Thursday, September 22, 2011

Writing effective personal statements

Most applications for scholarships or admission to graduate school require a personal statement. I found a very useful site at Penn State, Writing Personal Statements online.

I read the two sample statements from applicants for a Marshall Scholarship. Both were very impressive. They illustrate several key ingredients
  • Distinctly personal. It is about you. Only you could write this. Avoid generics "I am really interested in subject X and want to study at University Y because it is a world class university."
  • Personally engaging. A natural outcome is that the reader should want to meet you.
  • Specific connection between applicant and the target institution/program. Mentioning specific courses, faculty, and research projects is key.
  • Polished and well written. This means writing and rewriting and getting feedback on drafts.
For those of us reading and reviewing applications I see two important consequences of this material being freely available.

First, the bar is higher. Any student with a little "get up and go" can Google "personal statements scholarship applications" and find material such as this. They should then aim to produce something of comparable quality.

Second, we need to be wary of plagiarism and so running applications through Turnitin or Googling suspect sentences may be a necessary precaution.

As an aside, I mention the movie Spanglish has an amusing opening scene [which I could not find on YouTube] where an admissions officer at Princeton is reading personal statements from undergraduate applicants.


  1. This is very informative post.Every man should have a good sense about personal statement for fellowship.I am waiting for this kinds of post. Thanks Again!!

  2. You are now at the forefront of another academic milestone as you plan to pursue advanced studies. Whether you intend to pursue graduate studies in a local school or abroad, you will have to undergo a rigid admission process, which will require you to submit various application documents, foremost of which is the Personal Statement. masters personal statement example

  3. My big advice is not rush it. A professional personal statement can't be written in a few days or  even a couple of days.

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  5. Thank you for posting this! I applied to vet school two years ago and did not get accepted. I have decided to try one more time and have been doing research on how to develop a better personal statement. Thank you for a good example and sharing your story! zoology personal statement