Would you believe you can hire an SOP writer on Fiverr for only $20? Or that there are over 4 million hits if you Google ghostwriting services for your essays? Really, it’s astounding how many people are willing to submit applications they didn’t write. Obviously, there’s an ethical problem with this industry.
But, I get it.
I know how stressful and time-consuming the graduate application process is. How great would it be if you could just wave a magic wand and produce the perfect SOP that enchants professors and gets you admitted? It’s a nice thought, right?
Tough luck. This magic wand doesn’t exist.
In fact, letting someone else write your SOP will have the exact opposite effect – it utterly negates your chances of admission to elite universities.
Good applicants know this already. They know that when you let someone else dictate the intellectual content of your essays, you get an SOP that’s as stale as a week-old cookie. You get rejections. And when you have to apply again next year, you waste time in the long run.
In this blog post, I’ll explain why. I’ll also describe the luminous quality that all truly brilliant applicants have, and why no one but you can write the essay that gets you admitted.
Professional SOP Writers Get Awful Results
For Western students, it may seem astonishing to hear that huge numbers of international applicants hire “agencies” to manage the process for them. It’s incredibly commonplace. It’s also understandable, and not entirely unethical. International students have to navigate foreign languages, visa interviews, proof of finances, and transcript evaluation services. It’s significantly harder for internationals. A good advisor can help.
These companies use sleek advertising. Some are giant, like Wall Street firms. Others are lower key. They’re simply hired guns who promise a “suitable” SOP that will save students time and effort. “You just need the minimum to get accepted,” they promise.
But here’s the dirty secret:
These canned essays never earn admissions to respectable, R1 universities.
Every spring, I do dozens of free SOP reviews on Reddit. Many are for students who’ve gotten unfortunately bad results. “I got rejected by 10/10 schools,” they write. “Can someone tell me why?”
It’s uncanny how many of these applicants hired a “professional” SOP writer to do the work for them. It’s even more uncanny how all of them send essays that stink like tinned sardines.
I’ll give it to them though: some of these “professionals” are incredibly sophisticated. Since many schools use AI to detect plagiarism, ghostwriting companies often pay services like Turnitin to pre-check their canned essays and ensure that they don’t get caught. What a great scam!
Of course, not all “agencies” and counselors are scams. There are many who, like me, offer intense tutoring and editorial services. They try to help their applicants become all-around better students, writers, and thinkers. They operate with integrity and a moral compass, because it’s both the right thing to do, and because it always generates better results.
But that begs the question: when you hire someone else to write your essays for you, why does it never seem to work?
Why Do They Get Awful Results?
It’s easy to say that a ghostwriter can never know you as well as you know yourself. But that’s a cliché, and it’s not the real problem. The real problem is that a ghostwriter can never understand the high-level intellectual ideas that light up the best graduate SOPs.
If you’re a bioengineer, your SOP is a conversation between you and a bioengineering professor. If I, a humble creative writing teacher, were to converse with a committee of bioengineering professors, they’d know within seconds that I’m utterly clueless about what they teach. It doesn’t matter how beautiful my language, I’ll never sound like a bioengineer.
Worse: if I can’t say anything remotely intelligent about bioengineering, and I still claim that I’m eager to study bioengineering in grad school, they’ll just smile politely, nod their head, and think: “This guy is insane.”
This is what happens when applicants let “professional writers” produce their SOP from scratch. This isn’t someone who understands biomaterials, drug delivery, and translational medicine. They can’t write anything that reflects the wondrous inner workings of your mind. So, they just regurgitate your CV. They list the courses and projects you’ve completed and promise you it’s effective.
But hiring an SOP writer works sometimes, right?
Only at lower-tier programs.
Here’s a secret about top-tier, R1 graduate schools – no one gets accepted with a bad SOP. It doesn’t matter how good your grades are, or how extensive your research experience. There’s always another student with the same credentials who DOES take the time to write an SOP that brims with luminous intelligence. When you read SOPs from students admitted to top master’s and PhD programs, it’s always an insightful conversation between a talented young scholar and their delighted future mentors.
But this isn’t the same at lower-quality programs. (And especially at many of these new master’s programs that amount to little more than money-factories for universities.)
Schools with alarmingly high acceptance rates are often willing to overlook a crappy SOP if an applicant’s credentials are respectable. They don’t have much choice. They have to accept someone to keep the departmental budget afloat.
Some shameless grad schools even accept 100% of applicants. Many don’t even require an SOP. For these lower-tier schools, they’re seeking the answer to one question:
“Are we certain this student can handle the bare minimum? And he’s willing to pay full tuition? Great. Send him the bill.”
(Hence, why no one wants to go to PhD programs that don’t provide funding.)
Who should you get help from instead?
If you want someone to write your essay for you, then don’t ask me. I don’t know, and you’re not going to a good grad school anyway.
But if you’re someone who does possess luminous intelligence (impostor syndrome, be damned), but you don’t feel 100% confident in your writing, then I suggest you talk to two people after you complete your first draft:
- An Experienced Editor (with a background in creative writing or journalism)
What makes an editor great? If they have a background in creative nonfiction, journalism, or something similar, they’ll be able to see beyond the muck and mire of your first draft. They’ll see what you’re trying to say. Then, they’ll help you say it in a compelling way.
There’s a reason why every novelist in the world, every best seller and Nobel Prize winner, works with an editor. Just as you have luminous ideas about machine learning or microglial regulation, editors have a luminous understanding of how B+ writing can transform into A+ writing.
Obviously, I’m an editor myself, and I’d love to work with you. But since I take a limited number of students each year, I also recommend you check out my friends at Prompt. They’re VERY reasonably priced and they’re amazing at helping academics hone their SOPs into compelling, persuasive essays that get you admitted.
BUT…there is one problem with editors. It’s the same problem that those scammy ghostwriters have. We’re writing nerds. We can’t possibly understand the innerworkings of your mind. That’s why, once you’ve got a polished, edited draft, it’s time to take it to someone else.
- Professors and Grad Students In Your Field
As a writing nerd, I can’t tell if your ideas about algorithmic complexity are valid. If you’re describing how you want to research genetic analysis of tumors, I can’t tell if a professor will read it and think: “Oh, this kid is sharp!” I can only make sure that your ideas are written as cleanly, clearly, and persuasively as possible.
Thus, it’s absolutely essential that you present your final, polished draft to a professor or grad student in your field. They can tell you if your ideas are slightly sophomoric. They can help you present the kind of luminous intelligence that they themselves have. Where editors help you with the writing, your LOR professors can help you hone your ideas.
DO NOT, however, give these professors an unpolished first draft. Get an editor to help you first, even if it’s just someone from your campus writing center. If you give them a sloppy first draft, they won’t understand what you’re trying to say, and their comments might make you feel depressed and unworthy. I’ve seen this a hundred times. Wait and show them after you’re certain your SOP is well-written, structurally sound, and compelling.
Luminous intelligence. This should be your SOP goal. No ghostwriter can inhabit the mind of a brilliant graduate scholar. Chances are, they’ll obscure your ideas, or prevent you from even conveying them at all.
You’ve worked so hard to get to this point. Give yourself the best chance at a bright future in academia. If you need extra help with your SOP, start early, talk to an editor or writing center tutor, then take your polished draft to your LOR writer and be certain that you’re submitting the absolute best application you can.
Let yourself shine, friend.