I recently participated in the interviewing process for IIM Bangalore for admissions to their PGDM course. As part of the selection process, the candidates are required to submit a statement of purpose which is reviewed by the interviewer before the interview. I found reading these SOPs a grueling task, as taxing as say, reading legal documentation or technical writing. They were filled with jargon and clichés and were all horribly alike. I subsequently wrote an article to educate MBA aspirants on how to differentiate themselves in front of the interview panel. You can read the article here.

A lot of MBA aspirants have shared their SOPs with me for feedback and so I decided to do some text mining on a set of 50 SOPs to draw some insights for the readers.

Here is a cloud of most commonly used terms in the SOPs. The size and the color of the phrases are indicative of their frequency.

20 most common phrases

20 most common phrases40 most common phrases

100 most common phrases

“Skills” – is a term that would be expected to be used fairly often. No surprise here. It is interesting to note that “interpersonal” and “management” skills are most used, followed by “analytical” and “leadership” skills. Think of some of the most clichéd sentences using these terms and you will get the idea of what I am saying.

There is a strong emphasis on academics, business and management. Again no surprises here.

Often times, the results of analyses are important not for what they show but for what they don’t show. This is one of those cases.

Words like “creative”, “innovative”, “entrepreneurship” do not come in this list at all. No one is talking about these qualities when they are so crucial to be successful.

The words ”start-up”, “venture” or “own business” do not figure anywhere at all. A similar analysis on data from a US university will surely have some of these terms at the top.

While “extra curricular activities” figure prominently in the list “sports” is absent. Cricket is completely absent but “basketball” does make it to the list.

Another fact for you to consider – Every third SOP started with a quote. Do you still think this will be your differentiating factor?

One redeeming feature of this analysis – the word “global” and any of its variants do not come in the list. Thank God for that.

One very ‘Indian’ observation – the frequency of the phrase “middle class family”. We are all proud to be part of the Great Indian middle class family. “I come from a middle class family” is one of the most commonly used starting lines.

I hope this gives the reader an idea of what everyone is writing in their SOPs and consequently what to avoid while writing your own.

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