Personal Statements

Tips on Writing a Successful Personal Statement

The Personal Statement

  • The personal statement is an exercise in self-reflection and is a piece of autobiographical writing
  • Spend time asking yourself: Who am I? What do I care about? Why, then, am I applying for this fellowship? What will I bring to my future profession? This statement reflects your goals and can showcase your creativity, critical thinking skills, and analytic skills.
  • Be sincere and authentic. You should write from your own experience, providing details and descriptions that speak to who you are. Keep a consistent tone so it reflects an individual with integrity of self.
  • Highlight the connections. Your personal life is inextricably linked to your passions and goals. Draw clear connections between your life and your academic, professional and peronals aspirations.
  • Open Strong: The opening sentence should grab the reader's attention, and should send the message "THIS LOOKS INTERESTING. READ ON." However, avoid platitudes and exaggerations. Many applicants begin with anecdotes, because they allow the writer to begin with a narrative opening rich with details.
  • Sentences should be short and concise.  Each sentence should tell the reader something new.
  • Never be satisfied with the first draft.  REVISE, REVISE, REVISE.  Work on this document constantly and have several faculty, friends, family, staff, and mentors this and offer suggestions. Students end up with several if not dozens of drafts before the final prose is complete.
  • Keep the audience in mind. Most foundation websites offer tips on how to write a personal statement for their award and what they are looking for specifically. Go over the prompt constantly; clip it to the top of your drafts so you have it in mind constantly. Most of the fellowships the Office of National and International Fellowships works with have an audience of well educated readers, but are not specialists in your field necessarily. You do not want to be so specific that they have no idea what you are talking about.
  • Proofread! Even if you feel like you have read the personal statement hundreds of times, make sure you have truly carefully proofread the entire document. For example, try proof reading exercises like reading out loud slowly or reading from the bottom up.
  • When done with the final draft, let someone who has not read the essays, read it.  They will find things you did not.

IMPORTANT: View the updated policies for the Rhodes and Mitchell Scholarships 

Know Your Resources

  • Seek out professional assistance. The Writing Center provides professional writing assistance for students applying for national awards. Also, writing instructors conduct workshops for personal statements in particular. Utilize these resources available to you.
  • Send drafts to your advisors and mentors. Occidental faculty have experience working with students for national awards. Do not be afraid to ask a close faculty member or mentor to read and suggest advice on how to construct the personal statement. Make sure you provide them with the prompt if specific areas need to be covered in the personal statement.