Many popular scholarships by organisations such as Chevening, Commonwealth, Shell and PETRONAS may require you to submit a personal statement as part of the application process, usually up to 1,000 words or less.
What will make you stand out from other candidates is the quality of your personal statement, and not just your impressive grades and accomplishments in school.
So if you want to compose a memorable personal statement that will knock the socks off the scholarship committee members, here are some general guidelines to help you.
#1. Analyse the question thoroughly
This may sound like a no-brainer, but reading and understanding the question before answering the essay is the first step to writing a good personal statement. Adhere to the word limit (it’s there for a reason) as it will help you keep your essay on track.
You can expect some commonly asked questions, such as “Why should the scholarship be awarded to you?”, “Why are you applying for this scholarship?”, “Describe some of your qualities that make you well placed to be a future leader in your home country” that will require you to dig deep and carefully plan your answer.
Instead of jumping right into it, identify what the question is asking, and centralise your content around that theme, along with details that back your points.
#2. Determine and organise your key points
Once you have identified a theme from the question, your mind may be swirling with ideas on what you want to share, which can get pretty overwhelming. Instead of falling into a frenzy, take it offline and list down the key points you want to highlight.
Take note of how you want to start your introduction (e.g. with an interesting anecdote or quote), the contents of the body of your personal statement (e.g. your ambitions, how the scholarship will impact you in the long run, etc.) and conclusion (e.g. reiterating why you deserve the scholarship).
For example, you may want to highlight your notable accomplishments and showcase your important traits, such as your leadership or problem-solving abilities, by providing relevant examples in the body of your statement. For example, did you take the lead to organise a fundraising event for a cause that moved you, such as the Syrian refugee crisis? Do you volunteer to teach the orphans in your community or actively participate in feeding the homeless?
Mull over what sets you apart from other applicants and include them in your personal statement. Be sure that your points are connected — you don’t want to get carried away by not planning out your statement, which is a common mistake made by scholarship applicants!
#3. Create engaging content
Once you’ve decided on your key points, remember to share your story in an engaging way that would compel your readers to read from start to end. This means showcasing your passion (e.g. for a cause) through a story instead of telling them that you’re passionate about it.
So avoid the generic, “I’m passionate about the plight of the refugees in the world and decided to do something about it” and instead illustrate it by, “I was moved by the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar and initiated a fundraising event in college to collect funds to buy food and medical supplies for them.” Avoid being vague and include evidence to support your points.
Bear in mind to tailor your content based on the type of scholarship you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for an academic scholarship, you will need to highlight your academic achievements whereas if you’re applying for a needs-based scholarship, you’ll need to tailor your content accordingly.
#4. Be careful with your tone of writing
Apart from creating engaging content, it’s also important to think about your tone of writing.
For example, while you may want to paint an impressive picture of yourself through your personal statement, it is also important not to come across as boastful or arrogant. Saying you’re the best student in school who has won numerous awards without providing evidence to support your points may suggest that you are full of hot air!
Instead, convey the right attitude and project that you are confident, know what you want for your future and will stop at nothing to achieve your goals.
So be proud but not boastful, and be humble but not timid.
#5. Proofread your personal statement
The editing process is as hard as drafting your personal statement.
You should ask yourself the following questions before hitting the “Submit” button:
- Have you clearly expressed your goals and supported it with concrete points?
- Does your content ooze confidence and is compelling enough to your readers?
- Have you expressed your interests as to why you want to pursue that particular university or course?
- Have you explained why you are deserving of the scholarship over hundreds of other candidates?
It is also important that your statement is free of grammatical and spelling errors as it may reflect badly on you (e.g. shows a lack of attention to detail), so be sure to proofread your content thoroughly. If you’re not feeling particularly confident with your statement, have a fresh pair of eyes (preferably from someone you trust) to proofread or offer suggestions for improvement.
While there is no one way of writing a winning personal statement, we hope that these tips will serve as a basic guideline to get you started. Bear in mind that if you are applying for different scholarships, you may need to tweak your content to suit the respective requirements — after all, one size does not necessarily fit all!