5 Tips for Writing a Stanford SOP

Stanford campus

Writing the Stanford Statement of Purpose

Red roofs accent the golden buildings positioned neatly around the Stanford University campus. Amid the buildings, newly admitted undergrads and graduate students walk around with vivid “I got into Stanford” expressions.

What does it take to get into a Stanford graduate program? A lot. Stanford admissions requirements can be intimidating, and the current average acceptance rate for graduate programs is only around 7%.

A chief criterion for being admitted to Stanford is the Statement of Purpose. The following are five tips for writing an SOP that will help you get accepted into Stanford.

1) Do a lot of research

A student applying to a Stanford master’s program could submit an interesting, polished SOP, only to have his or her carefully crafted work rejected. Why? The student wasn’t a good match.

It’s important to consider what kind of student a school or program is looking for. Prospective business students shouldn’t just browse through Stanford admission requirements; they should visit the Stanford Graduate School of Business website, read pieces under “recent insights,”  look through the “school news” stories and scrutinize the “programs” page.

Students hoping to attend Stanford Law School graduate programs ought to check out the SLS home page. By understanding the school’s “global initiative” and watching real Stanford students at work in the Law and Policy Lab, prospective grad students can figure out how to tailor themselves to the program.

This is a critical step in the SOP process. Before writing, know what to write.

2) Develop a focus

Drafting the perfect essay might take a lot of time (and a lot of tears), but it will all be worth it when that acceptance letter arrives.

Drafting the perfect essay might take a lot of time (and a lot of tears), but it will all be worth it when that acceptance letter arrives.

Whereas GRE scores and GPA are objective facts about an applicant’s academic history, the Statement of Purpose—while hopefully factual—is largely subjective. SOPs exist to make students reflect and ask themselves, “Why am I a good match for this university?

So what determines a good match? After research comes customization. Students must brainstorm—they must think back to important activities and achievements like events they’ve attended, professors they’ve studied under, projects they’ve learned from, and academic accomplishments for which they’ve been recognized. After jotting down a list of experiences, applicants should find ways to mesh themselves with what Stanford wants.

Potential grad school students must channel their ambition into Stanford’s expectations. Simple questions like “Why am I applying to Stanford?” are likely to arise, and the academic committee and graduate faculty demand ambitious answers. Moreover, simply repeating accomplishments that are on the CV won’t count as “stand out” material. Stanford wants to see the aspirations and interests that drove those successes.

One good way to approach the pre-writing process is to look at some Stanford essays that worked. Each essay conveys the author’s experiences, goals, and especially character well. A good SOP is written with a “voice” that shows determination through specific achievements and plans.

3) Tell sometimes—show often

Some applicants simply tell what happened using a list of facts. Others show what they through compelling language. Consider the following examples and see if you can spot the differences:

I wrote compelling news stories for the new app and increased readership by 10%. In the end, I attracted over 40 thousand Millennial readers.

I changed the way I wrote news stories by using chunks of simple verbal expressions to guide readers through long articles.

For the new app I used chunks of simple verbal expressions to guide readers through long articles; employing this method attracted over 40 thousand millennial readers and significantly increased readership.

The first example is “telling”; the second example is “showing.”  It is more interesting to show, and the academic committee at Stanford will appreciate it. Merging ideas to form “show and tell,” as the author has done in example three, will give your essay both objective facts and compelling descriptions of your achievements.

An important rule to remember is to “show first, tell second.” This means that given the choice, an applicant should show, not tell. The following is another example of “telling”:

I’m ready and willing to take on the challenges of being a graduate student.

Instead, students ought to convey the challenges they’ve faced in their academic or professional life to the academic committee by telling stories. Stories give life to a piece. It is especially important at the beginning of an SOP to “hook” the reader. Starting with a colorless line like “For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed working with machines” won’t earn praise and will bore the admissions officers. Being successfully admitted to the Stanford School of Engineering takes more than that.

4) Check that you have followed all the rules…then check again

Adherence to formatting and content rules is key. Stanford asks that an SOP be no longer than two pages, double-spaced. A prospective student who turns in two-and-a-half page essay will be easier to turn away. A one-page SOP is certainly acceptable, though the academic committee may deem it an insincere effort. It’s better to show as much as possible within the given guidelines.

Concise and correct writing is also paramount. Ideas that are expressed in a clear, well-organized manner will increase an applicant’s chances of getting into Stanford. Furthermore, grammatical or spelling errors are unreasonable in the eyes of the academic committee. An error will likely result in disqualification, as it would indicate that the SOP wasn’t carefully checked. Find out the all the details of Stanford’s SOPs guidelines on their graduate admissions website.

5) Get a second (and third) opinion

A finished SOP may look perfect; however, getting an extra pair of eyeballs never hurts. Another person’s input may lead to questions and addition of details you may have missed. Take a look at the following examples:

At my current job, I collaborate with software engineers to make interfaces for apps.

For the past six months, I’ve collaborated with a small team of software engineers to make three different app interfaces.

Example #2 adds “quantifying” information. Adding quantifying words lends more legitimacy to the claims made in an essay.

Getting advice or opinions from professors is a good idea as well. They can tell you what to add or take out to impress the experts on the school’s committee.

Last but not least, getting expert proofreading from professionally qualified editors is always a good decision before submitting important documents. Wordvice’s Premium Admissions Editing Service is designed specifically for college and university application essays. Our admissions experts not only edit for grammar, spelling, mechanics, and natural flow of communication, but also provide substantive comments on organization, content, transitions, and language. See our Admissions Services page for information on a full range of admissions editing services.

Wordvice Resources

“How to Write a Winning Statement of Purpose”

“Top 4 Common Application Essay Tips”

“All You Need to Know About the Letter of Recommendation”

“Tips for Writing a Strong Personal Statement” 

“Write a Strong MBA Admissions Essay” 

“What All Top-Tier Colleges Are Looking For” 

Additional Resources

“How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School.” 2018


“Statement of Purpose.” https://gradadmissions.stanford.edu/applying/starting-your-application/required-application-documents/statement-purpose

Callan, Eamonn. “What’s a Good Statement of Purpose?” Aug. 2011 https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Statement-of-Purpose.pdf

McCammon, Ellen. “9 Steps to Write a Great Statement of Purpose for Grad School.” 26 Mar. 2017 https://www.prepscholar.com/gre/blog/graduate-school-statement-of-purpose/

Raghavender Rao, Jitta. “11 Tips for Writing a Powerful Statement of Purpose [Sample SOP Included].” 1 Oct. 2017 https://crunchprep.com/gre/2014/powerful-statement-of-purpose