Writing Your
Personal Statement

The personal statement is a critical factor in determining your success in scholarship and fellowship competitions. A compelling personal statement will set you apart from 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. 

10 Tips for Writing Successful Personal Statements

  1. Maintain a consistent story line that focuses on your special aspects, accomplishments, interests, and experiences.  Things that a reviewer will see on your transcript or resume should not be detailed in your personal statement.
  2. Keep a sharp focus.  You cannot share EVERY interest or achievement. Consider obstacles you've overcome and particular accomplishments, and then look for themes or patterns that will highlight your strengths and values.
  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.  
  4. Be yourself. Your responses should be uniquely "yours." Your experiences don’t have to be universally profound, but it should have greatly affected you.
  5. Avoid generalizations and clichés 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”
  6. Avoid 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. Make effective use of constructive criticism; remember that it's not necessary to make every change recommended to you, and don't get discouraged.
  10. Ask a couple of people other than the Fellowship Advisor (i.e. a faculty advisor, an adult mentor)  to review your statement.  At least one of your major professors should read over your statement for content and clarity.

Attend one of the Personal Statement Writing Workshops to hear more about how to get started, and to begin the process!

Project and Research Proposals

In addition to Personal Statements, many scholarships and fellowships require a project or a research proposal; funders often want to know specifics about the potential use of award funds. While nearly all scholarship and fellowship competitions require personal statements, the proposal is a unique opporunity to demonstrate your ambition and focus.

Please read The Art of Writing Proposals written by Adam Pzreworski and Frank Salomon for the Social Science Research Council, 1995 rev., 1998. These authors offer valuable insights about proposal writing, and general how-tos, to guide your process .

Another great resource is Disposed to Propose, written by a professor and academic at Swarthmore College. This article offers an insider's perspective, from a reviewer's vantage point. His critique and comments are valuable considerations, as you review and edit your own statement(s).