Examples of Successful Statements
Below are samples of personal statements. You may also select "Sample Statement" in the Media Box above for a PDF sample.
My interest in science dates back to my years in high school, where I excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. When I was a senior, I took a first-year calculus course at a local college (such an advanced-level class was not available in high school) and earned an A. It seemed only logical that I pursue a career in electrical engineering.
When I began my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to be exposed to the full range of engineering courses, all of which tended to reinforce and solidify my intense interest in engineering. I've also had the opportunity to study a number of subjects in the humanities and they have been both enjoyable and enlightening, providing me with a new and different perspective on the world in which we live.
In the realm of engineering, I have developed a special interest in the field of laser technology and have even been taking a graduate course in quantum electronics. Among the 25 or so students in the course, I am the sole undergraduate. Another particular interest of mine is electromagnetics, and last summer, when I was a technical assistant at a world-famous local lab, I learned about its many practical applications, especially in relation to microstrip and antenna design. Management at this lab was sufficiently impressed with my work to ask that I return when I graduate. Of course, my plans following completion of my current studies are to move directly into graduate work toward my master's in science. After I earn my master's degree, I intend to start work on my Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Later I would like to work in the area of research and development for private industry. It is in R & D that I believe I can make the greatest contribution, utilizing my theoretical background and creativity as a scientist.
I am highly aware of the superb reputation of your school, and my conversations with several of your alumni have served to deepen my interest in attending. I know that, in addition to your excellent faculty, your computer facilities are among the best in the state. I hope you will give me the privilege of continuing my studies at your fine institution.
(Stelzer pp. 38-39)
Having majored in literary studies (world literature) as an undergraduate, I would now like to concentrate on English and American literature.
I am especially interested in nineteenth-century literature, women's literature, Anglo-Saxon poetry, and folklore and folk literature. My personal literary projects have involved some combination of these subjects. For the oral section of my comprehensive exams, I specialized in nineteenth century novels by and about women. The relationship between "high" and folk literature became the subject for my honors essay, which examined Toni Morrison's use of classical, biblical, African, and Afro-American folk tradition in her novel. I plan to work further on this essay, treating Morrison's other novels and perhaps preparing a paper suitable for publication.
In my studies toward a doctoral degree, I hope to examine more closely the relationship between high and folk literature. My junior year and private studies of Anglo-Saxon language and literature have caused me to consider the question of where the divisions between folklore, folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I attend your school, I would like to resume my studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special attention to its folk elements.
Writing poetry also figures prominently in my academic and professional goals. I have just begun submitting to the smaller journals with some success and am gradually building a working manuscript for a collection. The dominant theme of this collection relies on poems that draw from classical, biblical, and folk traditions, as well as everyday experience, in order to celebrate the process of giving and taking life, whether literal or figurative. My poetry draws from and influences my academic studies. Much of what I read and study finds a place in my creative work as subject. At the same time, I study the art of literature by taking part in the creative process, experimenting with the tools used by other authors in the past.
In terms of a career, I see myself teaching literature, writing criticism, and going into editing or publishing poetry. Doctoral studies would be valuable to me in several ways. First, your teaching assistant ship program would provide me with the practical teaching experience I am eager to acquire. Further, earning a Ph.D. in English and American literature would advance my other two career goals by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with language. Ultimately, however, I see the Ph.D. as an end in itself, as well as a professional stepping stone; I enjoy studying literature for its own sake and would like to continue my studies on the level demanded by the Ph.D. program.
(Stelzer pp. 40-41)
By Brittany Mihalec-Adkins
As evidenced by you clicking on this article, you already know that writing a good personal statement can be hard. Fortunately, there really is a science to it (or maybe an art?). Even more fortunate is that we’ve compiled some of that science for you! Without further ado, here is some of our advice for mapping out your personal statement.
Step 1: Open with a hook
First things first: you’ll want to open with a “hook” – an attention-grabber that will keep your readers reading. You’ve been hearing this since 6th grade English class, I know, but standing out is important when you’re applying for competitive fellowships, scholarships, internships, and so on. Reviewers are likely reading dozens and dozens of these things, so it’s crucial that you find a way to engage them right from the beginning. Take a look at your favorite novels and short stories and think about why you kept reading after the first line.
Step 2: Set up the backdrop
Next, set up the backdrop. What got you interested in your area of study? How did you get to where you are now – working on this particular application? Maybe you went on a field trip to a nature preserve in 3rd grade where you learned about water pollution. Then in 5th grade, you moved to a new neighborhood close to a river that was too dirty to swim in, and as you got older, you started thinking about what we can do to protect our fresh water sources. Maybe it pushed you to major in Environmental Science in college, and now you’re applying for a Fulbright grant to continue this work. Telling this story will help reviewers see how invested you are in your topic and help them, in turn, feel invested in you.
Step 3: Walk them through your experience
When you get to the body of your personal statement, you’ll obviously move to discussing your various educational, professional, and volunteer experiences. This part can be particularly tricky to write and especially boring for reviewers to read. Why? Because many people use this space to regurgitate their CV instead of walking readers through their experiences. Try to use your many impressive experiences to tell a story about how you went from that disgruntled 5th grader with no river to swim in, to the fellowship applicant you are now. Maybe even draw out a map or timeline of your experiences and draw arrows connecting similar experiences when deciding how they could all be presented in a coherent and interesting narrative. Remember: this section is supposed to help the reviewers get to know you better, not just remind them of what’s on your CV. You want to illustrate, with your experience, that you are passionate about your work without having to ever use the word “passionate.”
Step 4: Make your closing pitch
Finally, use the concluding paragraph (or two) of your statement to briefly explain both (1) why this particular fellowship is the best fit for your goals, over the many others you could be applying to, and (2) why you are the best fit for the fellowship. Use this space to address specific aspects of the fellowship experience and how you can both contribute to and grow from those experiences. Talk about how you see this fellowship catapulting you into your next endeavor or altering the trajectory of your career as a world-renowned environmentalist. The reviewers want to choose someone in whom to invest – use your final sentences to convince them that you are worth investing in.
Brittany Mihalec-Adkins is a first-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and second-year Ph.D. student in Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University.
© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.