How to Write the Human Computer Interaction SOP: Sample + Guide

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Table of Contents

  1. What do top programs look for in a Human Computer Interaction SOP?
  2. A Brilliant Sample Human Computer Interaction SOP
  3. What Can You Learn from this SOP?

The Human Computer Interaction SOP is a unique monster. It’s quite different from the essays written for standard MSCS programs, isn’t it?

Why is this?

For one, HCI applicants come from a startling range of academic backgrounds. Some are current CS undergrads. Some are software developers with a few years of professional experience. Others, like the rockstar applicant you’ll meet below, are making a huge career switch.

At the same time, Human Computer Interaction itself is a wonderfully interdisciplinary field. You might want to study assistive technology to help visually impaired people go grocery shopping. You might, like my man Ray, research how virtual reality can tap into the brain and enrich human senses. Or, you might build messaging platforms to communicate with astronauts on Mars. (True story!)

Luckily, describing your unique approach to HCI isn’t difficult. By following the universal lessons of rhetoric and writing structure, you too can engineer a blindingly intelligent essay. You too can write a Human Computer Interaction SOP that makes grad schools eager to admit you…maybe even the best grad schools…exactly like my friend Andrea did.

Let’s meet Andrea, read her SOP, and see what you can learn from her example!

What do top programs look for in a Human Computer Interaction SOP?

In the 2021-22 admissions cycle, Andrea applied to 4 of the top-5 HCI master’s programs in the world…and she was admitted to them all.

What made her so special? Let’s look at her stats:

  • Undergrad: Architecture major at a top-50 US university (with multiple design awards)
  • GPA: A sturdy 3.7
  • Research Experience: Required undergrad independent study on construction technology
  • Professional Experience: 2 years in architecture
  • Tech Skills: CSS/HTML, Javascript, SQL, and various design platforms (Rhino 3D, AutoCAD, etc.)

On paper, Andrea looks…well…fairly normal, yeah? Some folks may say she even looks weak (considering the competition and how a lot of high school students could beat her programming skills). But paper stats don’t tell the story, do they?

No, your statement of purpose tells the story.

And Andrea’s statement of purpose was magnificent. Let’s read it, analyze what makes it so great, then learn how you can follow the exact same steps Andrea did to produce this fantastic essay.

A Brilliant Sample Human Computer Interaction SOP

On a hot summer afternoon at a South Gotham pier, I watched thousands of people interact with computers. Ninety-six poles emitted light and sound, and visitors touch-activated symphonic waves, gasping at the semblant magic of it all. Exhausted from weeks of design, fabrication, and installation with my team, I observed these crowds with their frenzy of languages but matching reactions of wonder. Though it was my job, I could not help asking: Why does this union of design and technology work so seamlessly to evoke seemingly universal happiness? Or, working backward, how do differences in our abilities, experiences, identity, or culture change the way we interact with the world?

The potential of design and psychology to create productive commonality — this is why I want to study in the Masters of Human-Computer Interaction program at Gotham University. As a trained architect, I see great potential in the field of HCI to shrink the scale of my previous work in public spaces in Gotham, New York, Miami, and Sydney — to make it more user-focused while expanding it to be more human-centric. The MHCI program will provide me with the resources to accomplish this, approaching both physical and digital design challenges that integrate psychological components unapproachable through architecture.

The curriculum’s emphasis on technical skills is particularly important to me; it will build my capacity to translate ideas into workable prototypes. Special Topics courses will teach me how to conduct user research and identify opportunities where machine learning can add value. AI Product and Service Design, taught by Professor Lucius Fox, perfectly embodies this approach. It asks how designers can meet users’ needs, while building purposefully inclusive AI that does not betray users’ trust or ethics. Furthermore, Dr. Selina Kyle’s work in accessibility demonstrates how systems can be leveraged to equalize opportunities for marginalized populations; as my own father is partially blind and deaf, this topic is especially important to me. I would be eager to work with Dr. Kyle on research that explores assistive technology, and thus develop skills in ergonomic design for dynamically adaptive devices.

