A personal statement for a fellowship or graduate school application is your opportunity to express to the selection committee who you are and why you are a great candidate for the program. In particular, an eye-grabbing lead sentence or opening paragraph is your most important tool for maintaining the reader’s attention. Here are some examples of powerful personal statement openings of winners of highly competitive fellowships.
- “My parents are acupuncturists who made the long trip from their tiny cluster of villages in Guangzhou, China, to the quaint suburbs of Northern California, two years before I was born.”
By a winner of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Macau. The applicant draws the reader to something memorable – her parents’ unique vocation – paving the way for an interesting story about her childhood and interest in working abroad.
- “Every morning at 10:00 a.m. I come face to face with the power of language to free; it happens in a classroom. The students I teach at Seattle Central Community College come from night work in an industrial bakery, from a Vietnamese refugee camp, from a 9-to-5 job in a car wash, or from the day care center where they’ve left their children.”
By a graduate fellowship applicant to the University of Washington. This opening paragraph begins to tell a story that reflects on the applicant’s work with a diverse community.
- “My grandparents have touched many lives: former drug addicts, refugees, neighbors, and my own. They have an uncommon ability to build relationships; they are a paradigm of service— where service is more than what you do and is also defined by who you are.”
By a winner of the Fulbright U.S. Student Grant. The lyrical nature of this stand-alone opening paragraph exhibits an advanced ability to use both words and punctuation to express the applicant’s personal values and how they originated.
- “Thirty years ago, my dad boarded a one-way flight to the U.S. Unlike the people he left behind, he was coming to a new country filled with educational opportunities his homeland could not provide. He was not limited by his place of birth.”
By a successful applicant to Teach for America. Immediately, the applicant has built a framework to describe his interest in education and equal opportunity, and his personal experience as a child of an American immigrant.
- “In the sixth grade, I took a test to see if I was left- or right-brained. To my elementary eyes, the result of that quiz would be the truth from on high—a resolute word that would define the man to come as either analytic or artistic.”
By a Marshall Scholar to the U.K. The applicant masterfully opens with a story to describe the early beginnings of his intellectual curiosity, a key characteristic that the selection committee seeks in applicants.
A common aspect of these opening statements is their ability to draw the reader in to a unique and memorable story that begins to describe why the applicant is applying to the fellowship. You can identify more personal statement samples like these online by Googling “personal statement example pdf” with the name of the fellowship.
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Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding.
© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2016, all rights reserved.