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How to write a Statement of Purpose (SOP) for a German University: A Guide for International Students (2022/23)

If you want to apply for a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree, a DAAD scholarship, or a student visa in Germany, you will need to submit a Statement of Purpose. Here is what you need to know to get started!

Let us guess: if you’re reading this article, that means that you’ve already figured out that one of the key documents you need for applying to a German University program, scholarship, and/or student visa is the Statement of Purpose (SOP). And if you didn’t - well, it’s time to double-check!


This article will aim to provide clear answers to the most crucial questions about the SOP-writing process within the German university context. We know that writing Statements in Purpose in order to study in Germany is one of the most (if not the most) challenging application tasks for students. That’s why we have decided to make your life a bit easier, and collect the answers to critical questions around German SOPs in one place!

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The Basics: what you need to know about German SOPs

What is a Statement of Purpose within the German context?

A Statement of Purpose, or SOP, is a (usually mandatory, and even if not, generally recommended) application document requested by most German universities and other institutions in which you 

 

  • Have the opportunity to demonstrate your motivation to get into the given study program, obtain a scholarship, secure a visa, etc., and

 

  • Explain why you are the best fit/candidate for your program, scholarship, or visa to the evaluation committee. 

 

Put another way, the SOP is your biggest opportunity to "advertise"/advocate for yourself (i.e., demonstrating and proving your strengths, your determination, your relevant qualifications, etc.) and make a formal request for placement.

SOPs vs. Letters of Motivation vs. Motivation Letters vs. Personal Statement - What are the differences?

Don’t be surprised if, while searching through the different study programs listed in our StudyFinder, you find that some of them don’t mention "Statements of Purpose," but rather use terms like "Letter of Motivation (LOM)," "Personal Statement" or "Cover Letter". German Universities use these terms more or less interchangeably, so no cause for panic! Depending on the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the course coordinator(s)/administrator(s), they will use one or more of the following translations of the universal German term “Motivationsschreiben'.'

Table 1: Different wordings used for “Statement of Purpose” (SOP)

Term

Typical Context/Scope

Explanation

Statement of Purpose (SOP)

University Application

One of the dominant English-language terms in German-speaking countries. Widely used in British English-speaking countries, including Commonwealth countries

Letter of Motivation

University Application

The other dominant English-language term in German-speaking countries; widely used in American English 

Motivation letter

University Application

The same as SOP/LOM, simply a more one-to-one translation of “Motivationsschreiben”

Personal Statement

University Application

Less frequent than SOP or LOM in most cases; more common for Ph.D. programs

Cover Letter

Job Application

Predominantly used for the job market, but is occasionally used to mean the same thing as SOP/LOM in German-speaking countries

Do German Universities Require Statements of Purpose?

Short Answer: YES! German Universities do generally require Statements of Purpose for applications.

 

Long Answer: According to our research, around 90% of Bachelor's and Master's programs in Germany  (both English- and German-taught) require you to submit a Statement of Purpose as part of your application. Kind reminder: do not forget the alternate terminology programs may use which we went over earlier!

To make this a bit more concrete, let's have a look at some examples: 

 

  • If you would like to apply to the University of Potsdam’s M.Sc. Data Science program, the Statement of Purpose is a required application document.

  • Some others use multiple synonyms for SOP interchangeably, even for the exact same program! One of these is the M.Sc. Communications and Signal Processing program offered by Technische Universität Ilmenau, which uses “SOP” and “LOM” interchangeably.

  • The International University SDI München’s B.A. International Communication and Business program prefers to use the term "Personal Statement."

  • Universität Regensburg’s M.A. English Linguistics program uses the term "Cover Letter” to mean the same thing as SOP, LOM or Motivation Letter.

How (relatively) important is the Statement of Purpose?

At this point, you may be wondering exactly how important this document will be for your applications, especially in relation to other application documents. Overall, the SOP is usually the second-most important application document after your Diploma/Transcript from your previous degree, which displays the critical average grade (often referred to as a “Grade Point Average,” or GPA). University programs in Germany generally assign the SOP a weight of between 10% and 40% of the overall application.

 

Let’s look at a few examples:

 

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Geeky Stuff Box

You can find the relative SOP weights for various programs in the "Examination and Study Regulations" document each program is required by law to provide to the public. In German, this is called a "Zulassungsordnung.” Unfortunately, for legal reasons, many programs only provide this document in German, so be prepared to do some heavy reading and/or online translation!

