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Writing a Personal Statement for Scholarship and Fellowships
Every viable candidate for the most competitive academic fellowships has a high GPA and stellar recommendations. What distinguishes the top candidates (the ones who are invited for interviews) from the others is the quality of the personal statement. It needs to showcase your accomplishments as well as communicate your vision for what you could achieve in the future. Most importantly, your personal statement should make the selection committee members remember you and want to meet you in an interview.
There is no single formula for writing a successful personal statement, just as there is no single profile of a fellowship winner. If you apply for multiple awards, you will likely have to write multiple versions of your personal statement, since different organizations look for different qualities in their candidates. Below are some general guidelines:
Personal statements for graduate fellowships and scholarships differ from personal statements for college admissions. While college admissions committees are looking for academic promise and potential interests, fellowships selection committees expect you to demonstrate professional expertise and insight in the field to which you are applying. For most study and research awards, it helps to think of the statement as an intellectual autobiography that defines a specific academic problem that interests you, explains how your particular work fits within the broader scholarly or professional field, proves your own expertise through detailed descriptions of past achievements, announces what you hope to do after the fellowship, and connects your proposed fellowship opportunity with these areas. In other words, you should tell a story of increasing expertise over time (especially in your college years) that leads smoothly into your plans for the future.
Choose examples wisely. When proving your claims, try to avoid anecdotes that only show the ways in which an event, course, or experience affected you. Instead, focus on examples that show your expertise, your approach to solving problems, your effective leadership, or another trait that you hope to showcase. What have you already done that will make a selection committee excited to invest in your future?
Successful personal statements cannot be written in one sitting or even in one week. Starting early is essential, and early may mean months in advance of the submission deadline. Some applicants write several very different draft versions of a personal statement before deciding which approach works best for them. Show drafts of your personal statement to as many people as you can (with the exception, of course, of awards like the Rhodes and Mitchell, which have rules against this). People who know you well should be able to read your personal statement and recognize that only you could have written it, that it doesn’t sound at all generic. People who don’t know you well should be able to read your personal statement and understand the major points you want to convey.
Make sure there are no grammatical errors in your essay and that the writing style is graceful by the time you are showing it to a campus committee. Take time to read your essay aloud and edit ruthlessly to avoid clichés and repetition. This essay needs to be representative of your very best work; make sure you give it the time it deserves!
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Your scholarship essay is a very important part of your application. Through your essay the selection committee is able to see you as more than a GPA or major. A well-written essay allows you to single yourself out from the other scholarship applicants.
Steps in Writing the Essay
Before beginning to write you should gather your transcripts and a list of any awards you have received (if applicable). You will need these as a reference as you develop your essay.
Develop a rough draft to use as an outline.
Using the topics below as a guide, create an outline of achievements and experiences that you will include in your essay. As these questions refer to most scholarship criteria, you will want to explore as many of these topics as possible in your essay. However, don’t force it. If you have the experience, list it. If not, focus on other areas. You will most likely not be able to devote an entire paragraph to each idea, so instead, consider a way to logically group some ideas together into one section/category. (For example, community involvement may fit well in a paragraph with a discussion of your special knowledge or skills, or they could even fit with your academic and career goals).
Start with a strong thesis or umbrella statement outlining your goals, and indicating the main categories you will be discussing in your essay.
Example: My academic achievements, my work experience, and my community service have all helped me to work toward my goals.
Be sure that each of your paragraphs begin with a clear topic sentence which indicates which topics you are focusing on in that paragraph.
|3.||You must stress how your experience helped you to develop the kinds of skills and qualities that selection committees are looking for in a good candidate. These include the following qualities taken directly from forms that are used for letters of recommendation for scholarships (Consider which ones fit your experiences best or others not listed here):|
The challenge of the scholarship essay is to make sure that you stress a constant theme: that many of your past experiences have helped to prepare you to be a good candidate for the scholarship.
Choice of words is important. You must be modest and yet ‘brag’ about your abilities at the same time. Use words like ‘good candidate,’ ‘well-prepared,’ ‘good leaderships skills’ and other terms that remain modest while demonstrating your abilities. Avoid exaggerated terms like ‘fantastic background,’ ‘my eternal passion for learning,’ ‘my exceptional skills,’ ‘my outstanding leadership ability’. Instead, let the evidence speak for itself.
|6.||Have someone else read over your essay to make sure that you have not made any exaggerated claims, but have clearly given enough detail to indicate your skills fully and accurately, your thoughts are well articulated, and it is easy to follow.|
Sample Scholarship Essay/Personal Statement
My life has been a struggle at times, but my hard work, determination, and enthusiasm for my education and my community has brought to UM Flint where I can pursue my dreams.
My academic plans are to major in pre-med and minor in chemistry. After graduating, I plan to obtain a nursing license. During my career as a nurse, I will attend medical school at the University of Michigan, studying forensic pathology. After medical school, I will do two years of residency to gain experience to complete my studies and training for my chosen field, a forensic nurse.
I’m a hardworking-dedicated student, who focuses on my studies, yet I have always enjoyed being involved in extracurricular activities. While in high school, I was captain of the varsity volleyball team for two years. I was also elected president of my class. I attended the Genesee Area Skill Center where I studied forensic science and was a member of the Technical Honor Society and HOSA (Health Occupation Student Association). I am currently involved in a scholarship program called CEO (Committed to Excellence and Opportunity) here at UM Flint. Next year, I plan to get more involved in college activities. I am interested in joining the student government club and a sorority. I am also active in my community. I volunteer at numerous places like the Humane Society and the North End Soup Kitchen.
I am the oldest of four children being raised by a single parent. My mother, Charlene Jackson, is a hardworking woman who struggles to keep food on the table; I work two jobs to help support my family, but we barely scrape by. Sometimes even getting transportation to school is a struggle for me. Because my mom is endeavoring through these hard times, I try my best to keep my grades up, knowing that I have opportunities that my mother never had.