2024-01-04T13:50:10-05:00Jun 16, 2022|

How to write a statement of purpose (SOP) for your Canadian student visa application

If you plan to study in Canada, securing admission into a university or college is only the first step in your international student journey. Before you start packing your bags, you need to qualify for a Canadian study permit. In addition to standard documentation such as your school’s letter of acceptance and proof that you have sufficient funds, you may also need to submit a statement of purpose (SOP) or letter of explanation as part of your study permit application.

In this article, we cover what a study permit SOP is, why it’s needed, and share tips on how to write a compelling statement of purpose for your Canadian student visa application.

In this article:

What is a Statement of Purpose (SOP)?

A statement of purpose (SOP), also known as a letter of explanation or letter of intent (LOI), is a key component of your Canadian study permit application. Although it isn’t a legal requirement, the government of Canada recommends that you include an SOP to help visa officers understand why you want to study in Canada and decide whether to approve your student visa application.

Many Canadian universities and colleges also require students to submit an SOP or research statement as part of their admission processes, but the contents of your study permit SOP will be different from these.

Why is an SOP required for Canadian study permit applications?

Not all student visa applicants are called for a visa interview. Most Canadian study permit applications are accepted or rejected based solely on applicants’ submitted paperwork and statement of purpose. 

Essentially, your SOP helps Canadian visa officers verify that you’re a legitimate student, your reasons for wanting to study in Canada, and how well you understand your responsibilities as an international student in Canada.

The good news is only 30 per cent of all study permit applications are rejected each year. So as long as your paperwork is complete and accurate, and your SOP makes a strong case for why you should be allowed to study in Canada, your chances of receiving a Canadian student visa are high.

Note Icon  Note
If you apply for a study permit through the Student Direct Stream (SDS) program, review your country’s document checklist to see if you need an SOP. Even if it isn’t a requirement, it’s good to include an SOP to improve your chances of getting a study permit.

How is a study permit SOP different from a university application SOP? 

Depending on the school and study program you apply to, you may also need to submit a separate SOP or letter of intent to receive a letter of acceptance from a Canadian Designated Learning Institution (DLI). However, your school application SOP and study permit SOP will convey different information and serve different purposes.

That said, it’s normal for the two SOPs to have some common elements and you may be able to repurpose some parts of your university/college admission SOP for your student visa SOP.

University or college admission SOP Study permit SOP
When is it needed? May be required by some DLIs for admission into certain study programs. The government recommends that you include it with your Canadian study permit application.
What does it include? Focuses on why you think the school and program are the right fit for your career path, as well as your academic and extracurricular interests and goals. Focuses on your reasons for wanting to study in Canada and in that particular school. Also clarifies that you understand your responsibilities as an international student.
Purpose Helps the admissions board decide whether the school should admit you. Helps the visa officer decide whether you should receive a Canadian study permit.

How do you write an SOP for a Canadian study visa?

A good, comprehensive SOP can be the deciding factor as to whether or not your dream of studying in Canada becomes reality. To write a persuasive SOP and improve your chances of receiving a Canadian study permit, make sure your statement of purpose covers the following essential points:

Why you want to study in Canada

You need to make a compelling argument for why you want to study here instead of at a domestic university or college, or in a different country. Canada is an attractive study destination for many reasons, including its high quality of education, lower tuition fees compared to countries like the U.S. or U.K., diverse classrooms, and more. In a few sentences, explain why studying in Canada is the right choice for you.

Tips Icon  Tip:
Since visa officers want to ensure you’ll leave the country once your legal status expires, avoid talking about applying for permanent residence in your SOP. Read our article on the Top 6 reasons to study in Canada: Advantages for International Students for some top reasons to study in Canada.

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Why you applied to a specific university or college

In this paragraph, highlight some aspects that influenced your decision to apply to a specific DLI. For instance, the school you chose may be highly ranked, have good reviews, or may be known for its research facilities or successful alumni. Avoid generic statements like “This university will help me achieve my career goals,” and instead, talk about the school’s unique strengths.

What study program you’re interested in and why

A visa officer wants to understand your motivation behind choosing a particular study program. If the program you’ve chosen is related to your previous education or work experience, talk about your interest in the field and how this natural next step will equip you with the academic or technical skills to further your career plan. If you picked a program that doesn’t align with your prior education, explain why you’re making this change and how this program will help you fill crucial skill gaps.

If you have a gap year in your education or work experience, explain how you used that time

Although a gap year won’t necessarily impact your chances of getting a Canadian student visa, it’s important to clarify that you used your time productively. Whether you spent your time off taking care of a sick family member, acquiring new skills, or volunteering, use your letter of explanation to address the reason for the gap.

