Essays Vs SoPs

Originally published by Inomi founder Richa Dwivedi Saklani in The Hindu on Aug 24, 2019

Why do colleges want to hear your story? Aren’t marks and entrance tests enough pressure already?

If you are resisting writing your college essays, here is my two-bits on why it counts – colleges are looking for leaders and ideators. Technical roles are fast being handed over to machines. Your essay is the differentiator that humanizes you compared to a horde of applications with good grades.

Here is a primer to surviving the essay-based admission process.

US colleges ask for one main personal essay and several supplementary essays. Colleges in Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and India ask for one Statement of Purpose (SoP).

Do these essays count?

The short answer is Yes. Admission officers share that every essay is read and essays of selected students are often re-read. However, your essay cannot transform your entire application and override low marks or SAT scores. A great essay can make you stand out among others with similar grades and profile. A bad essay, on the other hand, can result in an otherwise good profile being rejected.

How to write a Personal Essay

A personal essay answers the “Who are you?” question. Most such essay prompts are story-based asking you to reflect on your upbringing, challenges, dreams, struggles and personal learning. Like any good story, a good essay is one that moves the reader. A powerful essay is one that stays with the reader long after he or she has read it. Here are a few tips to get started

  1. Make a list of moments in your life that you remember strongly. Write a few lines down on what happened, the impact on you and what you carry from that moment today. Brainstorming with family and friends could help expand this list.
  2. Filter this list to avoid controversial subjects like religion, race, politics, or illegal activities like drugs or jail time.
  3. Match these notes with the college essay prompts you are writing for. You may come up with even more ideas as you read through the prompts.
  4. Write up one or two ideas
    1. Keep the language simple and sentences short. “I felt scared that I had lost a friend” is better than “A chill ran down my spine as I introspected on the impact my casual words could have on my long-cherished friendship”.
    1. Keep the focus personal – use lots of “I” sentences. Share personal details that showcase learning and growth.
    1. Get specific on your actions and learning. “I stood by the gate for two hours every day selling coupons” is better than “I worked really hard to raise money”
  5. Share these along with the prompts to a few experienced essay reviewers and choose the ones that get best reviews.
  6. Rewrite and polish the chosen one or two essays to fit into the word count.

How to write a Statement of Purpose

SoPs answer the “Why do you want to study this course in this college?” question. The weakest SoP reads “I want to study Economics because I find it very interesting.” This would challenge the most conscientious admission officer to keep his or her eyes open.

A good SoP is specific and detailed. A few must haves in a good SoP

1. Your motivation to study this – apart from a good job or pressure from parents. What do you hope to achieve by studying Law? How did you get to be so interested in Economics?

2. Your experience and understanding of the subject – focus on key issues and areas of specific interest to you. If your mind draws a blank here, it is time to take an online course to understand what this subject really entails.

3. Your credentials. Courses taken, seminars attended, workshops or summer programs completed, books read on the subject – all count to show your depth in the subject. Make sure to mention specific ideas or skills that each such experience left you with.

Above all, enjoy the writing process. Many students find their real voice in the process of writing out college essays – I hope you will be one of them.

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