Common Mistakes to Avoid While Writing an SOP or Application Essay


Sristy Sharma
Updated on Jun 08, 2023 12:46 PM IST

SOPs and application essays are an important part of any application process. 'What exactly makes a perfect essay or SOP?' knowing what to do isn't always enough. In this guide, you will learn some of the common mistakes that you must avoid while writing SOPs and application essays to get accepted into your dream college.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Writing an SOP or Application Essay

While applying for admission to universities abroad, you need to make sure that each document is crafted well based on its respective structure and format. Hence, it is of the foremost importance that you avoid common mistakes in application essays or SOPs for whichever academic course you are applying for.

When applying for admission to an educational institution abroad for any level of study, you must provide an essay called the Statement of Purpose (SOP) or Personal Statement. This comprehensive statement, which typically ranges from 500 to 1,000 words, describes your academic and professional accomplishments, your goals, and the role the institution will play in assisting you in achieving them. It also serves as one of the foundations of a strong application.

In essence, the SOP is what a cover letter would be for a job application or simply a student version of a cover letter. Your SOP and the standardised exam scores will be considered by the Admissions Committee (AdCom) when determining whether to offer you a seat on a degree programme. No need to worry then! 

You should not panic, though, because there are techniques to make it simpler, just like with any seemingly difficult work. In this article, we will discuss the common mistakes to avoid while writing an SOP or application essay in detail and ways to avoid them.

What is an SOP?

There are only a limited number of seats available in any particular college or university, even if there is a provision for multiple batches and affiliated colleges. While the academic performance certificates and other transcripts might help you to rise to a better level in comparison to other candidates, it would be foolish to assume that many others would not have strong profiles to present against you. There is also a factor of desired college and it is important that you get admission in the same so that you can truly enjoy your education. In this regard, it is the SOP which helps in finalising the deal.

An SOP is a type of application essay which is provided by a candidate in support of their application along with the academic proofs and other documents during the application process. The essay conveys an applicant's purpose of applying to a particular school and course with the help of previous academic background, current interests and pursuits in the field, and eventual goals and mission after completing the course. In simple words, while academic transcripts and other certifications determine your performance capacity, SOP determines your intentions and dedication to achieve the performance.

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Difference Between Other Application Essays and SOP

You might have heard of different terms for SOPs, such as Motivation Essay, Addendum, Personal Statement, etc., and must be wondering about what is the difference between all these essays and how are they different from SOP.

All these names, including SOP, are simply different names for an application essay required by universities abroad. They are vital documents and all play ultimately the same role in the profile evaluation of an international applicant. However, you are not asked to submit all of these documents by any university. Only one of these is required.

In most cases, institutions specifically mention the documents required in an application process, and it is possible that they might mention two types of application essays. In such cases, the universities or colleges would provide you with essay prompts or topics that would need to work on. There is generally a word limit specified for such essays.

For instance, if an institution asks for SOP and Personal Statement, then the admission panel wants you to provide some personal background information in the Personal Statement and your reason to choose the institution and future goals in your SOP.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Writing an SOP

Guidance is available on how to write an SOP and which are the points that must be included. However, it takes a lot of primary and secondary drafts before arriving at the final one. Let us learn what to avoid, or what not to do.

We bring to you the most common mistakes which candidates make in writing an SOP or any application essay. You can refer to this guide and ensure that you do not commit these mistakes and be more confident in your final application.

Ignoring the Format

There is a certain format of application essays which must be properly followed. The format when disturbed often creates a disturbance in the flow of the essay and leads to the overall effect being punctured. For example, it is recommended by the format that academic performance must be mentioned before co-curricular achievements. If they are interchanged then the overall message can be interpreted as the candidate being less academically inclined or having comparatively less achievement in academics. This does not speak well especially when an application is being made for technical courses.

Not Filtering the Irrelevant Information

There might be a lot of information that you might desire to convey, and often it is seen that candidates resort to putting each and every achievement of theirs in the SOP, which is an absolutely wrong approach. Your requirement is to ensure your acceptance for the course and you must only use the information which is related to the course and may help and support your cause. For example, even if your science project was placed first in your matriculation, it is better to not mention it as an academic achievement when applying for a course in Historical Studies.

Oversharing Personal Story

It is seen that while establishing a personal touch in an application essay, candidates over-indulge in personal information. Personal Profiling must be kept to a minimum and only to serve as support and impactful information. Universities are comparatively more interested in what you can and intend to do with the course.

It is an added benefit if you are pursuing a course in an area which also serves as your family’s background. Yet a single impactful recognition of fact shall be a better course, in comparison to talking about it for a whole paragraph. 

Similarly, childhood hobbies and matters must not be discussed for too long or too often. Their mention must be limited to once or twice and in a manner that they provide a base for further development of information.

Language and Grammar Errors

Since an application essay is being conveyed from your perspective it must follow a narrative of a story, however, it must be seen that this implication is limited and not overdone. Too much focus on narrative style leads to necessary information getting cut and limited in favour of literary impressions.

The language of the SOP must not be informal and filled with slang on the common man’s tongue. Moreover, in a formal format the language must not be too heavy, a simple yet professional language is enough to create a positive impression.

The type of course which is being applied must dictate the use of technical language and even that must not be overdone. 

