Writing Personal Statements Online

The Truman Scholarship


The Truman Scholarship awards up to $30,000 towards graduate study, and undergraduates apply during their junior year. Applicants must have extensive records of community service, be committed to working in a government or public service position, and possess excellent communication skills. Truman Scholars are also required to fulfill a special public service requirement, committing to work in public service for 3-7 years following completion of their graduate degree, as detailed on the Truman website.

The Truman Scholarship Selection Criteria

In culling from among about 600 candidates nominated by nearly 300 colleges and universities, the Truman Scholarship selection committee uses criteria including:

  • quality and length of community or government service;
  • leadership record, academic performance, and analytical skills.

Selectors give priority to candidates enrolling specifically in graduate programs related to service, ranging from public policy to environmental protection.

The Truman Scholarship Application Essays

The Truman Scholarship application requires extensive writing in the form of more than a dozen questions to answer with lists and short essays and a separate two-page policy proposal. The application questions include discussions of a specific example of your leadership, a recent service activity, a societal problem, influential courses you have taken, your target graduate program and future plans, and an open-ended question for “additional personal information.” There are two important pieces of advice in answering these application questions. First, don’t leave any questions blank—find creative ways to answer all of the questions based on your background, seeking advice from your school’s Truman faculty representative. Secondly, thoroughly scour the Truman website, linked in the “Self-Study” box below. Here you will find links to everything from a checklist to help you assess your potential to become a Truman Scholar to both satisfactory and unsatisfactory responses to application questions.

The website also details policy proposal tips and provides a sample proposal. In the policy proposal, your task is to choose a controversial, manageable, well-studied problem and write a recommendations-based proposal to a government official. Obviously, you are not expected to solve the problem—the committee is interested in how well you can analyze an issue and demonstrate both a passion and practicality for solving it. In writing this proposal, keep in mind the fundamental definition of a Truman Scholar: one who will be an agent of social change.

Evaluation of Two Sample Truman Scholarship Policy Proposals

Because the Truman website is so thorough in its advice about writing personal statements and answering the application essay questions, I do not offer any such examples for this particular scholarship here, instead focusing on presenting two sample Truman Policy Proposals.

In the two sample policy proposals that follow in the pdf link below, you will find some noteworthy similarities: both use the same basic form and headings; both use statistical data to demonstrate the problem; both provide a specific solution (the first in the form of a bill, the second in the form of an education program) to address the problem; both cite a variety of references. These similarities are significant in that every Truman policy proposal needs to have these attributes in order to be successful.

Considering the proposals individually, the first focuses on the controversial topic of discrimination faced by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. This writer analyzes how members of this community experience problems ranging from employment to physician referrals, and correlates how such individuals might be protected in the same way that persons of color are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The writer shows particular savvy as she reminds her target senator that he recently supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but that she proposes a bill whose net of protection would be even wider. As we read the final section of the proposal, purposely even-handed in tone, we recognize that the writer is politically active, aware, and potentially persuasive. Indeed, this candidate did receive a Truman Scholarship.

The second proposal focuses on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), opening by noting the fate of the innocent victims, then branching into statistics about both binge drinking among women and low levels of FAS awareness. The writer’s proposal is to deliver FAS awareness programs within colleges through increasingly popular first-year seminar classes, and the essay’s end analyzes the considerable challenges involved in implementing this proposal. Some readers might find the proposal unpersuasive in that FAS problems themselves are not fleshed out and the relationship between cited data and proposed solution may be thin, but remember that the committee looks at this proposal in the context of the entire application, and fully intends to put a significant writing challenge.

Click here to download a pdf of two sets of Truman Scholarship application essays by former students.


The Truman Scholarship website is extensive and well-organized, including advice on preparing the personal statement, suggestions to candidates from a past participant, a sample Policy Proposal, and profiles of past Truman scholars.

Visit the Truman Scholarship website.