You’re an engineer. You’re dreaming of MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley. You know the students admitted to these programs are absolute rock stars — the best in the world. But how do you know if you measure up? In my opinion, the best way is simple and only takes 5 minutes: find a student admitted to the #1 program in the world, read their electrical engineering SOP, and figure out whether you’ve written your own essays with the same intelligence.
The intelligence of your writing is key! (MIT faculty tell us this explicitly, after all.) We saw this last week when discussing how one student with a modest GPA earned admission to 6 master’s programs in electrical engineering, ranging from the top-10 to the top-30. Today, however, we’ll examine someone a little different.
Nasir applied to only 4 schools.
All were ranked in the top-10.
He was admitted to 3, including one that many folks consider the best program in the world. And he did so using the exact same SOP tactics as the student we discussed last week.
Let’s take a look and see what made Nasir’s SOP so luminously brilliant…and figure out what YOU should write if you’re applying to the best programs in the world.
On paper, Nasir certainly looks like an excellent applicant, though perhaps nothing too terribly special for the Berkeleys, MITs, and Georgia Techs of the world:
- Undergrad senior
- Top-300 ranked regional US university
- First-gen international student (with a strong adversity story)
- 3.8+ GPA
- Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering
- 1 internship
- 1.5 years of research experience
What then makes Nasir so special? Every year, the top EE programs in the world see thousands of excellent students like him. If we only look at credentials, these students mostly look the same. We have to dig deeper. We have to dig into the SOP if we want to see how the best students shine. As one MIT professor said:
“The ones I remember and value are ones that I learned something from–essays that are actually interesting to read because they have a strong or novel view or that articulate a clear vision.”
As we move beyond Nasir’s credentials, let’s consider whether his SOP is a valid response to these questions: Is it interesting to read? With a strong or novel view? Does it articulate a clear vision?
What’s So Great About This Electrical Engineering SOP?
First, let’s list the major points that make Nasir’s essay so stellar. Pay attention to these highlights now and you’ll better understand how to model them in your own writing.
- Perfect Structure
Just like Lee whom we discussed last week, Nasir followed the step-by-step template described in our SOP Starter Kit:
- Frame Narrative Introduction (1 paragraph, 22% of word count)
- Why This Program? (2 paragraphs, 28% of word count)
- Why I’m Qualified! (slightly long at 3 paragraphs and 42% of word count)
- Closing Frame Narrative w/ Career Goals Statement (1 paragraph, 8% of word count)
- Brilliant “Sentence of Purpose”
Every essay needs its thesis statement, and every great SOP needs a Sentence of Purpose. Nasir’s appears in the final 2 sentences of his introduction, where he specifies his goals in great detail. This isn’t an essay about electrical engineering. It’s an essay about manufacturing processes for multi-junction photovoltaic cells. He already knows all the problems that currently exist in this domain. He just wants the chance to study them.
- Deep Intellectual Authority
At no point in this SOP does Nasir sound like an overconfident undergrad. He sounds like an absolute boss! His tone is 100% mature, professional, intellectual, and without emotion. He understands the relevance of his past education, and its limitations. He understands his future professors’ work, and how he’ll fit in. Perhaps most importantly, he understands the greater humanistic vision promised by the solar industry, and that by focusing on his small niche, he can play a role in helping bring safe, clean energy to the world.
- Every Sentence Connects to the Future
When he mentions something he did in undergrad, Nasir states how and why this prepared him to succeed in grad school in the future. When he describes everything he wants to do in grad school, he states how and why this will help him achieve his purpose in his later career.
HOT TIP: Pay attention to how Nasir “future projects” at the end of each paragraph. EVERY SINGLE FINAL SENTENCE looks toward the future. This is important, and not only because it makes the essay logic flow beautifully. The SOP is not about the past. It’s about what you WILL accomplish, in the future, first as a grad student, and then as a professional electrical engineer.
- Excellent Career Goals Statement
In the past, I’ve explained why master’s applicants should write 1-2 sentences clearly mapping out their professional career goals. Nasir does this perfectly:
“After graduation, I aim to work with solar research organizations like Applied Materials or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). I want to fully understand solar cells, particularly multi-junction cells, and how to improve their efficiency so as to create a better global ecosystem.”
Alright. Now that you know what you should focus on in your own electrical engineering SOP, let’s read Nasir’s essay and see what makes it so special.
A Brilliant Electrical Engineering SOP
As an intern at Wayne Semiconductor Corp., I helped optimize operational expenditures, saving over $200 thousand annually toward production of polycrystalline silicon for solar applications. During that time, I witnessed massive improvements to polysilicon production processes, and expected similar improvements for the Silicon Photovoltaic (PV) cells produced from this polysilicon. But, these improvements have not yet been realized. Raised in the scorching climate of Nigeria, and having seen electricity as a luxury, I am all too aware of the need to understand how we can more efficiently harness solar energy. Consequently, I have become passionate about the manufacturing processes for these more sustainable and widely available forms of energy. Today, my ultimate purpose is to significantly improve solar cells’ low efficiency by studying multi-junction PV cells, as this method overcomes some of the drawbacks of the single junction cell by absorbing different wavelengths of sunlight. By pursuing further studies in the area of semiconductors and its application in the solar industry, I will be able to assist in paving the way for proper harnessing and accessibility of solar energy.