The tense of the essay must relate to your perception of time in the present. In case multiple essays are to be filed, their purpose shall dictate the tense in an application. 

Adoption of a Negative Approach

In any case, focus on talking about your relationship with the institution and what you desire to make out of course in the long run. Mention of third party is not recommended and so is any negative representation of any institution or home country. It does not leave a good impression of the candidate at all. It is better to focus on ‘Why do you choose what you’re applying for?’ and not ‘Why are you not choosing other options?’

Length of Application Essay

The length of the application essay must be kept to a range of 700 to 900 words, with a provision of about 10% to 15% more or less. An application essay of fewer than 600 words is often too short to properly convey the purpose and overloaded with unnecessary details when over 1000 words. In the former case, the panel might feel a lack of purpose and about the latter as time-consuming.

Over-Statement and Non-Clarity

It is one of the most common problems in any application essay. In a bid to ensure an impactful impression, you might feel a need to exaggerate your achievement and over-polish them for their material effect. However, it must be remembered that all those achievements are evidenced through the certificates and academic transcripts you have attached. Your aim is to justify their impact and matter in motivating and leading you to apply for the course.

This over-exaggeration also leads to the unclear application as it is more apparent that you are boasting of your past achievements and unclear of what you desire in future from the course. This speaks more about your misunderstanding of the purpose of the application essay and therefore must be absolutely avoided.

Co-Curricular and Social Activities Presentation

While the two spectrums form an important part of SOP, they must be conveyed in moderation and following academic achievements. For the purpose of Social and Ethical nerve, the sentence formation must be relied upon and for co-curricular activities, a diverse yet focused approach must be taken. Do not indulge in sports and arts in a single statement, but take the help of about four to five sentences and convey the achievements in a cascading manner, preferably moving from athletics to social and eventually finer skills and hobbies.

Justification of Academic Performance

The impact of achievements is included among the purpose and aims of an SOP, yet they must not be justified for their quantitative effectiveness. Higher scores are good but as far as your academic transcripts are fulfilling the eligibility criteria, it is enough. Their justification will only rob you of words in your already limited word range. On the other hand, the over-pressuring of impressive academic achievements is also futile, if SOP is impactful they will do their work anyhow. So it is better to avoid the practice.

Not Giving Enough Time Writing

Writing an SOP or any application essay is by no means an easy task, however, delaying the act for long shall not only lead to a sloppy attempt but also create a risk of missing the deadline. It is better to give proper time to the writing and editing process so that the end result could be favourable. Moreover, it shall also allow you to submit an application early as it is definitely not recommended to wait for the deadline.

Ignoring Editing and Proofreading

It is better to re-read, edit, and proofread your SOP or application essay at least twice after every draft. Often this exercise is seen as a burden and ignored but such a practice is harmful to candidates only. The editing and proofreading process helps in finding minor mistakes which the grammar and language-checking tools are unable to detect. The impact of a statement, relevancy of information, format fallacies, etc. can only be discovered in this process.

As you can see, SOP and application essays truly have the power to decide whether you will get accepted into your dream institution or not, despite your past academic performance. It therefore becomes extremely important that rather than experimenting with the document on your own you seek the guidance of professionals. 

If you are still confused about what to include and what not to incorporate in your application essay or SOP for your desired university abroad, then reach out to us at for clarification!

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What are the most common mistakes in SOP that should be avoided?

Some of the most common mistakes in SOP that should be avoided at any cost are starting with a vague introduction as well as ending with a weak conclusion and submitting it without proofreading. Other mistakes which should be avoided include dwelling too much on your backlogs or low GPAs, using informal language and slang, exceeding the word limit, using flattery words, working on the SOP at the last minute, and so on.

What mistakes should be avoided in academic writing?

The mistakes that should be avoided in academic writing are almost identical to the ones that should be avoided while writing an SOP or application essay for universities abroad. These include making generalisations or exaggerations, addressing the reader directly or using personal pronouns, incorporating inappropriate fonts or text colours, using informal or colloquial language, and more.

What are the common mistakes that lead to the rejection of an SOP or application essay?

There are mainly two common mistakes that lead to the rejection of an SOP or application essay. The first one is lying or providing false application documents and the second one is plagiarism or simply copying your SOP or other application essay from the internet. You must present documents for all the things you have done, from your academic achievements to your extracurricular activities, because the admissions committee wants you to provide data that is entirely accurate. Further, copies or plagiarism in documents can result in immediate rejection from foreign universities and permanent blacklisting of the applicant's name.

Is it okay to exceed the word limit while writing an SOP?

No, it is not okay to exceed the word limit while writing an SOP at any cost, especially if the word count limit is provided by your university. When drafting your SOP, stay within your word count to avoid making it tough to read and comprehend for the admission panel. Assemble your points in the fewest words as you can by trying to be concise and picking your phrases carefully. 

Should I mention low GPAs and backlogs in my SOP or application essay?

No, you should not mention low GPAs and backlogs in your SOP or application essay. In any of the application materials, including the SOP, you should refrain from disclosing any poor grades or personal flaws. Almost no universities will inquire about your gap year. If you have critical circumstances, such as severe illness, that might ameliorate your tardies or poor marks, only mention them. Instead of trying to rationalise or find an explanation for your bad performance, show that you are prepared to work more efficiently in the future.

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