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SOP for Computer Science in USA: Guidelines for Top Universities

Komal Yadav Komal Yadav
Study Abroad Expert

Statement of Purpose (SOP) or Letter of Intent is an essay that describes the achievements, motivations, goals, and intentions of students applying for admission into the program. All top universities of the USA offering a degree in computer science require this as a medium of evaluating an applicant’s fit with the program.

SOP for Bachelors in Computer Science in USA

In the majority of the universities of the USA, processing of admission applications for entry into the department of computer science is managed by the undergraduate admission team. Thus, a general undergraduate admission pattern is followed

SOP essays are usually not required for Bachelors in Computer Science in the USA. Instead, short supplementary essay questions are asked demanding simple and short answers of about 100 to 400 words. These answers illuminate the points usually stated in the statement of purpose.

Below is the list of few top US universities offering computer science and the questions asked by them:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Description of self (maximum of 100 words)
  • Department or program of interest and reasons (maximum of 100 words)
  • Outline of activities done during leisure or solely for pleasure purposes (maximum of 250 words)
  • Description of applicant’s contribution to his/her community, family, the classroom, the neighborhood, etc. (maximum of 200-250 words)
  • Description of the most significant challenge faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. Discuss how such a situation was managed. (maximum of 200-250 words)

California Institute of Technology

  • Description of three experiences and/or activities that have helped the applicant develop a passion for a possible career in a STEM field (10 – 120 words range)
  • What does the applicant hope to explore, innovate, or create with peers in schools? (250–400 words)
  • What does an applicant like to do for fun? (250–400 words range)
  • How can the applicant contribute to the diversity of Caltech's community? (250–400 words range)
  • Background description of the applicant; for example, family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How the background shaped his/her dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words range)

Carnegie Mellon University

  • What passion or inspiration drove applicants to choose computer science? (maximum of 300 words)
  • What is the applicant’s definition of successful college experience?
  • What can the applicant emphasize his/her application for the admission committee’s consideration?

Careful examination of the questions above indicates major similarities amongst the schools. Thus, with the knowledge and familiarity of these, students can comfortably answer essay questions from other schools not mentioned above

For favorable admission decisions, these questions are best treated as key SOP questions. The answers the applicants will give to these questions summarizes the caliber of the students and if it doesn't fit into the description of students needed in the program, then such an applicant may not be offered admission.

Tips for Answering SOP Questions for Bachelors in Computer Science in USA

The following are the tips to follow while attempting questions of these kinds:

  • Be honest, open, and authentic
  • Try to be expressive in the simplest way possible.
  • The answers should be correct and factual
  • The answers should not be an appeal for pity.
  • It should be targeted towards showcasing details about an applicant's intellectual background

Applicants should also endeavor to write/add any other additional relevant information in the open-ended additional information text box that may be provided at the end of the page. The importance of this should not be underestimated as it may be instrumental to the decision of the admission team concerning the applicant

SOP for MS in Computer Science in USA

SOP for MS in Computer Science in USA is mostly written in the form of an open-structured essay. It is submitted as part of the supplementary documents required for admission. In a few instances, they are required in a semi structured format. However, no matter the format, it basically follows a similar conventional pattern.

Some guidelines, formats, and requirements stated by the top schools in the US offering postgraduate programs in computer science are outlined below:

Stanford University

Stanford University requires prospective students to submit a maximum of two pages single-spaced SOP with the following key points/features:

  • Be concise, focused, and well-written.
  • Should include:
    • Valid reasons for applying to the computer science program at Stanford University
    • Demonstrated preparations for this field of study
    • Research interests, future career plans, and other aspects

University of California Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley hasn't stated maximum word/page limits for SOP. However, it is recommended that students stick to one to two pages range. University expects answer to following questions in the SOP:

  • Reason for applying for the program
  • Research goals and interests
  • Target goals and objectives to accomplish in the program
  • Future plans and how computer science programs at the University of California will help students achieve that

California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology expects SOPs of prospective computer science students to be written as per following guidelines:

  • Brief statement of his/her scientific and professional interests and objectives.
  • Describe past accomplishments that are not evidently seen during the examination of other documents.
  • Report the progress on any current research in progress (if available)

Note: SOP should be written solely by the applicant in clear and contextual English. The school frown at instances where the SOP are written by the applicants in another language and translated to English by another person or agency

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University requires a concise one or two-page essay that describes the applicant's:

  • Primary areas of interest in research
  • Related experiences
  • Objective of pursuing a graduate degree in computer science at CMU

Cornell University

Cornell University advises students applying for MS in Computer Science program to follow the below-given guidelines in order to write a well-balanced SOP:

  • Due analysis and deep thought so that the essay can be well-expressed.
  • Expression of plans and interests in Computer Science in a concise and clear manner.
  • List of some of the principal reasons that made the applicant consider himself strong, suitable, and fit for the program at Cornell.
  • Information about the faculty (supervisor) whom the applicant might be interested in working with during studies at Cornell.
  • Identification of areas of computer science that are of particular interest to the applicant backed up with an explanation of the reasons.
  • Discuss how the CS MEng program will help you meet your future goals.

Tips for Writing SOP for MS in Computer Science in USA

Applicants are advised to:

  • Take note of specific requirements for SOP from the school
  • Use clear language with correct answers to basic questions void of melodramatic language
  • Focus on college work and avoid winding down to memory lane because it bores the admission team.
  • Prioritize intellectual problems, research questions, findings, and results from their work when discussing previous and on-going researches
  • Create a connection between past/current work to future research plans
  • Express flexibility and openness to new opportunities without misrepresenting your true areas of interest
  • Show SOP drafts to multiple readers including mentors, previous supervisors, lecturers, referees for proof-reading

Note: Some universities require that applicants state the name of a faculty member they may like to work with. In such cases, it is advised to also state the reason for the choice of faculty members and how the applicant could fit in or contribute to the work they are already doing.

Writing an SOP can be challenging at first instance. However, familiarity and knowledge of the basic requirements by the university are essential in keeping applicants on the right footing. With the knowledge and due observation of these facts, writing an SOP and subsequent gain of admission can be a cakewalk.

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