The personal statement is an essay designed to give the reader a sense of who you are and how closely your goals and strengths match the ideals of a specific fellowship. While such writing offers a great deal of compositional flexibility, it should clearly address some basic points:

  • your qualifications for the given fellowship
  • how the fellowship fits in with your personal, academic and/or professional goals

The most effective statements focus on:

  • an issue or experience that you feel strongly about, or one that has helped to shape who you are
  • a significant accomplishment or contribution you have made to your field or community

What is the Selection Committee Looking for in Your Statement?

A selection committee generally reads hundreds of applications in a short period of time. Readers are looking for essays that:

  • clearly answer the prompt
  • make sense—logically, grammatically, thematically
  • engage their attention
  • provide substantive and relevant information

Tips for Getting Started

Write down two or three experiences that have shaped who you are. Write down two or three significant problems you have faced and how you solved them. Then look for patterns.

  • what values keep popping up
  • what interests
  • what strengths and skills

Now take a look at your transcript.

  • how does your coursework express your interests and talents
  • how has it developed them

The Writing Process

Consult with a fellowship advisor for essay writing tips.  Try several different approaches until you find the right fit.  Revise, revise, revise!  If you need help with structure, visit a mentor in the Writing Center.  As you draft your essay, share it with people who know you well and ask if it captures you accurately. Be sure to show your essay to faculty advisors and recommenders before submitting a final version.

Before soliciting feedback, however, make sure to review the policies of the scholarship for which you are applying.  Some programs, such as Rhodes and Mitchell, do not allow students to receive outside feedback on their application materials.

Some Common Pitfalls

Weak essays generally share one or more of the following characteristics:

  • melodramatic or self-congratulatory statements
  • vague, abstract ideals
  • laundry lists of achievements
  • jargon and specialized vocabulary
  • misspelled words
  • poor grammar
  • convoluted syntax