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How to Write a Personal Statement

Fellowship applications require a personal statement.  While expectations for this essay vary, in general the personal essay is the piece of the application through which you may share your story as it relates to your future aspirations. The personal statement is an intellectual biography which illumines the reasons behind your intellectual pursuits. In many ways it is one of the most difficult essays you will write. The fellowships office offers workshops on writing personal statements.  We also have examples of personal statements by Fellowship recipients on courses.  Please contact the office for access.

A personal statement is:

A picture. Provide a snapshot of who you are as a person.

An invitation. Your job is to "bridge the assumed distance of strangers." Invite your reader to know you.

An indication of your priorities and judgment. Your selection of material reveals your priorities and ability to discern effectively.

A story, or more precisely, your story. The personal statement allows room for creative, meaningful self-reflection.

A personal statement is not:

An academic paper with you as the subject. The objective distance of academic writing disengages the reader from you in a personal statement.

A resume in narrative form. Other parts of your application, which might include a resume, already tell readers about your accomplishments. A personal statement must reveal and interpret beyond a resume.

A journal entry. A common mistake is allowing your personal statement to read like a diary. Share only relevant material selectively, in a voice that remains both individual and professional.

A plea or justification. Don't beg and don't defend the (incorrect) assertion that you are more worthy than other candidates—it only backfires.

From Writing Personal Statements and Scholarship Application Essays (Joe Schall, 2006)