Building a Personal Statement

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A personal statement is a one to two page document that tells the story of your candidacy. A strong personal statement mixes your personal and academic experiences with an aspirational part to create a convincing argument about your candidacy. A personal statement serves as an introduction, a discussion of your connection to the subject matter, and the impact this will have on the larger context of your studies and career ambitions. Most of all, a personal statement should reflect the intensity of your bond to your work by demonstrating active knowledge of the field and how your life is shaped by the subject you study.

A) Gathering Information
All awards are predicated on specific subject matter and criteria, available on the specific program’s website. Know exactly what the fellowship is looking for in its candidates and describe your candidacy utilizing its terms and language. Your personal statement should directly address the subject matter of the fellowship. Before you begin writing, write down any questions or prompts that the fellowship program asks you to address in your personal statement.

B) Make an Outline
Build your statement incrementally. Start with an outline that has a thematic focus and roughly lists the topic and content of each paragraph. Eliminate inconsistencies that do not contribute to your main points. An outline will give your essay the structure, force, and continuity that are characteristic of successful personal statements.

C) Get Help and Be Patient
Once you have gathered important information from the fellowship sponsor’s website and put together an outline to map the progression of your statement you can begin to write.

1) Stay faithful to your thesis. A consistent storyline should run through your narrative and combine the different aspects, personal and academic, of your narrative. This is accomplished with the use of illustrations and examples that lend your statement a sense of intimacy, while demonstrating how these personal qualities and events fed into your academic interests. How did your background inform your current interests? Were there obstacles or hardships you endured? How did they bring your interests more into focus? What about the subject compels you? Did you have mentors who inspired you?

2) Be direct. Keep in mind that fellowship committees often are responsible for reading through many applications. Clarity is essential. You should feature your most important points early in the essay and make sure to refer back to your thesis throughout. Use specialized academic language clearly and appropriately. This is a formal document so avoid casual phrases or descriptions.

3) Revise. Be prepared to revise your essay: sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. This means you will be willing to rework or eliminate pieces of the essay. Do not be afraid to start over or rearrange parts of your statement. Make sure to discuss your statement with fellowship and faculty advisors. Show them drafts of the statement and be prepared to revise it several times. The point is to revise continually until you produce the most effective and convincing statement possible on your candidacy. Students often revise their essay ten or more times over the course of three to six months. Patience and persistence are key.