Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Your Scholarship Applications
Scholarships often ask about you, your goals, and your community. Here's how to wow admins with your personal story.
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One of the most common things you'll be asked for on scholarship or school applications is your personal statement (or personal essay). Your personal statement is your best chance to show off your experiences while retaining some of your personality.
Your personal statement is somewhat like a cover letter, but offers more flexibility in terms of what you focus on. You generally won't need both a personal statement and a cover letter, since they both cover similar ground.
Here's how you can draft a short, punchy, effective personal statement for use in your scholarship applications:
How do I write a personal statement for scholarship applications?
Generally, your personal statement should be around 500 words. Be sure you pay attention to the instructions, though! If a word limit is specified, stick to it. When in doubt, come in a little under the count. The over-worked scholarship admins reading it will thank you!
The following four-part essay structure is common across many scholarship programs. Lots of admins will ask you to write something along these lines. Always pay attention to the essay prompt! Only submit a personal statement that aligns with the expectations of the scholarship administrator. That said, there are a handful of things you'll probably want to address in your statement. Try to tackle each of these parts:
Part 1: Who are you?
Simple enough, right? Who are you, what are you about? What's your general elevator pitch for yourself? If you could focus on just a small handful of descriptors for your background, status, and interests, what would they be?
Example: My name is Taylor Hughes, and I'm a life sciences student at the University of Manitoba. Previously, I led a volunteer team to help electrify a rural village in Colombia. I'm a passionate environmentalist, I play piano, and I mentor first-year students in lifesci basics when I'm not analyzing soil samples in Dr. So and So's lab.
From this short excerpt, you can get a sense of what Taylor's interests and priorities are, and perhaps a hint of her personality, too. You may want to include info on your school and program, or clubs you belong to. Keep it succinct, though — you only have 500 words total, so it's best not to include every fact about yourself if you can help it.
Part 2: What are your goals?
So, we've covered the past and the present. Next is the future. What are your goals, dreams, hopes, ambitions? Where do you want to go in the next year, or two, or ten?
This might work better if you can attach your goals to your personal story. Maybe you want to support elderly patients suffering with dementia because you saw it affect your own grandparents. Don't worry if your goals don't align perfectly with your history, though. Change is good!
Example: My dream is to become a conservationist and help protect Canada's arctic. Climate change is devastating our planet, and the arctic is a delicate ecosystem that requires human intervention to keep it healthy for the people and animals who live there.
This example is simple — just two sentences — but it helps connect Taylor's current education plans to her dream career. We know she's already on her way to accomplishing this goal, as she's taking life sciences courses and even working in a professor's lab. The goal she outlines here is nicely in line with her actions so far.
You may have more than one goal. That's fine! Don't go overboard listing every hope and dream you've ever had, but try to focus on a few that are conceptually related to the scholarship you're applying to, or your program of study, etc.
Part 3: What would receiving this scholarship mean to you?
Now, imagine yourself receiving the scholarship you're after. How would this impact your life? Would your situation materially improve by receiving the award?
Example: Receiving this scholarship would mean that I could give up my part-time retail job in favour of more hours in the lab and the academic resource centre. I get much more value out of analyzing soil samples and tutoring first-years than I do stocking shelves, so I'd love to be in a financially-secure position so I can concentrate on what I do best.
Again, Taylor's connected her goals to the scholarship outcome: getting an award would indirectly support others (her tutored students, who will get more focus and attention), and the world (by helping Taylor protect the arctic).
You could get even more specific, if you have a particular project in mind. Maybe you're hoping to launch a non-profit in the summer, or start up a volunteer-led meal support program. Connect these positive outcomes to your goals, described above.
This part might be tough, but if you've come this far, you can do it! Community involvement is a big part of many scholarship applications — we all come from somewhere. Maybe your community is a wide diaspora, or maybe it's just your close-knit family. For most people, "community" is nebulous and ever-shifting. This fact gives you some leeway when speaking about the impact of a scholarship.
Example: As a member of the Black Lake First Nation, my community is at the heart of everything I do. Though my studies take me into the arctic circle, protecting the planet is critical for all peoples. I want to show the next generation of Black Lake girls that science is for everyone, and that individual efforts can grow into a movement. I'd love to some day establish a scholarship of my own, to support First Nations women and girls in the field of conservation.
Here, Taylor makes a connection between her youth and her studies, showing that the thing she cares most about — conservation — has a material impact on the community she grew up in. Taylor wants to embody a living example of what girls from her First Nation can accomplish if they work hard on their goals.
That's it! By now, you have a pretty good first draft of a personal statement that you can use for multiple scholarship applications. Our examples only add up to about 250 words, so don't be afraid to elaborate on the parts that are most important to you. Again, 500 words is a common limit, but tailor your work to the specific scholarship.
Always pay attention to the essay prompt, too. The four parts given above are a common structure, but different scholarship administrators may expect different things. You may be able to use some of these elements, but not all — you'll have to be the judge of what's appropriate in any given situation.
Still, at least you've got some writing done! Sorting out your ideas, and conducting a sort of self-inventory, can be helpful in deciding your next steps. Writing a short personal statement like this can be a healthy exercise, even if it doesn't win you any cash.
I've got my personal statement. Now what?
If you haven't got them already, there are a couple other aspects of a solid application that you'll want to tackle:
Once you have all of these assets, you're ready to start applying! Seek out the schools and scholarships that interest you most, knowing you're well-equipped with the documents you need to make a positive impression.
Best of luck!
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