The personal statement is your opportunity to communicate directly to the selection committee. It serves as the heart of your fellowship application, is often the biggest determining factor in getting you to the interview stage, and can be a basis for questions asked during the interview.
The personal statement should be a clear, logically-developed set of points with supporting evidence. However, as this is a personal statement, the language does not have to be very formal or academic. Think of the statement as a way for you to tell a story or paint a portrait of yourself.
In essence, your statement should:
- Address the prompt directly
- Give specific detailed examples, making connections between them
- Provide insight not revealed in other parts of application
- Be sincere and maintain a consistent tone
- Make the reader want to meet you!
How Do I Start?
The personal statement is the component of your application on which you will spend the most time and effort. A successful statement will likely go through many drafts as you try different narratives or figure out ways to develop certain points further. It is highly advised for you to start early so that you have the time and energy to thoroughly explore different approaches to your personal statement to a final form that is a reflection of your best effort.
A personal statement should generally answer these questions:
- Who am I?
- Who do I want to be?
- What contributions do I want to make, why are they significant, and how will I work achieve them?
- Why is this fellowship for me, specifically?
To help you answer the questions above, here are a few to ask yourself as starting points:
- What makes me distinctive? How would friends or family describe what is important or significant about me to others?
- What specific moments in my life have shaped who I am today and my future goals?
- What drew me to my field of study?
- What do I care deeply about?
- What are my plans 5-10 years from now?
- Which possible academic programs or opportunities through a particular fellowship excite me and why? What further research or contacts have I done/made to learn more?
- How will the fellowship help me reach my goals?
Do's and Don'ts for Your Personal Statement
- Start early!
- Write a statement that is a unified whole - have an opening sentence that captures the reader's interest, a connecting thread throughout the essay, and a strong conclusion
- Build connections between your personal experiences, your goals, and what you plan to study
- Follow instructions carefully - address all parts of the prompts, adhere to word counts and other technical requirements
- Proofread - edit your piece thoroughly, revisit your statement often, have others look over your writing (where allowable)
- Be sincere - you should be comfortable discussing your personal statement during the interview
- If your application consists of the personal statement and additional short narratives, be strategic about the content; have the essays complement each other rather than provide redundancies (see UHM SFO Handout - Guidelines for Personal Statement for more detailed information on sample short essay prompts)
- Writing a statement that is too generic or too polished - the committee wants to get to know you, and your writing style is a part of who you are
- Coming across as bragging or being too overly modest
- Describing yourself mainly in adjectives - use concrete examples to demonstrate your character
- Turning your resume/CV/list of activities into a narrative - your resume/CV/list of activities already indicates how long you have been in a student group, use this opportunity to highlight lessons/skills you have learned through your involvement (or other insight not listed in your resume/CV/list of activities)