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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Application Materials

Personal Statements & Scholarship Essays

If you're applying for graduate school, a job, or a scholarship, you may be asked to write a personal statement or some type of essay. These essays often ask "why" you want to be a "________" or why you believe you would be a good fit. Many people find it intimidating to write about themselves, but a personal statement should be approached the same as any other piece of writing. It has a purpose and an audience and should be tailored to match both. The following tips apply to any of the above types of personal statements. Remember to always closely follow the instructions provided by the school or organization and directly answer any of their questions in your essay.

Tips for Writing a Great Personal Statement/Essay

1.    Re-write the statement or essay for each school, job, or scholarship you are applying to. It is important that it fits your target audience.

a.   Research the school or organization
b.   Research the department/field you are interested in
c.   Research the faculty/supervisor you could be working with

2.   Get to the point. Have a clear direction and stick to a logical outline, just as you would in any academic essay. You don't want readers bogged down in unnecessary details, wondering where you're going.

3.   Be original. Without going overboard on personal details, let your personality come through. If it's difficult to come up with a unique topic, explore a new angle of an ordinary topic.

4.   Show, don’t tell. Show that you have experience or an interest through vivid, detailed examples. Just telling them that you are “interested in science” will not be as memorable or have as much impact as showing them how you “researched migratory patterns of swans at Turnbull National Park.”

5.    Be specific. If you are going to claim that you would make an excellent doctor, make sure that your essay proves this with specific reasons, experiences, and examples.  Your desire to become a _________________ should be the logical conclusion of the evidence you produce. 

6.    Hook your audience. Make sure that your opening paragraph has a great hook to interest your reader(s). You want to sound distinctive and memorable.

Boring: “I am applying to the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of Okoboji because I believe my writing will blossom at your program because it is a place where I will be challenged and I can hone my writing skills.”

Interesting hook: “When I was eleven, my great-aunt Gretchen passed away and left me a gift that changed my life: a library overlfowing with thousands of books. I spent some of my best days arranging and reading those wonderous books. Since then, I have wanted to be a librarian”   

See this guide for more hook ideas.

7.    Avoid clichés. How unique does this individual sound: “I want to be a doctor so I can help people.”

8.    Revise. Revise. Revise. This may be your only piece of writing in the application, so it needs to be your best. Proofread carefully for grammar, punctuation, spelling, flow, transitions, etc. Get feedback from professors, peers, and the EWU Writers’ Center. 

Click HERE for tips on revision.