Furthermore, the MHCI capstone will be a paramount opportunity for me to collaborate in applying human-centric values across the product development lifecycle. I hope to work with a sponsor such as Daggett Digital or Riddle Labs, exploring HCI applications that I have not yet approached in my architectural and design career. Hopefully, this experience will prepare me to work, post-graduation, at firms such as Turtle Design or YEO, the latter of whose Dusk platform exemplifies the type of digital/physical solutions I hope to build in my career.

Studying architecture at Metropolis University proved valuable in learning problem-solving through design-thinking. I studied how physical space can shape opportunities for user interactions, and through intensive studios, learned to design at different scales. In one particular course of note, Design Operations and Tactics with Professor Barbara Gordon, I explored how embedded technologies provide a framework for improvisation between people and the urban environment. Utilizing architecture as a technological interface, and analyzing concepts such as ubiquitous computing and calm technology, I obtained my first introduction to the world of HCI. Furthermore, in my senior year research developing large-scale 3D printing technologies for construction, my partner and I incorporated a diversity of uses into our building design. Under the advisory of Prof. Viktor Fries, we were selected to present at a TEDxMetro U event, where we engaged with academic and industry professionals who offered critical feedback, strengthening the project and demonstrating the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

As a designer at WayneLab, I have traveled to four continents to build unique large-scale interactive pieces that shape experiences through technology, color, space, and materiality. When designing for a project, I am cognizant of the various user groups along the lifespan of the project: the fabrication specialists, the construction team, and the audience. Using Rhino 3D, I developed a frame-support system for computationally-derived hanging art pieces that has been adapted for suspended sculptures in Sydney, Philadelphia, and Boston. I was the installation project manager in Australia, where I oversaw international transportation, facilitated installation logistics, and managed construction. Aware that every stage of a project is essential for optimizing user experience, my studies in the MHCI program will maintain a conscientious intention when investigating both big-picture ideas and smaller mechanical processes.

Much like the glinting lights of my installation on that Gotham City pier, technology and design offer the opportunity for interactions and connections beyond language barriers, geographical limitations, (dis)capacities, and identity politics. Now, by studying user research methods, cognitive processes, and human-centric design approaches in the MHCI program at Gotham, I will seek to evolve as a product designer who can diversify designs to be more accessible, user-friendly, and adaptable for all people.

What Can You Learn from this SOP?

  1. A Fantastic Catalyst Moment

WriteIvy students know the “Frame Narrative Introduction” is your first and best opportunity to capture the admissions reader’s interest. Andrea did this in only 3 sentences…and man, are they beautiful! Andrea is clearly a talented writer. But, there’s something else going on here.

When brainstorming a good “catalyst moment” for the intro, many students have trouble. They want to write about a magical lightbulb moment. They want to write about a fancy project that reveals the entire breadth of their skills. But what did Andrea write about?

A normal day on the job. Her catalyst moment doesn’t reveal her skills. It doesn’t make her seem like an elite student. Instead, it makes her seem like someone who is deeply curious about  “this union of design and technology.” The goal of this introduction isn’t to show how amazing a student she is. The goal is to introduce the unique intellectual questions and problems she hopes to solve.

The Lesson: In the first paragraph(s) of your SOP, tell a brief story that introduces your purpose: the questions and problems you want to solve, and which, presumably, you need a graduate school to teach you how to solve.

  1. A Strong “Sentence of Purpose”

Every essay needs a thesis statement — your Human Computer Interaction SOP is absolutely no different. Only this thesis statement (your “Sentence of Purpose”) must tell the reader exactly what you hope to accomplish in your master’s program.

Andrea’s Sentence of Purpose is clear:

“[I hope] to make [my previous work in architecture] more user-focused while expanding it to be more human-centric. The MHCI program will provide me with the resources to accomplish this, approaching both physical and digital design challenges that integrate psychological components unapproachable through architecture.”

The Lesson: Boldly declare your purpose! Place it at the end of your introduction. If you’re unsure how, this article should make things clear.

  1. Link Department Resources to Your Future Goals

Throughout the essay’s “Why This Program” section (paragraphs 3 and 4), Andrea lists all the cool resources she intends to use in her master’s degree: specific classes, specific professors, etc. But she doesn’t just list these things…she explains WHY they matter.

