What Is a Statement of Purpose and Why Is It Important?

A photo of two students taking tests and a bubble test.

When applying to study abroad, one of the most important pieces of a strong postsecondary application is your statement of purpose (SOP). Writing the perfect SOP might seem daunting, but don’t worry: we’re here to help. Below, we’ll go over the meaning of a statement of purpose, the basic structure of a statement of purpose, and highlight ways you can make yours stand out. Remember, the most challenging part of writing an SOP is often getting started.

Curious about other study abroad application pieces? Ace your application with our deep-dive series on resume tips, proof of financial support, transcripts, and study gap statements.

What is a Statement of Purpose?

Let’s dive into the meaning of a statement of purpose. Essentially, it’s a short essay that highlights your educational background, achievements, and goals. It’s also where you should share why you’d like to study your desired program at the university or college of your choice.

A strong statement of purpose means you can stand out among the many applications schools receive. Plus, it helps distinguish you from your grades (because you’re more than just your GPA)! Use your SOP to highlight your extracurricular achievements and enthusiasm for studying at a specific college or university. It gives the institution a look at your personality and helps determine if you’re a good fit for the campus culture. It can also be a creative way to showcase your writing skills.

Ultimately, a statement of purpose is an important piece in the application puzzle because it can impact whether you receive a Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from the institutions you apply to. Whether you need to know how to write a statement of purpose for grad school, or for your first degree or diploma, approaching your SOP thoughtfully is crucial no matter what.

After you receive your Letter of Acceptance, what’s next? Find out in our Pre-Departure Guide for International Students.

A smiling young man gives a thumbs-up to someone facing away from the camera. They're in a bright office or library, as there is a bookshelf behind him.

Two Important Rules for Your Statement of Purpose

Steer Clear of Plagiarism

Write your statement of purpose in your own words. This means that it needs to be written by you and only you. Don’t copy anything from external sites, general templates, or a statement written by someone else (not even ChatGPT).

Using any of these shortcuts is considered plagiarism, which is a serious academic offence. To avoid writing a statement of purpose that is generic or plagiarized, focus on highlighting ambitions and goals that are uniquely yours. Remember, the school wants to see what makes you stand out! Nobody can tell your story better than you can.

Keep Things Clear and Follow Instructions

The admissions team will be reading hundreds of applications, so details count. Your statement of purpose should be concise and use clear language with proper grammar.

Schools will provide guidelines for the length of your SOP. In most cases, it’s no more than one page long. They’ll also include guidelines for the SOP’s word count, spacing, and structure. It’s important to follow these guidelines, as it demonstrates to the institution that you can follow instructions and pay attention to detail.

To polish up your application, use strategies from our International Application Tips for Canadian and American Schools blog.

Two women talk while seated at a table beside an open laptop

What Should I Write in My Statement of Purpose?

We recommend customizing every statement of purpose to each program you apply to. Sending a generalized statement of purpose can actually hurt your chances of acceptance, as it can be perceived as a lack of care. So, while you’ll adapt your SOP each time, most institutions will ask you to answer at least some of the questions below.

Paragraph 1: What’s Your Story?

In your opening paragraph, give a brief introduction of who you are. Then, talk about which program you’re applying to, and your desired intake date. Next, give a brief summary of what you’ll talk about in your Statement of Purpose. (It’s a lot like writing an introductory paragraph for high school essays.)

Paragraph 2: What Inspires You?

In the second paragraph, focus on what motivated you to pursue the program you’re interested in. Perhaps you were inspired by your parents’ medical careers, and want to follow in their footsteps. Or, did a school trip to a museum with an enthusiastic teacher inspire you to study archaeology?

Whatever your reason, make sure it’s unique to your personal experience and relevant to your program!

Paragraph 3: What Can You Bring to The Table?

This is where you can write about past experiences related to your desired field of study. Include any extracurricular activities, work experience, sports teams, or clubs that can enhance your studies.

You don’t need to mention every single accomplishment. Instead, choose experiences that you believe are relevant, then discuss what skills you earned from that experience, and how these skills make you a great candidate. For instance, if you were interested in entering an Early Childhood Education program, highlight previous experience you had working with children, like being a summer camp counsellor, and how it helped you learn skills such as management and event coordination.

Paragraph 4: Why Do You Want to Study Here?

In this statement of purpose section, look for meaning. Discuss why you chose that particular institution and what you value about it. Does it have a renowned engineering program, with a strong reputation for field research? Does the campus have amazing facilities and studios for the fine arts program you’re applying to? Speaking clearly about why you care about applying to this institution demonstrates your knowledge of its history, reputation, resources, and global impact.

Additionally, as a potential international student, discuss why you want to study in that particular country. For instance, do you want to study in Canada because of its multicultural demographic, and to practice English or French language skills? An international education also exposes you to a new culture and way of life, providing a wealth of learning opportunities that go beyond academics, so be sure to include these reasons in your statement of purpose.

Paragraph 5: What Are Your Next Steps?

In the last paragraph of your statement of purpose, discuss what you hope to achieve with this degree. This is where you outline your next steps and what you plan to take away from this study experience.

Talk about your intended career path, or if you plan to pursue further education. Do you plan on returning to your home country to bring back what you have learned, or do you wish to work internationally? The university wants to know how completing their degree will help your future goals and plan of action.

In the closing sentence, thank the admissions officers for taking the time to review your application. Showcase your enthusiasm and excitement for a new chapter in your life!

A man and a woman look at a computer monitor; the man's hand is up as if he's showing her something on the screen.

Once you’ve finished writing your statement of purpose, proofread it to catch any errors. We also recommend reading your SOP out loud. You’ll pick up on different things than you would when you read it silently (bonus points if you read it to a friend, family member, or school counsellor, who can also provide feedback). Once you’re ready, add your SOP to the rest of your documents and submit them.

By following this outline, understanding the meaning of a statement of purpose, and starting your own should feel less intimidating and more motivating. You’ve got this!

Starting your study abroad journey? Find programs that match your goals on the ApplyBoard Platform.


The most important stories in international education, backed by data