The Personal Statement
Your Personal Statement should narrate your personal and intellectual development. It should illustrate how the proposed experience is the next logical and necessary step in your life, and how you are qualified to carry it out. It is your opportunity to illustrate what a unique and exceptional individual you are. Here are questions to consider while writing:
- Overall, is your Personal Statement interesting and easy to read? Does it show, rather than tell, who you are?
- Does your Personal Statement demonstrate your motivation and ability to work independently?
- Does your Personal Statement show who you are, and make the reader want to know you better?
- Do you demonstrate your experience and interest in becoming a leader and innovator in your field?
- Will the reader feel confident you would represent the funding agency well?
- Do you maintain a theme or connecting concept throughout your Personal Statement?
- Does your Personal Statement explore connections between your academic life and the rest of your life?
- Do you repeat information included in other parts of your application? Omit repeated information unless it is absolutely necessary, e.g., further explanation or emphasis.
Mistakes often made by applicants when writing a Personal Statement:
- Turning the Personal Statement into an extended version of a resume. Applicants often ask how they should incorporate activities into their essay when they have already listed them separately on the application. Leave out less important things (or limit items that ate not critical to the Personal Statement to other portions of your application—there are sections in the scholarship application for listing honors, awards, and activities).
- Exaggerating your history and situation. Do not believe that all applicants expand on the truth. Experienced interviewers often uncover exaggeration during interviews. This can be embarrassing and disastrous for an applicant.
- Being overly clever or cute in writing the Personal Statement. Selection committees have read quite literally hundreds of essays, and they find overly clever essays annoying. This reaction can do nothing but harm the future of your application.
The Statement of Purpose
Statements of Purpose are usually limited in length. Use your space wisely to fully describe your project or purpose. You should cover the essential details of your project or purpose within the first or second paragraph.
The Statement of Purpose should demonstrate that you are able to plan and implement a successful research project or course of study. Statement of Purpose is your guide to completing your study and meeting your objectives. The Statement of Purpose should be as specific as possible, while also being flexible enough to allow for adjustments in response to unanticipated circumstances.
Ask yourself the following questions during your writing and editing processes:
- Overall, is the Statement of Purpose persuasive, direct, concise, and easy to read? Short (three or four-sentence) paragraphs can be very effective.
- Does the Statement of Purpose emphasize the relevance and significance of the project from start to finish?
- Does the first paragraph answer who, what, when, where, why, and how?
- Do the subsequent paragraphs detail what you propose to do and how you will do it?
- Is the timeline realistic, specific, acceptable, and appropriate? Does it include any pre- and post-grant plans?
- Are there clearly defined, achievable goals and objectives (the activities/steps to reach your goals), concrete outcomes, and measurable results?
- Does the proposal fit within the context of your academic experience and skills?
- Are the methodology and activities comprehensive, relevant, appropriate, feasible, and approved/approvable, if necessary?
- Does the proposal include an explanation of your field of study and the context of the project?
- If applicable, does the proposal describe with whom you will work, the support that they have offered to give you, and the significance of this assistance?
- Does the proposal demonstrate why the project or study needs to be at the proposed location/university, the resources provided, and how your collaborators will benefit from your work there?
- Does the proposal demonstrate that you have the academic background necessary for your project?
- Does the proposal clearly explain your future plans (immediate and long-term) and how your work will help further your academic and/or professional development?
- Does the proposal leave the reader with a sense of why your project should be supported?
- Does the closing paragraph of the proposal reemphasize what you will achieve and what makes your project exciting, necessary and unique?
Overall, the Statement of Purpose should be compelling and easily understood by both an educated “lay” person and an expert in your field. Since you do not know exactly who will read your application at the national (and/or international) level, write a proposal that is clear and comprehensible to someone who knows nothing about your subject, while also specific and detailed enough to convince an expert. Do not be afraid to use language or concepts specific to your field and to reference the work of other authors. If your project is highly technical, about 75% of your proposal should be easily understood by all readers.
Links to Essay Writing Tips
Writing Scholarship Essays (Kansas State)
Composing a Personal Statement: An Invitation to Frustration by: Kyle Mox
26 Golden Rules for Writing Well (US-Ireland Alliance)
How to Win a Graduate Fellowship
How to Win a Rhodes (NY Times)
Writing Personal Statements Online