and establish a connection between what you learnt in your bachelor's degree and its usefulness to the real-world role of a manager. For example, if you studied engineering, you can mention that you have good analytical and logical reasoning skills (important for a manager).

If your bachelor's degree was in commerce you can mention your firm foundation in various financial concepts, your adeptness in number crunching and ability to understand financial analysis (important for a Finance Manager). If you are from an arts background, you may mention your well-honed written communication skills (important for any executive position) and your ability to see the 'big picture' of any problem, thereby helping you to come up with effective solutions.

Turn your personality type into a winning position

Whatever be your type of personality -- whether you are an introvert or an extrovert -- it would be great if you could link it with your future course of work or profession. If you are an extrovert and you like to meet new people and are able to make friends easily, you are probably on your way to becoming a good marketing professional. If you are somewhat shy and reticent but have excellent academic results and are well read, you possess high intellect and you are well suited for any work that calls for a lot of thought or analysis such as technical analysis in Finance or Operations research which is used in logistics or brand-building exercises in marketing etc.

Your SOP needs to be grammatically correct and have a smooth flow. It should also be within the prescribed word limit. Avoid using esoteric words or technical jargon unless you are sure of their meanings. Phrases like 'good cash flow management' and 'technological scalability' are to be used only if you know their meanings. Avoid pompous language like, 'With the advent of globalisation' and 'most companies need to be re-engineered for enhancing shareholder value' unless you are absolutely clear about these conceptually and how they impact you personally. You may also find these words difficult to justify if cross-questioned during the interview.

An unbiased feedback mechanism

Once you have completed writing your SOP carry out a simulation exercise. Show the SOP to friends/ family and request them to ask you questions based on what is written there (in effect, they will be acting as the admissions committee). This will help instill immense confidence in you ahead of the real interview and will help you to further polish and refine your SOP to your satisfaction.

Remember, virtually every the candidates called for the Extempore and Personal Interview round will have a reasonably good academic record. There will not be much to choose from between you and someone else. A coherent, well written SOP can help steer the interview to your area of strength and provide you with that winning edge.

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