You are here: Home / Student Support / Advising / Fellowship Advising / Advising Resources / Write an Effective Personal Statement

Write an Effective Personal Statement

The personal statement or narrative response is a critical factor in determining your advancement in scholarship and fellowship competitions.  For those application processes that feature an interview, your written work must convince the selection committee that you are interesting, engaging, serious in your pursuits, and worthy of an interview.  A compelling personal statement enables you to stand out in the field of other outstanding applicants, each of whom will have an impressive gpa and list of achievements.

Writing an effective personal statement or narrative is the most difficult and lengthy part of the application process.  It requires much thought, effort, feedback, rewriting, and editing.  Those students interested in pursuing scholarships with October or November deadlines SHOULD NOT wait to begin the writing process in the fall.  It is impossible to produce at the last minute the quality of application that will earn an interview and/or ultimately be successful. 

10 Tips for Writing Successful Scholarship Applications

"The Paradox of Self-Expression: As you revise personal essays, concentrate on exuding an affirmative, positive tone.  Be upbeat but not overbearing.  Explain but don't equivocate.  Be realistic but not pessimistic.  Speak confidently but don't brag.  Be idealistic but not naive.  Tell the truth about yourself and your background but don't apologize for either."

from Joe Schall's Writing Personal Statements and Scholarship Application Essays

  1. Have a consistent story line that focuses on your special aspects, accomplishments, interests, and experiences.  Do NOT present a “resume in prose” but an essay with an introduction, thesis, supporting material, and conclusion.  You must engage the reader quickly with intriguing or compelling opening and closing sentences in each paragraph.
  2. Maintain a sharp focus.  You cannot share EVERY interest or accomplishment, so don’t try.  See above.  (It is more compelling to describe one or two things in detail and with consideration than to gloss over many of your interests and accomplishments.)
  3. Make it interesting.  Which of your experiences, ideas, accomplishments, etc. are exciting, unique, compelling?  Which will engage the reader?  Use these as part of your personal statement.  But remember, you can take a somewhat mundane job, service, or situation and make it interesting by the way you present it.  You don’t have to bungee jump in your spare time to be an interesting candidate!
  4. Be yourself.  In a “blind” reading of your application with other applications, your teachers and family should be able to identify yours.  Your responses should be those that only YOU can write.  Therefore, reflect upon an experience that was uniquely yours.  Remember, your experience doesn’t have to be universally profound, but it should have greatly affected you.
  5. Avoid generalizations (those things that most applicants could say about themselves, e.g. “I enjoy challenges,” “I want to get the most out of life,” “I want to serve my community”) and clichés.
  6. Avoid undue repetition.  Every word counts and should serve its purpose in advancing your personal statement.
  7. Show your knowledge of your planned course/place of study, your future career, the aims of the scholarship, relevant current events, etc. with specific references. 
  8. Have perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  9. Edit, edit, edit.  Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. . . .
  10. Get someone to review your statement.  At least one of your major professors should read over your statement for content and clarity.