With a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and a focus on semiconductors and devices from Gotham University, I will gain the necessary skills to achieve my goals. I am particularly excited about courses in the properties of semiconductors, integrated circuit fabrication, and solar energy conversion, which will give me a strong foundation in this field, and hopefully allow me to leverage my knowledge of semiconductor technology to reduce recombination losses and bulkiness in multi-junction PV cells. In the Advanced Micro and Nano Fabrication Laboratory, I will have the opportunity to test my fabrication skills through experiments like lattice matching of multijunction cells. Ultimately, these resources at Gotham will allow me to take part in further solar cell research, and thus pursue my goal of contributing to the development of more accessible energy sources.
At Gotham, I will meet a broad network of engineering students and faculty, and have access to research opportunities within the remarkable nanogotham facilities. I want to utilize my understanding of nanoparticles in cell fabrication to assist in experiments downshifting high-frequency light for multi-junction solar cell applications. I am excited to work with Dr. Lucius Fox, whose research in photovoltaics addresses issues in reflection and absorption losses, and has presented solutions like utilizing silicon nanoparticles to increase solar-cell efficiency. I hope to contribute to Dr. Fox’s work by using my nanofabrication skills to investigate efficient and cost-effective applications of ultrathin crystalline silicon technology.
In my undergraduate years, I joined the Nanofabrication & Electron Transport Laboratory at Empire State University. As a researcher under Prof. Ra’s al Ghul, I investigated physics and electrical transport properties in low-dimensional semiconductors, like MoS2. I acquired skills in microscopy and photolithography, including using optical microscopy to analyze and classify substrate for device applications. This experience gave me an understanding of semiconductor physics and its practical application in device fabrication, preparing me to tackle course concepts at Gotham, as well as collaborate with faculty members to further address issues in PV cells.
I continued to learn about collaboration and adaptability by serving as the secretary of Empire State’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and working as an electrical-engineering intern at Wayne, the world’s largest polycrystalline semiconductor manufacturer. This internship showed me how research in semiconductors progresses into commercial application, further spiking my interest in the field. I also helped optimize their safety system by creating a program to size valves and electric actuators, and generated power-consumption savings through Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) installation. As secretary of IEEE, I collaborated with electrical engineering faculty to create programs that would enhance the recognition of the department and bring in more students. I also mentored freshmen in Electrical Engineering regarding future potential for research. Through these experiences, I learned how to be a leader, to collaborate, and to work with a group towards a common goal. I hope to contribute to the IEEE Gotham chapter, and larger engineering community, in much the same way.
In my final undergraduate semester, I took elective courses in device physics and solar-energy generation to gain a deeper understanding of photocells and current technologies in the solar industry. In “Alternative Energy Sources and Conversion,” my final project simulated a model for efficiency improvement using Lumogen Red 305 for downshifting and Sodium Yttrium Fluoride as our upconverting nanoparticle, and calculated about 15% increase in efficiency using luminescent concentrators. I believe these successes have prepared me to take part in future research opportunities and confidently communicate my work to peers and faculty members.
After graduation, I aim to work with solar research organizations like Applied Materials or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). I want to fully understand solar cells, particularly multi-junction cells, and how to improve their efficiency so as to create a better global ecosystem. I am fully ready to take on the challenges that the Gotham master’s program provides, and will work hard to honor it if given the opportunity.
Now that you’ve read Nasir’s essay, go back and compare it to Lee’s. You might also compare it to Pranava’s, because she too earned wild success applying to study solar cell tech at the master’s level. Then, go back and compare it to your own.
Is your SOP as interesting to read as Nasir’s? Does it have a similarly strong and novel view? Does it articulate a clear vision?
You have the exact same tools Nasir had: the SOP Starter Kit and all the other sample essays here on the WriteIvy blog. I can’t guarantee that, in the end, you’ll achieve the same results Nasir did. Because…trust me…he’s an absolute legend. He’s going to change the world. But I can promise that YOU TOO can write a brilliant SOP.
We owe Nasir a tremendous debt of gratitude for sharing his work. In his Diversity Statement, he wrote a poignant introduction that reminds me why I love students like him so much:
Growing up in West Africa, I lived through endless power outages and unclean water. I studied by candlelight. As a first-generation student from an impoverished background, I lived with zeal to better my family and the world. Although I grew up knowing no one in science industries, I found a strong interest in engineering and chose this hardest and most unlikely path. In my first year in college, I dealt with severe colon ulcers and in 2018, underwent surgery. I remember returning to class still dosed with anesthesia, unwilling to be absent from my physics course. Today, I still have this zeal to succeed, and to be an example for anyone who dreams of studying at a school like Gotham.
Today, Nasir has truly become that example. Many cynical students will say this is why he succeeded so wildly: his inspirational background story. To them I say: “You’re missing the point!” The past matters, but it’s your future potential that makes the difference in elite grad school admissions. (Hence why Nasir wasn’t admitted to every school where he applied.) Even so, Nasir’s future is bursting with intellectual potential. I’m thankful to him, and just hope you’ll use his luminous example to pursue your own dream.
Still not 100% certain how to structure your own electrical engineering SOP? I’d love to hear from you!
How will you make sure you compare well to the best SOPs in the pile?