Writing Personal Statements Online

Chapter 5: Personal Statements and Application Essays for National Scholarships

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A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its
curtain around us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.

—Virginia Woolf

Nowhere does a student’s ability to communicate well about personal attitudes and accomplishments become more important than in applications for national scholarships. With a mostly even playing field among scholars when it comes to GPA, personal statements and answers to application questions truly do help selectors winnow out the best choices, seeking a tidy match between individual candidates and available opportunities. A Marshall Scholar might not be right for an NSF Fellowship, and vice versa; a student activist might be a poor fit for many scholarships but perfect for the Truman Scholarship.

This chapter summarizes nine of the nation’s most coveted scholarships, with samples of personal statements and essays following each scholarship description. All of the samples here are strong, and about half of them come from scholarship winners and finalists, culled from about 100 students representing about 20 states.

Using the material in this chapter, educate yourself on your target scholarship and study its samples thoroughly, recognizing the rhetorical strategies employed as well as how carefully writers match their backgrounds to the scholarship criteria. Visit the scholarship websites and read the profiles of past winners when available, envisioning yourself as a featured student on the website in the following year. Most importantly, be prepared to spend 50+ hours studying, reflecting, and writing as part of the scholarship application process, as winners typically report they do. Whether you win or not, the time will be well spent.