“Bro! I’m applying this year! Write my essays for me, please?! I can’t do all that writing shit.”
Variations of this are what I’ve heard from over 15 of my friends. Every single one of them was convinced that they literally could not write their SOPs without a huge amount of help.
In fact, our country as a whole is so averse to writing its own SOPs, that SOP-writing is a lucrative business. One of my friends in college paid an agency Rs.40,000 to write several for him and then ended up needing me to fix them anyway.
It seems simple enough to me. A statement of purpose is literally you telling the college what you want to study and why, and then just talking about yourself a little. Why is this so hard for everyone?
After talking to the friends that I was helping out, I realised that it’s because...
The High School English Curriculum is Bogus
The ability to take your thoughts and experiences and put them into words comes naturally to some of us. To others, it needs to be taught. But our schools never focus on this.
Granted, English is rarely the language that Indians speak at home with their families. But it’s the language that we have to talk in to the rest of the world in, so you’d think we’d be taught it a little better. Schools teach a subject called English Language, but all I remember learning was an outdated template for ‘formal’ and ‘casual’ letters and the ability to recite Wren & Martin from memory.
So Indians Become Insecure About Their Writing Ability
“You’re just better at this stuff.”
“I need you for your vocabulary.”
That’s what I’m told, even though it’s a known fact that SOPs shouldn’t be written in overly complex language. Carnegie Mellon’s Admissions Essay Handout literally says, “Employers and recruiters who read hundreds of application essays do not want to read documents that look crowded or lengthy.”
“Gonna thesaurus the shit out of this.”
It’s also important to note that all the people I helped speak English fluently. There’s no barrier to their ability to articulate—except, apparently, on paper.
The deeper meaning of this, then, is that they don’t think that they’d be able to write about their own academic and professional aspirations as well as I would. Problematic, much?
The Pressure is Paralysing
“I didn’t know how to answer the questions. They’re too tough.”
That’s what one of my friends said when I asked him why he needed my help to write his SOP.
There are questions, yes. Even if the application doesn’t ask a question outright, there are questions implicit in every SOP. Usually, it’s two why’s, two what’s, and a how.
Here’s what the Stanford website says about graduate SOPs:
So for Stanford, the questions are:
- Why Stanford?
- Why this field of study?
- What have you done in the past, in relation to this field of study?
- What are your career goals?
- How are you going to use your Stanford education to reach those goals?
When I pressed my friend further on why he felt like he couldn’t answer the questions, especially when they’re so to-the-point, he said, “I just couldn’t think under all that pressure. I was stressed out. Every time I pulled up the application, my mind went blank.”
You will never see an Indian 20-something under more pressure than when he or she is applying to college. They’re labouring under the weight of their own ambitions, their parents’ aspirations for them, and the huge amount of money that’s being spent on just the application process.
“Well, what do you expect? Every application costs like a 100 dollars!”
All of this stress can add up, and make it impossible to do anything on your own. So being able to turn to a third person who isn’t as invested, who can go about the whole process calmly because it’s not their entire future on the line, feels like a relief.
Nobody Knows Why They’re Really Applying
“I don’t know… what would you write??”
Ask someone to write about the thing that they’re most passionate about, and watch them do it without a second thought. Even if they aren't ace writers, even if they make the occasional typo, and even if they have a little trouble figuring out which words to use, they'll figure out how to put their thoughts into text somehow if it's something they truly care about.
So why aren’t the people who are applying to colleges abroad able to do the same? Grammar mistakes and typos can be fixed when they give it to someone (like me) to proofread. Why are they unable to get the chunk of the work done, or even get started?
Could it be because that, insecurities about writing skills aside, they don’t even know why they’re applying?
The application question that my friend who was applying for an MBA had the most trouble with was, “Why an MBA, and why this university?”
The question was deviously simple. The answer? Not so much.
So many Indians just do it because they’re told to. It’s the path that was laid out for them since before they were born. Study science, then do engineering, then do a Master’s or an MBA, then make lots of money and settle down. There’s no real interest in the subject. No genuine passion for the field of study.
“What do you mean, ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ Does ‘rich and bored’ count as an answer?”
This is why, despite every single college site telling them to write their own SOPs, 15 of my friends turned to me, a content writer. It’s because I have experience writing about everything from doorknobs to exotic tea like it’s the best thing to have hit the internet since the internet.
They needed someone who was used to writing something convincing, even if she didn’t believe in it.
Because they were having a hard time believing in it themselves.