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Drafting a personal statement

View your personal statement as a narrative that paints a portrait of you as an individual and demonstrates your passion for your field of inquiry.


For help preparing your personal statement and other writing materials, contact the Writing and Communications Center (WCC). The WCC offers free one-on-one professional advice from communication experts. All of these experts are MIT lecturers with advanced degrees. All are experienced college classroom teachers of communication. All are published scholars and writers.

Many departments within the School of Engineering have a communications lab offering individual coaching, targeted workshops, and a spectrum of initiatives for their students. Regardless of your school or discipline, their online CommKit is open and available to all.

Add a hook

A “hook” is an interesting or eye-catching statement, anecdote, fact, or question placed at the beginning of a piece of writing.

Fellowships are competitive, and individual reviewers may be looking at hundreds of applications at a time. Anything that captures a reader’s attention and makes you stick out in the pile can make a real difference, so include a strong “hook.”

Show creativity

The personal statement is not just a story about your trajectory, but a place to show your creativity. Craft the statement so that the reviewers see you as an individual and not just another applicant in the pile. For example, you can start with a story of how you became interested in science (avoiding clichés, of course) or give an example of an obstacle you had to overcome.

Share your personal experience & goals

Synthesize several of the following in your statement. Choose your topics based based on their relevance to the fellowship’s goals, your research, and your career path:

  • Your life experience
  • Your personal history
  • Your family background
  • The education and cultural opportunities (or lack of, if there is a desire to learn more) to which you have been exposed
  • Major influences to your intellectual development
  • Your career goals
  • How you plan to use the skills you will develop while supported by the fellowship

Every word counts, and how the statement is organized and how you use the limited space is often part of the review criteria.

Reference the fellowship’s mission

If the fellowship is looking for applicants that can achieve stated goals or live by certain ideals, address these in the personal statement. For example, the NSF GRFP’s two-part criteria states that their applicants and their research are of intellectual merit and will make a broader impact on society.

Tie it all together

A fellowship application is not a collection of individual documents. It is an application package, so everything should be tied together.

The personal statement should demonstrate that you are organized, strategic, and have a clear thought process, showing that you are qualified to carry out the work in your research proposal.