Writing Personal Statements Online

The Mitchell Scholarship


The Mitchell Scholarship is named to honor the former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell, who served as Chairman of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. The scholarship funds one year of graduate study at an Irish university and is awarded to approximately 12 students per year. The scholarship provides airfare, tuition, fees, housing, and a stipend for living expenses. The Mitchell Scholarship Selection Committee interviews 20 scholarship finalists in Washington, DC.

The Mitchell Scholarship Selection Criteria

The Mitchell website notes the criteria used to select Mitchell Scholars:

  • Academic excellence and intellectual distinction;
  • An outstanding record of leadership;
  • A sustained commitment to service and community.

No minimum GPA is required and no GRE scores are used in the selection process, but high academic achievement is a necessity in a Mitchell Scholar. Also, a student’s past experience in Ireland or previous acceptance into an Irish university program does not serve as an advantage, in that part of the scholarship’s mission is to introduce new future leaders to Ireland. Nevertheless, one of the necessities of the scholarship is that the student has a concrete plan and commitment to study at an Irish university

Preparing the Mitchell Scholarship Application

The Mitchell application process takes place completely on-line, even for the applicant’s recommenders. Thus, a good deal of time must be spent on familiarizing yourself with the on-line system. Note that much of what you input in the application is the sort of material one lists in a curriculum vitae or resume, and this material will be balanced with your personal statement by the committee as part of the selection process. The application also invites you to list at least three preferences for schools, and the website notes that failure to do so can seriously weaken an application, in that institutional balance is a factor in placing students at universities.

In relation to the personal statement, the FAQ section of the Mitchell website notes this advice:

The personal essay is extremely important. Members of the Selection Committee examine the essay for clues to the character, commitment, and interests of each candidate. This is the only opportunity for the applicant to convey a sense of his/her passions, personality, and intellectual drive. In addition, a well-written essay should provide the Committee with valuable insight into the applicant’s motivation and rationale for the proposed graduate study program that is not otherwise communicated in the rest of the application materials.

In composing the personal statement, which is about two pages (no more than 1,000 words) in length, the basic goal is to present a rationale for the proposed study program and provide concrete evidence of your readiness. Some students detail their achievements in academics, leadership, and service, while others focus heavily on the study program of their first school preference, trusting that their application as a whole will provide a balanced picture of their background. Still other students match themselves to Ireland or Northern Ireland as directly as they can, including travel abroad when relevant, and noting any Irish professors whom they have met or with whom they have had contact.

Evaluation of Two Sample Mitchell Scholarship Personal Statements

The two sample personal statements in the pdf link below are an interesting study in contrasts, in that the first focuses heavily on music performance and the second on political advocacy. While both are strong personal statements, it should be noted that neither student landed a Mitchell Scholarship, underscoring the competitiveness of the application pool.

The first sample statement opens with a narrative discussion of Irish dance performance, after which the writer fleshes out her background in dance and music performance extensively. Indeed, this student has already studied for a semester abroad at University College Dublin and received private lessons in performing Irish “trad” music. Thus, her goal of extended study in this area is well-grounded in experience, and after she discusses her three target programs, making it clear why the University of Limerick is her first choice, she forcefully notes: “I must study in Ireland if I plan to pursue my passion.”

The second sample statement—written by a woman born of Peruvian parents and raised partly in Japan—opens with the writer defining her unique ethnic background and cultural diversity. As we learn throughout the essay, this background has informed her distinctive and deep involvement as an advocate for marginalized voices. She directly links this passion to her three academic programs of choice, and ends by artfully defining herself as a “world student and future political activist,” making a brief reference to Senator Mitchell’s work, and citing her commitment to ultimately helping US Latino citizens.

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


The Mitchell Scholarship website allows you to view a sample online application, offers a printable brochure about the scholarship, and gives profiles of past scholarship winners.

Visit the Mitchell Scholarship website.