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Personal Statement

Personal statements are narratives – stories – that introduce you as a person to your reader. They typically explain what led you to where you are now and where you hope to go from here.

For many students, writing an effective personal statement is the most challenging part of their application. It can be tricky to figure out how to tell a story that really engages your reader while also explaining something significant about your life trajectory, your character, and your motivation for what you are proposing. 

Writing a personal statement can also be the most powerful and rewarding part of the application process. Through writing the personal statement, some students see connections between their personal, academic and professional selves that they hadn’t considered before, arriving at a new and deeper understanding of themselves and their motivations.  

Know the specifics

  • Research the award selection criteria on the program website before starting your personal statement. Your materials should implicitly reflect the goals and values of the foundation or award you are applying for. Check this again at the end.
  • If there are specific questions (prompts) for the personal statement, be sure your statement responds to those questions.

Tell a story

  • You want to present a compelling snapshot of who you are, your priorities, your character and values, and the contributions you want to make.
  • Establish a storyline and stick to the point. This is not the place for a detailed accounting of every significant experience you’ve had.
  • What motivates you to do what you do?
  • What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are today? How did you do so?

Use examples

  • Beware of merely stating your skills. Steer clear of generality and cliché, and make your personal statement unique to you, by using specific moments from your own experience to show the qualities you want to convey.
  • Consider one or two concrete moments that will help you focus and give a human face to your discussion. For example, was there a specific instance, person, experience that drives your commitment? Draw clear connections between these stories and the larger point you want your essay to make.

Say what can’t be said anywhere else

  • Highlight and draw out elements of yourself as a person that might be implied by your accomplishments, stated elsewhere in the application, or that might make those accomplishments especially impressive.