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Advice Box

Long story short: you should take the SOP seriously, and budget sufficient time to write your SOPs if you want your applications to be taken seriously by German evaluators!

Do not forget that the SOP offers the best chance for students to set themselves apart from (and above) the rest of the applicant pool for whatever they are applying for. This document, unlike most other application documents, is fully up to you, rather than based on unchangeable facts regarding your past. For example, if you are applying for a Master's program, and this program requires you to have a Bachelor's degree from a related field, a specific minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) and a Statement of Purpose, the SOP is the only document which you can still change that can actively increase your admissions chances. Essentially, you can increase your admissions chances hundreds of times faster through the SOP than you could through gaining additional qualifications, making this document worthy of your attention!

How do I write a Statement of Purpose which will get me admitted to a German university program?

This is a big question, so let’s break it down into five sub-questions, each of which we get a lot here at MyGermanUniversity!

A

How should my Statement of Purpose be structured?

 

Luckily, there exists a quite standardized model for German SOPs:

  1. Introduction and Salutation.

  2. Main Body Section. This will be the longest part of your SOP - here, you will elaborate on why a) you are an excellent fit for the program in question and b) why the the program is an excellent fit for you!

  3. Conclusion and Valediction.

B

What is the format for the Statement of Purpose?

 

First off: if your specific program or institution has specific guidelines, follow these above all else. If, as in most cases, few to no guidelines are set out, follow these standard recommendations:

 

  • Margins: 2.5 cm, or one inch, on all sides.

  • Font size: 11- or 12-point of a standard script like Times New Roman or Arial.

  • Line spacing: 1.5-point.

  • Text alignment: justified (text is aligned with both margins).

C

How long should the Statement of Purpose be?

 

In most cases, German SOPs tend to end up between 500 and 800 words. Most requirements hover around this range, and in the case that you don’t get specific instructions regarding SOP length, you should use this as a guideline. In pages, this means between one and two pages of text using the standard format set out above. For example,

 

  • Leipzig University’s M.A. American Studies program requests an SOP of around 750 words.

  • FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg’s M.Sc. Economics program requests an SOP of 800 words or less.

 

Some minority of programs do fall outside of this standard range in terms of desired SOP length, so do pay attention to detail here! Again, if no specific guidelines are provided, go with the 500-800 word “standard” as a rough guideline - it is hard to go wrong in this range for German SOPs!

D

How should I start my Statement of Purpose for a German university?

 

You should start your SOP by getting straight to the point - this is appreciated in Germany, as you will soon find out (if you haven’t already!):

 

  • First, introduce yourself, and then

  • State what this letter is for;

  • Briefly present your most important details;

  • And briefly describe why the program is the best fit for you (and vice versa). 

 

The entire introduction section should essentially summarize what is to come in the body of the letter, and not be over one paragraph long.

E

What should my German SOP cover?

 

The last point of the previous answer says it all: in the Statement of Purpose, you should convincingly demonstrate why you are the best candidate and why the given study program is the best fit for you as well. You can do this by showing that you have deep knowledge of the specifics of the program (i.e., courses, professors, extracurricular opportunities, etc.), and how this fits into your own profile in terms of your previous education, experience, etc.

Guidelines provided by German Universities and Organizations

In general, German universities and organizations tend not to provide specific guidelines for writing your SOP. This is intentional - the SOP is intended to be an open-ended task! It may even seem impossible sometimes to find any, but don’t worry… we’ve done the work for you! Our team has compiled a list of examples, which we have summarized in the tables below:

Table 2: Guidelines from German Universities

University

City

Status

Guideline

Scope

University of Bonn

Bonn

Public

link

Study Program

TU Munich

Munich

Public

link

Study Program

University of Freiburg

Freiburg im Breisgau

Public

link

Study Programs

Leipzig University

Leipzig

Public

link

Study Program

LMU Munich

Munich

Public

link

Career & Work

Heidelberg University

Heidelberg

Public

link

Study Programs

Goethe University Frankfurt

Frankfurt

Public

link

Internship

Table 3: Guidelines by German Organizations

Organization

Headquarters

Guideline

Scope

Freidrich-Ebert Stiftung

Bonn

link

Scholarship

Heinrich-Böll Stiftung

Berlin

link

Project Funding

DAAD

Bonn

link

Scholarship

Uni-assist

Berlin

link

Studies

Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Bonn and Berlin

link

Scholarship

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Bonn

link

Fellowship

Different types of SOP in the German University context

If you decide to study at a German university, you will likely find that you need to write more than one Statement of Purpose. Let us give you a brief overview of potential types of Statements of Purpose that might be relevant for you.

Statement of Purpose for Master’s in Germany

If you wish to pursue a Master's degree in Germany, then SOP for Master's is highly relevant for you, as the vast majority of German universities require SOPs as part of their master’s program application packages. You can find more information about this Statement of Purpose type here.

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Further Reading

SOP for a Master's in Germany: A Guide (2022/23)

Statement of Purpose for Bachelor's in Germany

If you’re not yet ready for a Master’s in Germany, and you want to do your Bachelor's in Germany instead, then a Statement of Purpose is likely still relevant for you. Why? Because around 80% of Bachelor's programs in Germany enlist this document as a standard requirement - a clear majority! Check out some of the examples here.

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Further Reading

SOP for a Bachelor's in Germany: A Guide (2022/23)

Statement of Purpose for DAAD Scholarship Applications

If you plan to cover your study in Germany with a DAAD scholarship, you will need to prepare the necessary application package, which includes a Statement of Purpose. However, in this case, the SOP is a bit different from the SOP that you would submit to a German university. The key differences are:

  • Length

  • Content 

  • Overall structure (although the basic structure is the same)

Find out more about the SOP for the DAAD here.

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Further Reading

SOP for a DAAD scholarship: A Guide (2022/23)

Statement of Purpose for other scholarships

There exist, of course, a huge number of scholarship providers in Germany! Some do dominate the field, however: for instance, you can find here our summary of the main providers, including DAAD and the 13 Public Scholarship Organizations (Begabtenförderungswerke). The organizations offering these scholarships do require you to submit an SOP. However, the specific requirements (e.g. regarding the format, content, etc.) vary from organization to organization.

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Further Reading

Scholarships for international students (2022/23)

Statement of Purpose for Visa

If you need a visa to study in Germany, then you will need to apply for it at the local German Embassy/Consulate. The Statement of Purpose is a part of the application package. Here are some examples:

Table 4: Student Visa - country-specific examples

German student visa for Indians

link

German student visa Cambodians

link

German student visa South Africans

link

German student visa for Georgians

link

German student visa for Nigerians

link

As is the case with other types of SOPs, there is no universal guideline for the SOP for German Student Visas. Even the above-mentioned examples prove that: while in the case of Nigeria, it is specified that the SOP should be personally signed, should not be more than one page, etc., in the case of India and Georgia, such details are not mentioned. However, there is one important (and consistent) factor that differentiates the SOP for visa from other types of SOPs: in this type of SOP, you should focus more on your future goals and how they are connected to your planned studies in Germany, as opposed to your qualifications. You have already proven to your program that you are qualified to study for a German diploma; here, German immigration wants to know what you plan to do with it!

 

If you want to learn more about the SOP for Visa, click here.

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Further Reading

SOP for a Visa in Germany: A Guide (2022/23)

Sample: Statement of Purpose for a German University Admission

Before writing their own SOP, students often try to find a Statement of Purpose example online (especially in the pdf format) to have a hands-on guideline to follow. In general, we recommend that you be very careful with such samples.

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Further Reading

Sample: SOP for Master's in Germany (2022/23)

It is fine to use a sample as long as you want to use it just as a guideline. However, beware that the Internet is full of low-quality samples, meaning that even if you behave ethically and just use it as a guideline, you are at high risk of ending up with a bad Statement of Purpose. Find out more about the SOP samples here.

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Advice Box

WARNING!

PLEASE, DO NOT PLAGIARIZE! Just use our sample for the purpose of getting an overall idea of what the SOP should look like. In general, if you plagiarize or copy anything directly from any source, you will not be able to get away with it. The university or organization will find out about it, and your application will be immediately rejected.

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Summary Box

The Statement of Purpose is a document that has to be written by YOU! It is worth investing sufficient time into writing your SOP because: 

 

  • It is required by most German study programs. Moreover, you will need it for a visa and for most scholarships; 

  • It is crucial. The SOP is one of the key documents you need to apply to German study programs, its weight sometimes reaching 40% of the overall application score (or even more!); 

  • It is doable. As long as you invest enough time into preparing it, this is a great opportunity, not something to be scared of!