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Unsure about Content of Statement of Purpose

  1. Nov 22, 2014 #1
    Hi everyone. I recently finished a first draft for a statement of purpose for CalTech (I know, I know - I figured it would be the first one I draft - I have others I will be modelling off of this one soon enough), and I have a few (well, maybe more than a few) concerns about how I wrote it and about the content. Really, I am just not sure exactly how this should be written, and I would like advice from those who have written strong SOPs (and ideally gotten into their school of choice!). Just for reference, I got an 820 on my physics GRE (at least - I get my second score back tomorrow) and I have a 4.0 GPA, but I am from Arizona State University, which is not a "top-tier" school for most purposes.

    So, my concerns:
    - Did I talk too much about myself in a way unrelated to the school? I.e. should I have tried to match myself to CalTech more?
    - I didn't mention any incredibly specific topics that I am interested in studying. Clearly, from the SOP, you can tell that I am interesting in general relativity, cosmology, and quantum gravity - should I be more or less specific about these fields? I know they are particularly common interests.
    - My mention about my mathematical background seems out of place, but I also feel it is necessary for the admissions committee to know that I have a broad background there. Should I shorten it? Lengthen it?
    - Were my research descriptions too detailed or not detailed enough?

    Anything else that jumps out to you but isn't obvious to me would be super awesome, too. Thanks a million guys!

    Here's the SOP:

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 22, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think your best bet might to run it by some of your professors and see what they think.

    Personally, I thought it was well written and you didn't overemphasize yourself. Perhaps the only impediment will be coming from a second tier school and thus losing out to students with equivalent credentials from a first tier school. The fact that you've done papers and worked at CERN is a definite plus.

    Graduate schools choose students to match the research that they are actively doing. It's a lot like hiring a job candidate so you need to somehow market yourself by emphasizing your strengths that you think they might like the most which is hard to do.

    Can you get connections in the department at the university? Do any of your profs know profs who work there? Can you forward your paper for review separately from your application and get recommendations or advice from them on your it could give you name recognition and make you known to the committee.
  4. Nov 22, 2014 #3
    I plan on running it by some profs as well - figured I would get your opinions as well though!

    I was afraid that coming from ASU would hinder me, but that's what I get, I suppose, for not doing extracurriculars in high school. Anyway, I'm really not sure if any of the profs I know here know any profs at ASU. I'll definitely have to ask around though. And what do you mean about forwarding my paper for review separately from my application? Like submit it to a professor there? It wasn't really peer-reviewed journal material - it was more of a technical manual. It was submitted to the Fermilab library though, if that counts for anything.
  5. Nov 22, 2014 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I was thinking of somehow networking outside the normal graduate admissions process like get to know a prof there that can give you advice on how best to apply.

    In order to start the conversation, you could be introduced by one of your profs or you could email them about their research with questions you may have showing some interest in it or you could target a prof that might have an interest in what you did and ask them to critique your paper, once you get a dialog going then you might be able to visit and talk witht the prof, get a sense of the place and get noticed.

    In other words, just like applying to a job you have to go the extra mile to get to the front of the queue.
  6. Nov 23, 2014 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    I found "I was personally responsible for providing a deep understanding of the physics involved in the secondary beam system" quite off-putting. It comes across as "those shallow-thinking dimwits and stumblebums I collaborate with come to me - ME! - when there is anything complicated that needs to be done with beamlines". Worse, it doesn't even say what that deep understanding is.

    There are applicants who think they are God's gift to physics, and they will happily enlighten the poor faculty if only they are admitted. You don't want the committee to think "not another one of those". I would definitely rewrite that.
  7. Nov 23, 2014 #6
    I was afraid I was coming off that way. Thanks for point that out!
  8. Nov 23, 2014 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    I missed that. Perhaps if you say:

    I was given the responsibility for...

    And was then sent to FermiLab to supervise the integration of part X into system Y...

    I learned a great deal about the internal operation of ...

    Now in a job application you might to toot your own horn since the HR people need to be impressed enough to forward your application to the hiring manager...

    Ah, the hurdles we must jump over and the hoops we must jump through to get where we're going...
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