The Top Six SOP Errors (and How to Fix Them)

Are you puzzled about why every graduate program, across all disciplines, requires an application essay? Regardless of whether you’re destined for a career in writing, programs in biology, engineering, medicine, and the arts demand a demonstration of your writing abilities.

Girl Smug She Has Avoided Most Typical SOP Errors

Why is the statement of purpose so critical? It’s simple: poor writing suggests poor thinking, and it’s a red flag for admissions committees, making it easy to reject an application filled with standard SOP errors.

Selecting a graduate school cohort is tough. Admissions committees can’t afford to wade through poorly written essays, looking for a diamond in the rough among countless similar applicants. One glaring mistake is all it takes for your application to be discarded.

Unfortunately, many candidates do the committee’s job for them by repeating common errors, signaling a lack of seriousness about their application.

Thankfully, avoiding these errors is not difficult. Let’s explore the top SOP errors and ensure your dream school is impressed with your essay.

The Top Six SOP Errors

  1. Autobiographical Essays The bane of my existence: SOPs that start with a childhood anecdote or college experiences, detailing a general interest in a broad subject without connecting it to future goals. These essays often list undergraduate classes, extracurricular activities, and research projects without explaining their relevance to the program applied for. The concluding paragraph might weakly attempt to tie in the university’s resources or a professor’s work but often too late to salvage the reader’s interest.


    Solution: Focus on structure. Follow this statement of purpose format  to outline how your past experiences inform your future academic and professional goals.

  2. Excessive “Story,” Insufficient “Thinking” Many applicants feel compelled to open their essays with a personal anecdote. While engaging stories can be effective, they should not overshadow the academic and professional focus of the SOP. The introduction should succinctly cover the ‘five Ws’ and connect personal experiences to scholarly pursuits.

    Solution: Limit the narrative and ensure it serves as a backdrop to discuss your academic interests and objectives. Take a look at these statement of purpose tips for more help.

  3. Freewriting Without Structure Freewriting may seem easier, but it often results in a lack of clarity and structure, leading to automatic rejection. A well-organized SOP showcases your ability to communicate effectively, a crucial skill for any graduate student.

    Solution: Avoid freewriting. Utilize a SOP checklist to guide your writing process.

  4. Writing a Personal Statement Instead of a Statement of Purpose One of the less conspicuous yet critical errors in graduate applications is confusing a personal statement with a statement of purpose (SOP). While they may sound similar, they serve distinct roles in the eyes of an admissions committee.A personal statement tends to be a narrative of one’s life and experiences. It often includes personal anecdotes, reflections on formative events, and insights into one’s personal growth and character development. It’s inherently introspective and may touch upon hardships, triumphs, and personal milestones.

    On the other hand, an SOP is more strategic and future-oriented. It’s designed to articulate your academic and professional trajectory. The focus is not on who you are but on what you plan to do: your research interests, academic goals, and professional aspirations. It’s about convincing the admissions committee that you have a clear vision for your future and that their program is a critical step in that journey.

    The mistake often arises when applicants prioritize telling their life story over demonstrating their academic intent and potential. While your personal experiences are certainly valuable, they should be presented in a way that highlights their relevance to your academic pursuits. Every anecdote and detail included in an SOP should serve the purpose of underlining your qualifications, preparedness, and fit for the program.

    These statement of purpose samples can help you to avoid this SOP error.


    Focus on relevance: When you mention personal experiences, immediately tie them to your academic goals or research interests.
    Be selective: Only include personal details that enhance your narrative as a committed and thoughtful scholar.
    Highlight your plan: Discuss the specific research you want to conduct or the particular area of study you wish to explore, and how the program will facilitate these academic endeavors.
    Research alignment: Show that you have done your homework by aligning your goals with the faculty’s research interests, the program’s curriculum, and the institution’s resources.
    Professional orientation: Emphasize skills and experiences that demonstrate your potential as a future professional in the field.

  6. Not Tailoring SOPs for Each School A generic SOP can spell instant rejection. Customizing your essay to explain why a program is perfect for you, with specifics beyond the program’s name or speciality, is crucial.

    Solution: Research each program and explain how it aligns with your goals. This section should be substantial and demonstrate your potential as a graduate student.

  7. Careless Writing That Increases Word Count Poor writing isn’t just about grammar; it’s also about clarity and conciseness. Overuse of passive voice, unnecessary clauses, and verbose phrasing can bloat an SOP.

    Solution: Use tools like the Hemingway App to identify and eliminate overly complex sentences, favoring clarity and brevity.

  8. Ill-defined Academic Objectives Avoid stating the obvious about what you’ll learn. Admissions committees are more interested in what you’ll contribute to the field after graduation.

    Solution: Focus on how you plan to use your education to achieve significant goals. Articulate what you will bring to the world as a graduate of their program.

To summarize, autobiographical narratives, disorganized writing, non-specific essays, verbosity, and unclear goals are the most common pitfalls in SOP writing. Maintaining the original word count, this edited version emphasizes the solutions to these errors, offering a clear path to a successful application.

If this advice helps eradicate the persistent issues plaguing many SOPs, then every word counts. Stay persistent in your pursuit of graduate education.