Personal Statement Writing Advice
adapted from Marnie McInnes, DePauw University
Professor of English and Women's Studies
Director of Nationally Competitive Scholarships
In many ways, a scholarship application essay resembles other types of analytical essays you are asked to write in college courses. It must present a clear, logically developed, well-illustrated set of points; it must be a unified whole, rather than a string of observations; and it must be aware of its audience (faculty members, business people, and experts in the area defined by the scholarship).
Unlike critical essays you write for humanities and social science classes, and unlike science lab reports, however, most scholarship essays expect you to talk about personal experience. Using the first-person ("I") in a critical essay may be the single most difficult challenge for scholarship applicants. These essays need to make good, clear points, but they also need to tell stories and to convey your character, personality, values, and experiences. Strong scholarship essays are both critically astute and deeply personal.
As you draft your scholarship essay, ask yourself the following questions:
Does the essay address the prompt directly. answering all of its embedded questions?
Do I give specific, detailed examples to illustrate each of the points made
in the essay?
Do I show myself in action, rather than simply listing credentials and skills?
Does each topic sentence (first sentence of each paragraph) make a point or lay out an idea that is then developed and illustrated by the paragraph that follows? That is, could a reader follow the gist of your argument by reading only those first sentences?
What sentences or ideas best identify your passion in life. Could the essay begin with or more fully highlight these sentences and ideas?
The following questions are usually best to ask when reviewing a near-final draft of your scholarship essay:
Does the opening sentence catch the reader's attention?
Does the last sentence pull ideas in the essay together? Is it adequately specific and visionary (rather than just a flat summary)?
Does the essay have momentum? Does it build up to its most interesting and important insight?
Is there a thread connecting the different parts of the essay -- an idea or image that unites the essay as a whole?
Does the essay use unnecessary words? (Experiment by cutting adjectives and adverbs, especially intensifiers such as "unique" "entire" "overwhelming" "completely" "absolutely" "definitely". The plain sentence that results usually has more power and punch.)