In the personal statement, applicants have an opportunity to present themselves creatively, in a way that would not otherwise appear in the application. The statement provides the opportunity to showcase critical thinking and analytical skills in a creative format. Many students begin this statement with an anecdote about themselves, their family, a unique time in their lives, their discipline, or the world around them. An anecdote allows a writer to give a strong narrative opening, hooking the reader in the first paragraph by providing a unique slice of life which can illustrate both the applicant’s individuality and thoughtfulness.
The statement is also an opportunity for applicants to provide a specific connection to their discipline. Questions you can ask as you begin your statement can be: Was there a time or event in my life that propelled me towards my current studies? What do I want to do with my studies? What about this particular fellowship will enable me to pursue my goals? With the personal statement you are able to share something about yourself which ties distinctly or unexpectedly into your discipline, research topic, proposed plan of study, and/or the values of the fellowship. Because some fellowships contain an interview component, the personal statement also becomes your chance to entice a fellowship committee to invite you to an interview.
Use the statement to highlight positive aspects about yourself that are not apparent elsewhere in the application. Conversely, do not repeat things that are found in other parts of the application. Many students move into the pitfall of simply repeating their activities and accomplishments, making their statements read like activity lists in paragraph form. Instead of telling the reader your good qualities or ticking off your achievements, show your positive attributes through illustration and narration.
As preparation, read personal essays by professional writers and memoirists to get a sense of the genre. By reading a few examples before you write your own statement, you will positively familiarize yourself with the proper tone and subject matter for a personal statement. The E-Journals and Databases are great resources available to you as a Columbia student.
After writing your statement, you should have friends and family read it, asking them if the statement accurately represents your core values and motivations. By also reconsidering the values of the fellowship after your first draft, you will see where you need to further tie yourself and your activities to the goals of the fellowship award. Here at the Office of Fellowship Programs, we are available to help you as you progress through multiple drafts of your statement. Once you have written your first draft, you can email it to the Office of Fellowship Programs. We will read it over, and can then schedule a meeting with you to discuss your draft and its direction.