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Flowery Language For Essays On Success

Students who want to pursue higher studies abroad in the next academic session will soon be busy applying for colleges and universities of their choice to secure admission. A number of students who decide to study overseas approach me with requests to get their statements of purpose (SOPs) edited, to offer them tips on how to write a good SOP, and, sometimes, to ghostwrite their SOPs. I say ‘yes’ to the first two categories of requests but a firm ‘no’ to the third category as it is unethical to write an SOP for another person.

When such students approach me, even before looking at their SOPs or offering them any tips, I ask them a few questions such as: Why do you have to write an SOP? Why have you chosen a particular country? Why have you chosen a specific university? In which field do you want to specialise in? Why have you chosen it? When did you develop your interest in it? How passionate are you about the field you are going to specialise in? What is your career goal? After the informal interview, I tell the applicant to write in a coherent manner whatever they shared with me during the interview. I also tell them that their SOP should be between 500 and 700 words. The informal interview breaks the ice and prepares the applicant to write it well.

What is a statement of purpose? It is an application essay a student applying for a graduate programme at a foreign university is required to write in order to be admitted to the programme. This important document is also called ‘personal statement’ in the U.K. Though it is not common in most institutions of higher education in India to require students to submit an SOP, it may be required to attend a personal interview to secure admission.

Why do universities ask for an SOP? Applicants are required to prepare and submit it along with other forms while applying. It helps colleges and universities to test whether the applicants are really interested in the programme that they have applied for, whether they are capable of pursuing the programme and completing it successfully and whether they will be able to contribute significantly to the institute.

Just like a good job application letter helps candidates project themselves successfully in the job market, a good SOP helps applicants to highlight their strengths during admission. There are over a hundred different products in the market but consumers choose a particular product because they think it is better than others for various reasons. Similarly, a good SOP stands out and attracts the admissions committee which wades through hundreds of applications. The 8 Ps that make an SOP special are personal touch, purpose, passion, preparedness, potential, planning, plain English and positivity.

Personal touch is the quality of being personal. An SOP is rightly called a personal statement because it is a statement prepared by the applicants to give an indication to the admissions committee what type of a person they are and to express their suitability for a particular programme that they wish to apply. An SOP, being a personal account of the applicant’s academic performances and wishes, reveals the applicant’s attitude.

If the statement is ghostwritten by someone, the candidate’s personal touch may not be reflected in the application essay. This is why it is considered unethical on the part of the applicant to ask someone to prepare the document. The personal document can be given to someone for editing.

Purpose is the keyword in the statement of purpose. The applicants should state why they wish to specialise in a specific field, why they have chosen a particular university/college, what their career goal is and so on. The applicants should demonstrate their clarity of thought and clarity of expression in the personal statement.

Passion is an important characteristic of a great SOP. The applicants should show their aptitude for the academic programme they have chosen. Only those who have a passion for something can excel in it, and, therefore, it is important to express it in an interesting and convincing manner.

In the extract of an SOP below, an applicant explains how passionate he is about in the field he has chosen:

“Ever since I started watching Fast and Furious movie series, I developed an interest in automobiles. I decided to opt for the mechanical engineering branch even when I was a pre-university student. I developed my interest in automotive engineering after I joined the college in many different ways…”

Potential is one’s capacity to excel in something. The applicants should state clearly whether they have the potential to pursue the programme they have chosen, in a successful manner. The applicants should list some of their achievements that will make their SOP stand out. In the extract of an SOP below, an applicant highlights one of his achievements.

“During my third-year undergraduate programme, I was involved in a project “SAE BAJA 2015” organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers, India. This project involved a complete fabrication of an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV). Our team cleared the virtual round by making innovative designs as per the rules framed by SAE. Then we started the fabrication process that is followed by many automobile manufacturers. It was a great experience for me as I was involved in the complete fabrication process. It enhanced my passion for manufacturing technology…”

Preparedness is the state of being ready to take off. It is not sufficient to have passion alone. Willingness to translate passion into action is important. Preparedness indicates how the applicants sustained their passion for the field they intend to specialise in. The applicants should demonstrate their preparedness for the academic programme by listing what they have done and how they have prepared.

Planning is the process of making plans for achieving something. The applicants should mention briefly why they have chosen a particular university. Recently, an applicant asked me whether she should mention in her SOP that she contacted a professor in the university she is planning to apply for admission and enquired about her field, research facilities and so on.

Yes, it is good to mention whether the applicant visited the website of the university and went through the profiles of the professors of a department to contact them and know more about the programme, research opportunities and so on.

Plain English is characterised by easy-to-understand language, clarity, brevity and avoidance of flowery words and phrases. The language should be simple, direct and free from clichés. Some applicants think they should use pompous words and phrases to show that their English is good. No. Use of flowery language in an SOP will have a negative rather than positive impact on those who go through it.

Positivity is the sign of showing hope and being optimistic. It is important to end an SOP with a positive note as in the example below:

“I feel that TU Dortmund’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering with its rich blend of competent faculty, intense curriculum and the cherished history of success, would be an ideal place to shape my career.”

