I've been toying with this idea for a long time now; it's actually a junior in college who suggested this. He's one crazy (not to mention, extremely popular) writer, and he went ahead and wrote his post on this a long time ago. So this is my take on the topic. Better late than never, right?
Students applying to American universities for an admission to their Masters program need to submit their Statement of Purpose. Now this all important document is the cause of a lot of hair pulling. Why, you ask? The same reason one gets tongue-tied in a job interview when asked "So why do you think we should hire you?" The ten thousand certificates and diplomas you've amassed in your life are in place. The résumé you spent hours perfecting is in place. The new royal blue tie Mommy got you for the interview is in place (and being nervously fiddled with). The goal ("Software Development Engineer in Microsoft") is in place. Everything is in place. Except the motivation behind it. Why should Microsoft hire you? Because I think I can write code more or less well, Sir, but really, it's the 30 lac p.a package that I am thinking of when I think of this job. Please hire me?
Anyway. So colleges need a pretty-damning-good answer for this:
Please describe your background (academic and extracurricular) and experience, including research, teaching, industry, and other relevant information. Also give your academic and research goals as well as career plans. Include your reasons for choosing this college as opposed to other programs and/or other universities.
And while we all eventually manage to write something as an answer to this, most of us (people with real love for research work, please look away and don't hate me) mean this:
First para- Start with a story from your childhood or something you want to do in the future
Dear American universities,
*Starts with an awesome quote that has no relation to me or my thoughts whatsoever*
I have no significant childhood memory of ever being fascinated with how computers work, all I really remember is playing Dave, Skyroads and Prince of Persia for hours and making silly scribbles and filling in shapes with different colors in Paint. But I am going to make up a fake story that makes you believe how really, truly passionate I am over going for higher studies in a major I half-assed my way through in my four years of college. Please do know that my innate curiosity and the absolutely inspirational work done by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs motivate me to think, damn, surely there's a lot of money in this industry? *Throws around the word 'inspiration' a lot*
Second/Third para- Talk about the projects you did in college
Admissions committee, I am a Mumbai University graduate, okay? That's enough said, right there. Our projects are a complete joke. That being said, I did manage to work on some projects. And by work I mean sit beside my nerdy, pushover friend and watch him do it, while I passed comments like 'Tu nahi hota toh kya hota yaar! Thank you so much! ... Achha, kab tak ho jayega?' And my final year project? God, where do I start? After googling 'best final year Mumbai University project ideas', finding a topic which seemed more or less interesting to us, giving umpteen presentations (in uncomfortable formal clothes) on how we're going to implement "our idea", doing absolutely NOTHING about it till one month before the deadline (sometimes even thinking of paying money and getting it done, much to our embarrassment), we finally submitted something that looked and did a fraction of what we promised to do. But what can I say? It was a GREAT experience working on this project... it taught me how to tolerate my lazy-ass teammates who came up with brilliant excuses day after day to put off work while I fretted over it endlessly. All in all, it was GOOD. Oh, and I wrote a paper on it too, though really, I have no idea how it got published, but it did! It did! Accha, I also did this fictitious internship for a month after Sem 5; actually, I spent my entire vacation going out and getting drunk, but see, I have a certificate that says otherwise. Yay!
Final para- Talk about your research interests and why you chose this university
Okay, I have no "research interests" as such. I come from an average Indian household that dreams of sending their kid to the fair land of Amreeka so he/she can earn a ridiculous salary like a good beta/beti. No, really, I don't have the patience or the inclination towards working on a Ph.D, but I am going to say I do, and put it in ever-so-flowery language... point is, you gotta trust me on this, alright? And the reason I choose your university is, well... a) Reputation- awesome placements b) Amazing faculty- by the way, did I say how mind-blowing the research work being done by Prof. XYZ is? Anyway, your university is THE place for me, there's no doubt about it- even if I send the exact same thing to nine other universities.
I thank you for giving me an opportunity to present myself to you, and hope to hear from you in the positive. (Okay, that's an actual line from my SOP.)
So there you go. That's what we're really thinking of when we hear the words 'Masters' or 'America' or 'academic and research goals'. It sounds awful, I agree, but hey, it's the truth.
Also, the admissions committee knows you're bluffing in at least half of your SOP. They really do. The trick is to sound sincere about the other half. The part about your projects or research interests.
And hope to God they like it.
P.S. This is my perception of the SOP. It's meant as a joke, and not to be taken seriously.