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 beginning drafting, thoroughly research the award or program to which you are applying. Understand its namesake, the funding organization's mission and goals and review award recipient profiles.  Consider how your personal, professional and academic experience or training and elements of your background (for example, language skills, laboratory/research experience, TEFL or TESOL training, etc.) seem to "fit" with recent recipients' biographies or the organization's stated goals.
  2. Schedule an Appointment. If you are considering applying for any inter/nationally competitive award, you should make an appointment with us to discuss the award, your interests and approach to drafting your personal statement.
  3. Carefully Review Directions and Expectations. Many awards ask for one essay, others may also have 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 award's dossier, you can begin to outline your personal statements using their explicit 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. Utilize it. Take  time to brainstorm different experiences that have shaped who you are today. Provide specific examples that point to the type of person that you are and what is pulling you to apply for this particular award. 
  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 on Personal Statements, websites devoted to the genre and thousands of samples provided by award recipients online.  Feel free to 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, etc).  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. Now that you are fully prepared, it is time for you to begin crafting your personal statement. Similar to essays that you have written in the past, your personal statement should have an intriguing introduction, hearty body and compelling conclusion.
  9. Request Feedback. Once you think you have a working draft of your personal statement, meet with us, a trusted faculty, or staff advisor, work study/job/internship supervisors and perhaps writing consultants in the Frederik Meijer Center for Writing for feedback.
  10. Remember this is a Process. Writing a personal statement is a challenging task that takes time to develop. You should be prepared to go through many drafts and should have different people look at your personal statement as it evolves. Make sure you allow ample time to create and fine-tune the masterpiece that is YOUR STORY.

Writing a personal statement is a process that requires attention to detail, chances to reflect and dig deep inside yourself, ask for help and above all, know yourself and aligning who you are with a dream worth pursuing. The Office of Fellowships is here to assist you along your journey.