Are you too struggling with your SOP, because, who isn’t?
Did you start out with a list, a CV, awards, grades, achievements, scores, and some more of the same? And are you now wondering how to tie it all together? How to find that common thread which will make your writing a cohesive piece of writing art? Do you think you could use a story to anchor it with?
What if what you’ve written is just a beautifully itemized list of events, achievements, certificates and grades? How does that really set you apart from another applicant with the same list? Or a very close approximation of it? Have you ever wondered if a few random sentences thrown here and there could become a story? How do you write a story? What essentially is a story? There are after all, lots of them: Stories. Everywhere you look: short stories, novels, novellas, newspaper stories. Found story, found poetry, poetry. Conversations. Bedtime stories.
And then there are other kinds: Think movies, plays, screenplay, drama. Theatre. Mime, a story without any words. Everything seems to revolve around stories.
And more. Advertising uses stories to sell you things. It’s because stories—particularly specific, highly detailed stories—are the best way to create emotional connections and long-lasting bonds with your reader.
What do you think works better?
An image of a Coca-Cola can, and the words “buy it”? Or an emotional story about how to “share a Coke with…”?
THIS is storytelling at its best.
Hamlet is a great story too, but I’m getting ahead of myself!
Story-telling consists of a story, and the telling of it. And it is the telling of it that can set your SOP apart from the myriad others flooding the admission mailboxes. Even before you begin, you have to have a story to tell. You have to have SOMETHING to share. In reality, everyone, every person, has a story. There is always something that drives them, some direction, something that makes them choose. The important question is: how do you figure out that Something?
Ask yourself: Where do you come from, where do you go? Why are you even trying? What has led you to this point, and where do you see yourself going from here? And why, most important question, why should the reader be convinced that you are the most valuable asset for that admission seat? Because your story can not just be an empty wishlist, or a disconnected attempt to convince someone to hire you, or to give you admission.
The answers to these questions accompanied by introspection, help to form the theme, the heart of your story. Once you have the heart, the next step is to structure it. We need to give it a kind of form, a sort of skeleton (not the one in a closet), an outline.
The rules, the tips, the guidelines, for structuring a story are:
- The Theme
This is the heart of your story. This is the heart of your SOP. This is the distillation of all your hard work, introspection, self-questioning. This is KNOWING who you are, what you want, and where you plan to go with what you have. Boiled down to its lowest common denominator, the heart of your story is its theme.
- The Plot
This is the Skeleton. A course of events that depict the main character going through events which eventually reveal the heart.
- The Character
Usually you. The person writing the SOP. The hero (sometimes, anti-hero) who has fought against all odds to be here in this moment.
- The character should remain consistent. The aim, the goals, the values, should all remain consistent. If you start by talking about “helping others” as the chief motivator for your application, you could ideally end by how the course you are applying for will help you achieve that goal.
- The character should shine clearly through all the writing. The essay is about the character, you, being right for the spot.
- The Setting
This is the space for all of the following:
- the list of grades, the entire weight of the Academic Index (the AI in eduspeak)
- The Achievements, the certificates,
- the losses, the failure, defeat, wins, the circumstances.
- This is where you talk about your background. Did it help you, impede you?
- The Conflict
The conflict is the struggle between the writer and the reader. The writer wants to be given a spot of his choice, in the course of his choice. He presents a conflict in his life which he hopes to resolve with the course he is applying for.
Now the reader has to be convinced. Before that, he needs to be interested, invested in the triumph of the protagonist of this story. He has to root for this applicant. He needs to be emotionally invested.
Between this tug-of-war lies the conflict in our SOP! The argument or story of the SOP should be convincing enough for the reader to agree in the end, that this brilliant writer is just the right candidate for him.
- The Ending
Applause. Also, plans. How to give back to society, how to give back to the institution that’s about to give a slot to you on their prestigious program.
Once you have the bones, you’ll figure out the heart. At the heart of every story, you’ll find a desire for change. Knowingly, unknowingly, the protagonist of your essay, of every movie that you’ve watched, every ad that’s interrupted your game, there is a character who’s ready for some change. Change is, after all, what we are seeking.
Stories are about change. Using the story as a way to spike interest in your SOP is a great strategy as it helps you stand out. The reader doesn’t have to sift through lists and data. Instead, he is presented with an intriguing, interesting play of events where he is, hopefully, wishing the hero wins!!