Whether it’s conducting user research or contributing to a professor’s lab, everything connects to her goal: “building purposefully inclusive AI that does not betray users’ trust or ethics.” In the entire section, there’s not a single thing that’s not related to that overarching goal.

The Lesson: As you write your “Why This Program” section, make it 100% clear and explicit how each class, professor, or research opportunity will prepare you to achieve your goals. You’re giving them a “study plan” so they’ll know exactly what you’ll do in the program, but you’re also explaining WHY you need to follow this plan. (The exercises in the SOP Starter Kit will help you figure out what to write!)

  1. Crystal Clear “Career Goals Statement”

In this article, I’ve taught you why it’s important to show grad programs that you have specific career plans. It only convinces them you’re more mature and professional than other applicants who haven’t thought that far ahead.

Andrea followed the exact template in that article! Thus, all those fancy top-5 schools knew exactly what Andrea is going to accomplish in the future, and they wanted to get on-board that train:

“Hopefully, this experience will prepare me to work, post-graduation, at firms such as Turtle Design or YEO, the latter of whose Dusk platform exemplifies the type of digital/physical solutions I hope to build in my career.”

The Lesson: You’re at Point A. Your career goal…that’s Point B. You need a master’s program to carry you from Point A to Point B, but how can you convince the university to carry you without articulating what Point B actually is? Tell them…clearly.

  1. Close the Frame

The storytelling intro, the catalyst moment…we call these a “frame narrative introduction.” It’s a nuanced writing structure that makes your SOP far more compelling than the typical, boring essay. But, to make this structure work, you have to “close the frame” that you opened in the intro.

Remember how Andrea started her essay by describing those ninety-six poles emitting light and sound on a hot South Gotham pier? Well, her conclusion paragraph closes the frame by reminding us of that image:

“Much like the glinting lights of my installation on that Gotham City pier, technology and design offer the opportunity for interactions and connections beyond language barriers, geographical limitations, (dis)capacities, and identity politics.”

The Lesson: By reminding the reader where you started, you give your essay a sense of completion, a magical wholeness, a kind of harmony that makes you seem like a truly remarkable writer. Think this is a gimmick? Au contraire. Check out this robotics student who used the exact same tactic, in the exact same way, to earn admission to 7 of the top-12 programs in the world (as well as a couple top-5 master’s programs).

Conclusion on Writing Your Human Computer Interaction SOP

HCI is not Computer Science. Well, not exactly. It’s a wonderfully interdisciplinary field that attracts students with unique, nuanced goals (and even those like Andrea who come from completely different careers). To prove you’re among the best of these students, you need to write an SOP that shows how you’ll get from Point A to Point B (with your Dream University’s help). You also need to immediately stand out by writing with purpose, style, and heart.

Follow Andrea’s magnificent example:

  1. Start your SOP with a “catalyst moment” that introduces your own unique approach to HCI. Help the reader see who you are as a person. Help them understand WHY you hope to design and guide the future of human and technology interactions.
  2. End your introduction paragraphs with a bold “sentence of purpose” that declares what you’ll study in your master’s program. This is the thesis for your entire candidacy and career. Make it clear!
  3. Link your Dream University’s resources to your future goals. Every class you want to take, every professor you hope to work with, each of these needs to reflect your unique goals. If you want to study international localization for AR platforms, it wouldn’t make such sense to say you want to take a class in ergonomic hardware design.
  4. Write a clear “Career Goals Statement” so your Dream University knows exactly what kind of jobs you’ll pursue after graduation. Trust me — most students don’t think this far ahead, but the very best ones all do.
  5. “Close the Frame” in your conclusion paragraph by referring back to the catalyst moment you described in your Frame Narrative Introduction. Remind us where your journey started — it will make you seem like a better writer, and that makes you seem like a better thinker.

I’m incredibly grateful to Andrea for allowing me to publish her SOP. She did beautiful work, and for this, she was rewarded spectacularly. Now, I hope she’ll serve as an inspiration for you to go out and make your own impact in the exciting world of human computer interaction.

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Want to follow the exact same writing strategy Andrea used her in her SOP?

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