Every fellowship application requires a personal statement/essay from you. Selection committees want to learn about you and how well you and your project mesh with their expectations of an ideal fellowship recipient.
Remember that most candidates for the competitive fellowships have high GPAs and strong recommendations. What will distinguish you is the quality of the personal statement. You need to tell a story about you that makes the selection committee members want to meet you. They are looking for candidates who have already shown that they are capable of doing great things, who care about others, who want to make a difference in the world, and who can inspire others do join them.
There is no single formula for writing a successful personal statement.
Consider your audience. Selection committees typically are comprised of faculty from a broad range of academic disciplines.
- Tell the committee who you are, what motivates you, what you want to do, how you plan to do it, and why it is important
- Connect the fellowship opportunity to your past experiences—compelling moments in your personal and/or academic life, interesting anecdotes, something that shaped your outlook or motivated you. Focus on relevant experiences.
- Think of your characteristics, actions, and experiences that make you distinctive
- Be honest — clarity and authenticity are essential
For most study and research awards, it helps to explain what drew you to your field of interest, what specific points in college shaped your intellectual trajectory, what you plan to do in the future, and how this opportunity will help you get there.
NOTE: While some awarding organizations recommend that you share a draft of your statement with advisors, mentors, and professors, and receive feedback, others strictly prohibit it (like Rhodes and Marshall). Make sure you know and understand the guidelines on Personal Statements/Essays for each organization.
Some excellent Web resources on writing personal statements include: