Student Academic Grants and Awards

Definition of a Personal Statement

If you are applying for nationally competitive scholarships, for graduate school, or for a number of post-graduate service or employment opportunities, you have seen the vaguely phrased request; in one form or another, it comes down to "tell us something about yourself."

The Rhodes and Marshall competitions require a 1000-word personal essay: the Fulbright, a "curriculum vita." You are asked to share your "academic and other interests." A clearer charge might be: compose an essay that reveals who you are, what you care about, and what you intend to do in this life. Tell this story in a compelling manner, and do so in less than a thousand words. What's so hard about that? Simply make sense of your life (right.) But what does that mean? What will it look like?

Because personal statements are personal, there is no one type or style of writing that is set out as a model. That can be liberating; it can also be maddening. But while every personal statement is unique in style, its purpose is the same.

A personal statement is your introduction to a selection committee. It determines whether you are invited to interview; and if selected as a finalist, interview questions will be based on this material. It is the heart of your application.

A personal statement is:

A personal statement is not:

So, what must you include in the personal statement? An effective personal statement will answer the following questions: