Destination US: Personal statement of student plays vital role

Students must be authentic while writing their personal statement, also known as statement of purpose, and must make sure that the document is a true representation of their self.

We have discussed about online applications and transcripts in the previous weeks as part of learning about Step 3 – Complete your Application of the EducationUSA’s 5-Steps to applying for master’s programmes in the United States. This week, we will talk about the personal statement.

The personal statement, also called the statement of purpose or SOP, is a vital component of the master’s programme application package to US universities. The SOP allows the admissions committee to assess a student’s objective in applying to the programme of study at the university, his/her interest in the field, long-term career goals, writing skills, organisational skills, and research expertise. Unlike the quantitative aspects of the application (like standardised test scores or transcripts), the personal statement gives insights into a student’s thoughts, inspirations, and goals.

A student generally answers following questions in a personal statement: What is your background? What are your short-term and long-term career goals? What made you interested in this field of study? Why do you want to pursue the master’s programme with this department/university? How do you plan to use the master’s degree to achieve your career goals?

The first and important step in writing a good personal statement is self-reflection. Students should also be able to relate their education/work background and career goals to the master’s programme at the department/university where they have chosen to submit their application. While writing the document, students should keep their other application components handy and avoid repeating any information that is already mentioned in other parts of the application (e.g. grades, marks, achievements). The student’s focus in the personal statement should be on sharing the learnings they have gained from each experience and informing the committee about their strengths, personality, vision, motivation to pursue the programme, and other noteworthy aspects of their candidature that are not available elsewhere in the application.

Each university/department specifies the word limit of the personal statement that they accept for master’s programme applications. Generally, around 750-1000 words is the acceptable length of an SOP, but students should check the word limit specified in the application instructions of the programme before preparing the document. The SOP document should be focused, specific, and simple, with use of short sentences, plain English terminology, and straightforward language.

We recommend that students start writing their personal statement a few months in advance of the application deadline to be able to review and revise the document a few times before it is ready for submission. Also, if possible, students should ask an expert in their field to review their statement of purpose before they submit the document.

The admissions committee reviews the personal statement to assess what distinguishes one student from another and whether they should accept the student to the program. Hence, this document is an essential component of the master’s program application. Given this fact, it is highly important that students be authentic while writing their statement of purpose, making sure that the document is a true representation of their self.

In the next column we will discuss another component of the master’s programme application package to US institutions.

— Monika Setia (Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation based at the U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad).


Q. What are various options to study public health in the United States after completing bachelor’s programme from India?
– Suvarna Reddy

Ans. The various options for graduate programmes in public health in the United States include Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH), Master of Science in a specialization (e.g. M.S. in Biostatistics), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Public Health (Dr.PH.), and certificate programs. The M.S. and Ph.D. degrees are focused on research and designed for students interested in a research career in the field of public health. On the other hand, MPH and Dr.PH. programs are designed for students with an interest in professional career in the field. Students from different disciplines and professional backgrounds may pursue a public health degree in the United States.

Q. We plan to send our daughter to the US for her bachelor’s studies after 12th standard. How can we be assured of her safety there?
– S. Krishnamurthy

Ans. College campuses are some of the safest and most diverse places in the United States. College and university campuses in US are largely safe as a result of various measures put in place by the campus administration. Emergency response and alert systems, campus police, escort options, and high security systems at residential dorms are some of the common features of most US campuses. However, despite these and other safety systems in place, it is important for students to stay safe by avoiding very late night and high-risk activities and being careful when interacting with strangers. Another aspect of student safety that US universities take very seriously is students’ physical and mental health. Most university campuses offer medical facilities and accommodations to students to ensure their continued health and safety. This includes safety measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students must engage with the office of student services at their university and make themselves aware of various services and amenities available to keep them safe and successfully complete their programme of study.

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