Writing a Personal Statement

Perhaps the most critical piece of many scholarship applications is the personal statement. It is often the chance for you to make the best case for why you should be given a scholarship. Personal statements allow the reader of your application to gain the strongest feel for who you are as a person, what sets you apart from other applicants, provide evidence of your intellectual and creative achievements, and show your writing ability.

Your personal statement should be treated as the equivalent of a face to face interview. A well written statement adds clarity, richness, and meaning to the information collected in other parts of your application. It is also an opportunity to explain how factors outside of your school environment have enhanced or impeded your ability to maximize available academic and intellectual opportunities.

While there is no one correct way to write a personal statement, here are some tips that are universally applicable:

Start on your personal statement early.

Give yourself time to think about your topics, and carefully consider the rationale behind each question.

Be clear. Be focused. Be organized.

Make sure your personal statement follows a logical structure. Try to think about how it may sound to an audience who doesn’t know you. Getting input from people you trust—teachers, friends, relatives—can help you get different perspectives on how your personal statement affects those who are reading it. Avoiding long, drawn out essay responses will not only help keep your reader’s attention, but will also show that you were thoughtful about your writing.

Get personal.

The readers want to get a sense of who you are, and the only way to do this is to share a bit about who you are.  After all, it is called a Personal Statement. This is your chance to share with the reader what you feel they should know about you to make an informed decision.

Make it authentic.

A personal statement should showcase who you are and what you care about, not what you believe the readers want to hear. Remember that those reading your application will be reading many other applications as well and will be able to tell right away if what you are writing is honest and authentic. It is also worth keeping in mind that some programs require an interview for finalists where it will be easy to spot those who have not been genuine in their personal statements.

Be careful with humor and clichés.

What might seem funny or bitingly ironic to you might not seem that way to someone who doesn’t know you. Remember that the personal statement is an opportunity for you to give a complete picture of yourself. Don’t allow clichés to speak for you.

Be reflective.

A personal statement isn’t effective simply because it chronicles difficult circumstances. Strong personal statements should show that the writer has reflected upon and learned from their past experiences and achievements. Ideally, the writer will be able to show progression towards a clear perspective of how he or she sees the world, and what direction he or she is headed towards in the future. An effective personal statement gives a clear sense of your personal qualities and how you have used and developed them in response to your opportunities and challenges.

Use specific examples to illustrate your ideas.

Being too vague or writing too generally will not make your personal statement memorable. Thousands upon thousands of personal statements discuss initiative, but only hundreds show initiative using concrete examples of demonstrated motivation and leadership. But examples are only one part of the equation. You also need to show how you have assigned meaning to your experiences and how you have grown from them. Prove that you have a sense of who you are, where you are going, and how you are going to use your education and your experiences to accomplish your goals. Although some events have long-term or even lifetime ramifications, it is usually better to focus on recent events because they shed more light on who you are right now.

Finally, give yourself plenty of time for revisions.

Personal statements should go through several drafts to before submission. Read your writing to others, and revise for clarity in content and in style. Pay attention to rules of correct grammar and punctuation, and don’t forget to spell check. It is also recommended that you make use of campus resources (such as professor, teaching assistant, advisor, Student Academic Success Center, classmates or friends) to gain valuable insight for how to improve your personal statement. If you are applying for prestigious scholarships, make sure to submit all personal statements to the Prestigious Scholarship Advisor for editing and guidance on re-writes.

We hope these tips will help you get organized and will inspire you. Your personal statement is the best tool you have to show us the individual gifts you have to offer.