A great SOP speaks to the members of the admissions committee and makes them smile and say, “Here is the guy I am looking for.”

The author is professor of English and head, higher education at KCG College of Technology, Chennai. Email: rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

More In Education PlusColleges

Getting into an elite college has never been more cutthroat. Last year, Harvard’s admissions rate dipped to a record low, with only 5.3% of applicants getting an acceptance letter. Stanford’s rate was even lower, at 5.05%.

These days, it takes more than impressive grades, a full roster of extracurriculars, and a deep commitment to community service to get into a well-ranked school. Experts say that a stellar essay is the linchpin that will win the admissions department over. But what is less well known is that different colleges favor particular topics and even specific words used in essays.

This is a key finding from AdmitSee, a startup that invites verified college students to share their application materials with potential applicants. High school students can pay to access AdmitSee’s repository of successful college essays, while college students who share their materials receive a small payment every time someone accesses their data. “The biggest differentiator for our site is that college students who share their information are compensated for their time,” Stephanie Shyu, cofounder of AdmitSee, tells Fast Company. “This allows them to monetize materials that they have sitting around. They can upload their file and when they check back in a few months later, they might have made several hundred dollars.”

Shyu says that this model has allowed AdmitSee to collect a lot of data very rapidly. The company is only a year old and just landed $1.5 million in seed funding from investors such asFounder.org and The Social + Capital Partnership. But in this short time, AdmitSee has already gathered 15,000 college essays in their system. Many are from people who got into well-ranked colleges, since they targeted these students first. The vast majority of these essays come from current college students who were admitted within the last two or three years.

AdmitSee has a team that analyzes all of these materials, gathering both qualitative and quantitative findings. And they’ve found some juicy insights about what different elite colleges are looking for in essays. One of the most striking differences was between successful Harvard and Stanford essays. (AdmitSee had 539 essays from Stanford and 393 from Harvard at the time of this interview, but more trickle in every day.) High-achieving high schoolers frequently apply to both schools—often with the very same essay—but there are stark differences between what their respective admissions departments seem to want.

What Do You Call Your Parents?

The terms “father” and “mother” appeared more frequently in successful Harvard essays, while the term “mom” and “dad” appeared more frequently in successful Stanford essays.

Harvard Likes Downer Essays

AdmitSee found that negative words tended to show up more on essays accepted to Harvard than essays accepted to Stanford. For example, Shyu says that “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard,” and “tough” appeared more frequently on Harvard essays, while “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve” appeared more frequently in Stanford essays.

This also had to do with the content of the essays. At Harvard, admitted students tended to write about challenges they had overcome in their life or academic career, while Stanford tended to prefer creative personal stories, or essays about family background or issues that the student cares about. “Extrapolating from this qualitative data, it seems like Stanford is more interested in the student’s personality, while Harvard appears to be more interested in the student’s track record of accomplishment,” Shyu says.

With further linguistic analysis, AdmitSee found that the most common words on Harvard essays were “experience,” “society,” “world,” “success,” “opportunity.” At Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”

What the Other Ivies Care About

It turns out, Brown favors essays about volunteer and public interest work, while these topics rank low among successful Yale essays. In addition to Harvard, successful Princeton essays often tackle experiences with failure. Meanwhile, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania tend to accept students who write about their career aspirations. Essays about diversity—race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—tend to be more popular at Stanford, Yale, and Brown.

Based on the AdmitSee’s data, Dartmouth and Columbia don’t appear to have strong biases toward particular essay topics. This means that essays on many subjects were seen favorably by the admissions departments at those schools. However, Shyu says that writing about a moment that changed the student’s life showed up frequently in essays of successful applicants to those schools.

Risk-Taking Pays Off

One general insight is that students who take risks with the content and the structure of their college essays tend to be more successful across the board. One student who was admitted to several top colleges wrote about his father’s addiction to pornography and another wrote about a grandparent who was incarcerated, forcing her mother to get food stamps illegally. Weird formats also tend to do well. One successful student wrote an essay tracking how his credit card was stolen, making each point of the credit card’s journey a separate section on the essay and analyzing what each transaction meant. Another’s essay was a list of her favorite books and focused on where each book was purchased.

“One of the big questions our users have is whether they should take a risk with their essay, writing about something that reveals very intimate details about themselves or that takes an unconventional format,” Shyu says. “What we’re finding is that successful essays are not ones that talk about an accomplishment or regurgitate that student’s résumé . The most compelling essays are those that touch on surprising personal topics.”

Of course, one caveat here is that taking a risk only makes sense if the essay is well-executed. Shyu says that the content and structure of the story must make a larger point about the applicant, otherwise it does not serve a purpose. And it goes without saying that the essay must be well-written, with careful attention paid to flow and style.

Shyu says that there are two major takeaways that can be taken from the company’s data. The first is that it is very valuable for applicants to tailor their essays for different schools, rather than perfecting one essay and using it to apply to every single school. The second is that these essays can offer insight into the culture of the school. “The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu says. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”

A final tip? If you want to go to Harvard and write about your parents, make sure to address them as “mother” and “father.”

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