Writing Personal Statements

Personal statements provide you with an opportunity to craft your own narrative, share your story: where you came from, who you are, your dreams for the future, and the ways in which the fellowship to which you are applying will assist you in fulfilling your academic, professional and personal development goals. Think of your personal statement as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the selection committee. It may determine whether you are offered an award, invited to an interview, selected as a finalist, etc.  Likewise, interview questions often come from your personal statement and supporting documents. Consider it to be the heart of your application.

8 Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement

  1. Do Your Homework. Before you start drafting your essays, research the fellowship for which you are applying. Dig into its website! Understand its history, mission and goals. Do the rhetorical analysis that helps you see how the fellowship organizations describes itself and its mission. Review recent fellowship recipients' profiles. Follow the fellowship organization or agency on social media. Most fellowship organizations make available a tremendous amount of information for potential applicants, including tips for writing strong personal statements and policy proposals or research essays. Inventory your own strengths and experiences. Consider how your academic experiences and training, internship experiences, service and leadership experiences and elements of your background (for example, language skills, laboratory/research experience, TEFL or TESOL training, etc.) fit with the award criteria of the fellowship and with recent recipients' biographies and the organization's stated goals.
  2. Schedule an Appointment. If you are considering applying for any inter/nationally competitive fellowship award, make an appointment with us to discuss the award, your  qualifications and interests, and initial drafts (if you have one) of your personal statement.
  3. Carefully Review Directions and Expectations. Many fellowship application processes require a single essay or short paragraph responses to a series of essay prompts. Other fellowships may require a Statement of Grant Purpose, Statement of Proposed Research, Narrative CV or other application components.  Once you understand all of the components of a given fellowship application, you can begin to outline your personal statement and other essays using their expectations as a guide. 
  4. Pay Attention to Format. Some organizations have strict rules on character or word count.  Common max limits for personal statements are 7000 characters and 500-1000 words.  Likewise, funders may set requirements for font size or margins.  Failing to adhere to these rules may automatically disqualify your application. As a note, only check character or word counts in Microsoft Word or TextEdit. Google docs have known coding issues that lead to character and word counts that don't match many scholarship programs' submission software.
  5. Consider Your Story. Your personal statement offers a unique opportunity for you to showcase who you are, where you come from, and your dreams for the future. Take  time to brainstorm experiences that have shaped who you are today. Provide vivid examples that point to the type of person you are and help your reviewers see what draws you to this particular fellowship.
  6. Context matters. For a GV audience, saying "I grew up on the East Side" or "I'm from Hudsonville" may paint a picture of your hometown or community.  For competitive award reviewers, this information is meaningless. Instead try , "I grew up in X, a one-stoplight town in southeast Michigan" or "I was one of 26 (or 260 or 2600) students in my graduating class at Hamilton High School." 
  7. Review Examples. You'll find many books and websites devoted to the genre of the fellowship personal statement as well as thousands of samples provided by award recipients online. Review sample personal statements to get a sense of the genre and the appropriate tone and content for a specific opportunity.  Keep in mind that some highly competitive awards don't allow you to share your application essays or to receive feedback from ANYONE (friends, family, advisers, faculty).  We can help you to understand which awards we can provide feedback on and which awards require you to sign a statement attesting that you neither gave nor received assistance in preparing your award application.   
  8. Start Writing. Your personal statement should have an intriguing introduction, vivid, detailed body with a clear paragraph structure, and a compelling conclusion.
  9. Request Feedback. Once you think you have a working draft of your personal statement, get feedback! Writing is far more collaborative than many students envision it to be! Meet with us, a trusted faculty mentor or staff advisor, and writing consultants in the Frederik Meijer Center for Writing to brainstorm, review, reflect and redraft.
  10. Remember this is a Process. Writing a personal statement is a challenging task that takes time. Be prepared to go through many drafts. Ask a variety of people to look at your personal statement as it evolves. Give yourself ample time to create and fine-tune your story.

Writing a personal statement is a process that requires attention to detail, opportunities to reflect and dig deep, a willingness to ask for help and above all, an ability to capture snapshots of yourself that align who you are with the mission and values of the fellowship you seek. The Office of Fellowships is here to assist you along your journey.


Page last modified June 30, 2022