From asking about why you believe you deserve the scholarship to how you envision yourself changing the world, scholarship committees often ask a wide range of essay questions. Though essay questions can come in various forms, the personal statement is consistently about you, the applicant. There are many creative ways to offer a personal account of who you are and what you bring to the table. However, there are a few things that you should avoid when writing a powerful personal statement.
Do NOT talk about your activities, honors, awards, and GPA. It’s already mentioned in your supporting documents (i.e., resume, general application). Instead, focus on your interests, motivation, future goals and how your educational pursuits align with both you as an individual and the specific program that you seek interest in. It is important to pay attention to the prompt when applying to multiple opportunities. You want to be sure to answer the statement clearly and specifically as requested instead of using a one size fits all approach. Consider institutional qualities and why it would be a good fit. This is a good time to explain gaps in between school if you have worked or volunteered. Share your unique experiences of what you learned and how it relates to your academic and research interests.
Do NOT start on the personal statement less than one week before the deadline. You want to have a high-quality document that shows your holistic growth throughout school and displays your well-roundedness. Crafting a high-quality document includes having experienced professionals review and provide feedback for a polished submission. This process will require you to seek help including reading other statements to understand the expectation of structure, writing style and tone. It is normal for it to take multiple drafts for you to get to the finished product.
Do NOT make your personal statement above the set word and/or page limit. You do not want to get your entire application thrown out due to not meeting requirements. These reviewers are looking at a ton of applications and are looking for any reason to not read your application regardless of how great your essay is. They may not even review your application if you do not follow the simple instructions. Omit any information that is not contributing to the theme of your statement. Be concise and eliminate any filler words. Remember, that quality is better than quantity.
Do NOT tell a sob story with the sole intention of receiving sympathy from the review board. You should show how you’ve overcome any trials instead of complaining about the unfortunate situations and circumstances you’ve endured. You want your story to be memorable in a positive way as your perspectives provide insight into your character. You may share personal characteristics that would contribute to your success in the program. People want to engage with hardworking, optimistic, and engaged team players. It is important to stay focused on the prompt and to refrain from sharing any information that does not align with or enhance your statement. Generally, you should keep the sharing of your experiences limited to the timeframe of your undergraduate experience and avoid sharing controversial topics such as religion or politics if it is not relevant to your program.
Do NOT submit a personal statement with multiple grammar, punctuation, and format mistakes. Your essay reviewers will be distracted from the overall message due to minor or major errors. You don’t want to give them any added reasons to throw your essay out when compared to another applicant of similar quality with no grammatical errors. Remember that this is your first impression to demonstrate that your writing is of professional quality and meets expectations. Editing and proofreading your statement is the basis of any writing. Not only do you want to proofread your statement several times but have another set of eyes review it multiple times too.
Check out my scholarship training, Unlocking Scholarships: Own the Keys to Your STEM Degree, Debt-Free, to learn more about writing award-winning personal statements!