Who to ask for feedback on your statement of purpose (SOP)

Many of us avoid sharing our statement of purpose (SOP) in fear that what we’ve produced is cringe-worthy and embarrassing, and ultimately that we are total failures and won’t amount to anything, never mind be admitted to graduate school. The truth is that for many of us, sharing our writing is a scary, uncomfortable, and awkward experience. That being said, we benefit from sharing what we’ve written with others.

Some benefits of sharing your SOP include getting feedback about the way your statement of purpose is perceived by others, both intellectually and emotionally, as well as learning from the knowledge and experience of others on how to write better. More importantly, after you’ve reviewed your SOP [link], you will inevitably start to miss both major and minor errors in content and spelling. These details, big and small, may make or break your admission to graduate school. Therefore, it’s essential that you get another set of eyes (or many!) to look over your SOP before you submit your graduate school application.

So who can you ask to look over your statement of purpose for grad school?

Professors

Professors are the most helpful people you can ask to give you feedback on your statement of purpose. They may have sat on admissions committees before, they’ve definitely written successful SOPs before, and they have likely reviewed many SOPs before yours. They understand the importance a great SOP can make in your grad school application, and they also understand the standards and practices of academia. I would encourage you to ask professors that are already writing your letter of recommendation, since they hopefully know you, your work, and your writing style well already. What is more, they would hopefully be more willing to devote more time to reading over your SOP, giving you the feedback you need to write a successful statement.

The downside of asking a professor is that they may not have time to really look at your SOP in detail, and might just send you an email saying “great job!” (true story — it happened to me) or their feedback might sound really harsh because they’re working quickly. And what you really need is someone who will give your SOP the time and attention it needs while still offering you a lot of encouragement and support. All that being said, I would still recommend you ask a professor if you’re comfortable doing so, as they are your best bet.

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Writing centers on campus

Anyone who works in an on-campus writing centre works with student papers already. What is more, graduate-level writing tutors are better equipped to bring your SOP to the level and presentation expected for graduate studies, since they’ve written an SOP too. Finally, writing centres are useful because the tutors will help you learn how to revise your work, all the while offering writing tips based on your specific needs.

One downside of a writing centreis that it doesn’t offer students help with grammatical errors. More importantly, they don’t necessarily focus on SOPs, but essays, research papers, reports, and so on. Therefore, your tutor may not be able to give you the help you need that’s specific to statements of purpose. Still, a writing centre may be a good place to start as it might be easier for you to share your writing with another student.

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People with university degrees

Anyone who has attended university likely knows the standard of writing and critical thinking expected in academia. Even more, they’ve developed their own critical thinking and writing skills that may be of use to you. Of course, someone who has attended graduate school is a better option than someone who is only an undergraduate because they’ve written successful statements of purpose before.

A downside of asking anyone who’s attended university is that they may not know the specific norms and terminology of the graduate program you’re applying to, so you need to be able to distinguish what feedback is useful and what feedback should be left aside.

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Online forums

You might consider posting your SOP on an online forum, or sending your SOP to individuals you’ve “met” online, who’ve volunteered their time and energy to look over your statement of purpose. I would offer a warning here, since one utility of the internet is that people can be anonymous, can easily lie about their skills and interests, and can easily steal other people’s work. Even so, not everyone is a cheat. I’m sure there are many people out there who would love to offer critical feedback in return for feedback from you too!

SOP review services

Finally, you may consider working with an editor from an SOP review service to get critical feedback on your statement of purpose. Academic editors are valuable because they can offer that second pair of eyes I mentioned earlier, they are unbiased because they don’t know you personally, and because they are skilled in offering feedback about other people’s writing in a kind, understanding, and gentle way. What is more, academic editors can offer critical feedback as they too have reviewed many SOPs beforehand, know the expectations of academia, and have the time and energy to give you the feedback you deserve.

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