University Fellowships Mark


Personal Statements and Essays

Fellowship applications always require a personal statement, and some opportunities also require research proposals. Every viable candidate has a high GPA and stellar letters of recommendation. What distinguishes the top candidates from the others is the quality of the personal statement. 

Personal statements are difficult to write, but don’t be frustrated! 

Distilling your life into a compelling, informative personal statement is an extremely challenging task. Approach the process as an opportunity to reflect calmly and creatively on who you are, who you want to be, and what you hope to do with your life.

Think of the statement as an intellectual autobiography. 

Tell a story about you that makes the selection committee members want to invest in you. There is no single formula for writing a successful personal statement, just as there is no single profile of a fellowship winner. The selection committee will want to see that the threads of your life–your academic and personal interests and experiences–have brought you to a place where your chosen opportunity is a clear next step for which you are prepared and qualified. They will also want to understand how the fellowship itself will help launch the next stages of your life and career. 

In order to write a compelling essay, you will need to think in depth about your life and goals. If you apply for multiple awards, you will submit different versions of your personal statement to each one, crafted specifically in terms of length and the qualities desired in the candidates.

Your statement does not have to be entirely academic. 

Some successful candidates talk about their interests, or personal growth and challenges that they have overcome in their statements. All successful personal statements show a side of the candidate that a list of accomplishments could not. It is not appropriate to discuss information that is so personal you would not want it published in a newspaper should you receive the award.

Successful personal statements cannot be written in one sitting. 

Start your essay well in advance of the deadline. Show drafts of your personal statement to as many people as you can, including your letter writers and colleagues. 

Talk to your readers about the things that motivate, inspire, and shape you. 

Although a personal statement should not come across as bragging, many applicants need to overcome their modesty in order to write compelling personal statements. Don’t write to impress, and avoid clichés. Fellowship selection committees have seen and heard it all! Instead, let your credentials speak for themselves. Help the readers to understand what specific accomplishments have meant to you, or how they have shaped you and your life goals. 


Rhodes Scholars speak about the personal essay and the application process

Boucke Building
University Fellowships Office
321 Boucke Building
University Park, PA 16802