The Statement of Purpose (SOP) essay, and I am sure you’ll all agree with me, is one of the most important parts of your application form as it is the key selling point for reviewers to consider granting you an interview for the JET Programme. Obviously there are strong elements in your application besides the SOP that will work in your favour. However, the SOP gives you the chance to convince the readers in two pages that you will be the perfect ALT/CIR candidate.
Taking the points that I made in a similar post a year ago, I have now put together an updated version of the hints and tips on how to tackle your SOP.
Disclaimer: Before I continue, once again I will point out that I am merely writing this from my perspective, and provide information based on my own experience, and of others that I have talked to. My posts aim to be helpful and one could use these hints and tips as something to keep in mind when writing the SOP.
Each Country is Different (ECID)
When writing your SOP, make sure that you are following the guidelines set out by your country’s JET Programme website, or Japanese embassy. There are some countries that have specific guidelines in terms of format and what should be covered in the essay, such as the USA JET Program website. However, other countries, like South Africa, just say that you must provide a 2-page essay.
Formatting is Important
It is incredibly important to stick to the formatting guidelines. I believe the standard format is 2 pages, A4, Times New Roman font, size 12, and double spaced. Though do double check, just in case!
For my essay, I included my name and page number (1/2 and 2/2) in the header. I also put in the title ‘Statement of Purpose Essay’ in bold at the top of the first page.
Drafts are good
The worst part of writing an essay is when you have to start it. I had no clue where I wanted my essay to go, nor what it was going to cover. So, I just started writing anything and everything that came to me. I ended up with 6 pages and dubbed it ‘my first draft’.
From there things seemed easier. I highlighted key sentences that I wanted to keep, and deleted those that gave no weight or importance to the essay. This is how I managed to create multiple drafts, and seven drafts later I finally managed to get down to the 2 page requirement. Having drafts is a good idea, especially if you are struggling to find direction.
One tip that I remember reading about when I was writing my essay was to try avoid repeating things that you have mentioned both in your application form and your essay. For example, in the application, you would have written down your work experience, volunteer experience, and so on. In the essay, you could mention these experiences, if they fit nicely into the content of your essay, but there is no need to go into detail and repeat exactly what you did and when, as you would of already mentioned that in the application form.
The same goes for tertiary education. In your essay you could mention what you studied, but try not to delve too deep into the subjects you studied, when and where you studied, etc. Instead, use that space in your essay to focus on what skills or experiences you gained from studying, and how you will utilise those skills and experiences to your advantage while on the JET Programme.
Ask yourself these questions
While I was writing my essay, I came up with 3 main questions that I always kept in mind. I used these questions to help me stick to the main purpose of the essay – selling yourself as an ideal JET candidate – and it prevented me from going totally off the tracks and into my deep-rooted obsession with all things cute and fluffy. I asked myself if I had covered each one, in some manner or form, by the time I had finished writing my essay:
1. Why Japan?
Why not China or Korea? What draws you to Japan? Maybe a particular interest in the culture, language, or food? Maybe you have stayed here through a homestay or exchange programme? Mentioning anything that shows your interest would be good.
2. Why JET?
And additionally: Why teaching? Why not apply through Interac or a private company?
3. Why me?
What can you bring to Japan? What skills, traits or talents do you have? Organisational skills, language skills, flexibility, adaptability, willingness to learn from others in a different culture – these are some of the things I often see mentioned in SOPs. I have discovered in my time here that being flexible and adaptable are very important, especially in a foreign work environment.
I based these questions off the embassies that provided guidelines for the SOP, unlike South Africa that just requests a 2-page essay (and nothing else). My main source for these questions actually came from the USA JET Program website, under the ‘Required Documents’. As you will see, under the ‘Statement of Purpose’ section, they give pretty solid ideas as to what you should be concentrating on when writing the essay. I felt that this was a good set of guidelines on which to base my own guidelines/questions.
Share the love
Allow others to read your drafts and final essay. After a while you may lose sight of where you wanted to take your essay, so having a fresh pair of eyes is always helpful. I asked all my family members to read mine, give me constructive feedback and took those comments into consideration.
Spelling and grammar
Obviously this must be as perfect as possible, since you are applying for an English teaching position. Sharing your essay for others to read is also a good way for them to spot any spelling or grammatical mistakes that you might of missed.
And that’s it for my hints and tips. I hope that these can be of some help, or at least give you an idea on how to tackle the SOP. I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing, so if any aspiring ALTs out there would like me to have a look at their essay – to proofread and give comments or suggestions – then feel free to contact me via my contact page.