How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Mistakes International Students Make on Their Study Abroad Statement of Purpose

Learn common mistakes international students make on their statement of purpose and strategies to avoid them.

Getting good grades is only one component of being admitted into universities and colleges abroad. International students are often required to submit a statement of purpose (SOP) with their application that explains to the university or college why they are excited about studying abroad in a specific program. 

Thankfully, writing the SOP is mostly about following an outline and avoiding key mistakes. I’ve rounded up the top five most common mistakes international students make on their statement of purpose and explained how you can avoid them! This guide will give you the best chance of getting accepted into your dream university or college abroad.

5 - Failure to address the essay question specifically

Most universities have specific criteria that must be fulfilled or questions that must be answered on a statement of purpose. Although it seems obvious, many students don’t answer the specific question asked in their essay. They’ll write a more generic essay or, in some cases, go completely off-topic. 

This is a big problem. The statement of purpose is actually a way for the university to test if you have high attention to detail. In many cases, students fail to read the question carefully. It is necessary to visit the program website and answer the exact question being asked.

Whatever the question is, make sure you take the time to read it carefully. Break down the question and look specifically at each word. If there is a word that you do not understand, find a definition before you start writing. If you are ever unclear on the question, or just need clarification, feel free to ask your Halp coach. 

Once you know exactly what you’re being asked to write about, dig deep to find a quality answer that directly answers the question. 

‍4 - Grammatical errors

International students are often writing their statement of purpose in their second, or even third, language. So, it makes sense that admissions teams often find small grammatical errors in their SOPs. One of the easiest ways to have your application thrown in the rejection pile is careless grammatical errors. Whether it be misspelled words, poor sentence structure, or lack of punctuation, these are all indicators to the admission team that you did not put much time or effort into your application. 

While everyone makes mistakes - even award-winning writers - you cannot submit a final draft with errors in it. Therefore, it is essential to reread your SOP before submission. A good way to eliminate errors is to send your SOP to your Halp Coach, who will review it and make edits for you!

3 - Missing the word count

Most universities will specify a word count range for a SOP. This is usually between 500-1000 words. International students often submit SOPs far below 500 words, which will automatically signal to the admissions team that you did not review the SOP requirements.

Make sure you create an SOP outline before you begin writing. This will ensure that you meet the word count but still have an organized, well-thought-out SOP with enough content.

To avoid having an SOP that is too short, include lots of detail. Remember, the admissions team is interested in learning more about you and why you are a good fit for their university or college!

2 - Submitting an SOP that any other student could have submitted

Admission teams read hundreds, if not thousands, of applications per year. It is extremely important to make your SOP stand out. This means that you have to be a little creative. 

Think about if you were an admissions officer that had to read the same SOP over and over again. You would probably be very bored. It is important for you to add something personal to your SOP. Talk about your extracurriculars, an important moment in your life, or include funny stories. As long as it is relevant to the question and relates to the program you are applying to, these small, personal details will go a long way in helping you stand out and improving your chance of admission. Feel free to brainstorm with your Halp coach on how to make your SOP stand out!

1 - Submitting the exact same SOP for every program and university that you apply to

A statement of purpose should be specific to whichever program and university that you apply to. It is very important to include details about why you want to study that subject in particular, what experience you already have in that subject, and what your future plans are after you get your degree. For these reasons, you cannot submit the same SOP for two different programs. 

Similarly, an SOP should be university or college-specific. You are applying to the university for a specific reason! Do you like the location of the university? Are you interested in the clubs and extracurriculars that they offer? Have you heard about the big alumni network? Make sure you include that in your statement of purpose. The admissions committee is eager to hear about why you want to go to their school and why their school would want to have you!


An SOP can make or break your application. Make sure you follow this guide to ensure you submit a high-quality application that explains why you are the best candidate for admission. Remember, feel free to ask your Halp coach any questions that you may have as you write your SOP!