How you’ll fund your studies in Canada

While you need to provide proof of financial support as part of your study permit application, you should also highlight how you plan to fund your studies in your SOP. Mention if you have paid tuition and accommodation fees for your first year of study, have a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC), funds in a Canadian bank account, qualified for a grant or scholarship, or if someone else is funding your studies.

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Your post-study plans

A visa officer’s primary concern is that you intend to return home after your studies and won’t stay in Canada illegally after your study permit expires. You may want to focus on how you plan to use your educational credentials after returning to your home country. Examples include bringing a global perspective to your industry or improving your employability in your domestic job market. 

Tips Icon  Tip:
As an international student, you may qualify for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) after you complete your study program in Canada. However, until your PGWP application is approved, this will be an uncertain plan and should not be included in your study permit SOP.

Do you understand your responsibilities as an international student?

While you don’t need a separate paragraph to clarify this, be sure to include relevant details where needed. For instance, if you plan to work part-time while studying, mention that you’ll adhere to the maximum permitted working hours (20 hours per week during the semester and full-time during winter or summer breaks). Note: The 20 hour per week limit on working off-campus has been temporarily removed until December 2023.

Other information to include in your student visa SOP

You may want to include other details to give your study permit application an edge over the competition. Draw attention to your impeccable academic record or your high IELTS score. You can also add a few lines about your good conduct, your commitment to education, or how you plan to balance your studies and part-time work.

Note Icon  Note
Compared to your study permit SOP, your SOP for university/college admissions will be more personal and should dive deeper into your academic and professional achievements, as well as your long and short-term goals and how they align with your program of study.

How long should a statement of purpose be for a Canadian study permit application?

Ideally, your statement of purpose for the Canadian study permit application should be between 500 and 1,000 words. While the government doesn’t specify a word limit, it’s best to avoid going over two pages.

The SOP for your university or college admission application may be longer. While some DLIs require an essay-type SOP ranging between 800 to 2,000 words, others have a questionnaire format SOP with a separate word limit for each response.

8 tips for writing a great SOP for your Canadian student visa application

1. Plan your SOP outline well

Before drafting your SOP, create a structure to ensure you don’t miss any key information. Use subheadings to separate each essential point outlined above, so the visa officer can easily find what they’re looking for. Keep the word limit in mind and make a mental note of how long each section should be.

2. List your academic and professional experience in reverse chronological order

When you talk about your past educational credentials and work experience, list them in order, from the most recent to the oldest. This will give the visa officer a better idea of your academic and career path and how it relates to the study program you’ve chosen. Be sure to address any significant gaps in your education or work history.

3. Focus on achievements that align with your study program

Including some relevant academic or professional achievements can demonstrate your commitment, merit, and interest in the field. Where possible, use specific examples to make your case. For instance, statements like, “I was top of my class in mathematics and scored 93 per cent in my class 12 examination,” can help a visa officer understand your interest in a bachelor’s program in the subject.

4. Avoid using technical jargon

Your SOP should be easy to understand, even by someone who isn’t an expert in your field of study. Avoid using abbreviations and technical terms that a layperson would be unfamiliar with. 

5. Don’t lie on your statement of purpose

Lying or exaggerating facts on your SOP is a big no-no and will result in your study permit being rejected. Visa officers will also have the other documents you submit and will catch inaccuracies or omissions. Plus, if you’re called in for a visa interview later on, you may be asked to substantiate the claims you make on your SOP.

6. Write your SOP in English (or French)

Write your SOP in English unless you’re applying to a study program that will be delivered in French. Visa officers will also evaluate your language skills based on your SOP, so make sure it’s well-written using vocabulary and grammar skills that match your IELTS band.

7. Write your SOP yourself

Your statement of purpose is your chance to tell your story, explain shortfalls in your application, and your reasons for wanting a Canadian study permit. Never outsource the writing of your SOP to someone else. Even if their language skills are better than yours, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to convey your motivations for studying in Canada better than you. Keep it original and don’t plagiarize content written by someone else—if you do, it will adversely impact your chances of getting a student visa.

8. Proofread before you send your SOP

Spend time proofreading your statement of purpose and correct any spelling and grammar mistakes you spot. You can also ask family or friends to review your SOP before you submit your study permit application to make sure it’s well structured and coherent.

Although your SOP plays a role in whether your study permit application is approved, don’t let this process stress you out. Most Canadian study permit applications get approved, provided no essential documentation is missing or incorrect. Make sure your SOP makes a compelling, honest case for why you should receive a study permit and covers all the key aspects a visa officer will look for, and you will soon be on your way to study in Canada.