Good writing takes time and practice. Consider adding Strunk and White’s iconic text, ‘The Elements of Style,’ to your collection:
‘Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell’.
The personal statement is at the heart of most scholarship and fellowship applications and it remains one of the most challenging but rewarding written efforts that you will encounter in the scholarship process. It is, strictly speaking, your story. It asks you to find a way to articulate who you are because of the what, why, and where. In other words, the personal statement asks you critically reflect on how you define yourself based on your sense of self, what you value, what you are passionate about, where those passions come from and how they are both manifesting in your current experience and will likely take further shape in your future. It compels you to drop the pretense, break through any and all previous assumptions of what defined you coming into your undergraduate experience (GPA, test scores, captain of team, etc., etc.) and really begin to dive deep into your own authenticity.
Writing Your Personal Statement
A strong personal statement not only tells your story, it does so in a way that is both captivating and sincere. It is focused, clear, concise, but compelling. In actual fact, it is probably the most difficult bit of writing you will do as a national scholarship applicant, maybe even as an undergraduate. It is challenging for a variety of reasons:
- It forces you to write in way that conflates your ‘academic voice’ with your ‘personal voice’. After years of having your ‘personal voice’ trained out of your writing style, a personal statement asks you to put it back in given that you are making an effort to tell your particular story.
- It should reflect the level of critical reflection that has both shaped your sense of self and your sense of purpose. Meaning, you’ve given some time and thought to the effort.
- In addition to telling at least small part of your larger story, a personal statement should reflect your trajectory, detailing where you have come from and how that is shaping the next steps you plan to take.
- It requires you to think about your strengths, achievements and accomplishments and maybe even write about them. This is perhaps one of the strangest if not most difficult things for any ‘high-achieving’ individual who also tends to be quite humble when describing themselves.
- It requires a certain level of commitment to your future plans, even though anyone sitting on a review committee recognizes that what you put forward as your future plans (certainly while still an undergraduate) amounts to your best, well-educated guess).
- It is short. Most personal statements are a maximum of 1,000 words in length or less. That means you have to reduce (in the best sense of the word) your story to fit those requirements, hence the necessity of very clear and concise writing. A personal statement does not afford you the opportunity to pad your essay with a long introduction and grand, summative conclusion. There simply isn’t word-count enough. So, find a way in your first two sentences to capture your readers’ attention and proceed from there.
But, all that to say, if done well and with adequate time to reflect, write long, edit, revise and refine, your personal statement could also be one of the most rewarding pieces of writing you engage in while a student. It will help you not only develop a strong portfolio for your national scholarship applications; it will also guide you in your efforts toward graduate school, further professional pursuits, even job interviews. Why? Because you have given yourself a moment to stop, think, and write about what is at the very core of you and how that has and will continue to shape who you are becoming. If done well, your personal statement will be an authentic representation of yourself and will serve you the best of ways, providing with kind of a bell-weather as you pursue your next best thing. In fact, with minor adjustments apropos to your developing life-story, you may find that personal statement remains relatively unchanged at its core. Why? Because, chances are fairly good that your own core sense of self will remain relatively the same. So, rise to the challenge of the personal statement, overcome it, and benefit from the process of thinking and writing about your most authentic self.
And, of course, remember that you have the support of the ONSF staff, who recognize the difficulty of starting to write a personal statement. We all have our own ways of brainstorming and ‘priming the pump’; sometimes one of the best ways to start is to have a good long chat with someone about what you really (really) care about, why, and where and what you hope to see all those cares move you toward. That’s precisely what we are available to do with you – chat, listen, draw story-boards, idea webs, you name it – so, contact us to make an appointment. There is absolutely no reason you should feel you have to tackle the personal statement process on your own.
“I’d rather be a comma than a full stop…”—Chris Martin, Coldplay
Additional UT Resources to Help with Writing your Personal Statement
• ONSF Information Sessions and Personal Statement Workshops – see our current ONSF calendar for details about current offerings.
• UT Writing Center
• Writing Personal Statements Online Manual by Joe Schall