GUEST POST: My Stellar Personal Statement

We’re so excited to have a guest post today by Ruth Nyakerario, who was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 2018 for graduate study at the University of Oxford. The article below was presented as a talk in a motivational talk and scholarship event hosted by Iluu.

How much easier would life get? They’re asking you to write a statement, just about your life? Only 500 -1000 words. Haha, you could write a book, right! In this short article, I try respond to a pretty challenging question: how does one write a stellar, award winning personal statement? Evidently, one would want to find this out because personal statements aren’t always a lovely easy task to do, yet in applications, it’s the one thing that makes you stand out.

A few things to note that I will constantly refer back to – writing a personal statement is a deep moment, almost spiritual, I’d say. It calls for digging deeper into your core beliefs and who you really are. One of the best tips a friend shared with me as I made my grad school applications was, “Writing your personal statement should change you.”

Second, it’s a moment of authenticity. I know many of us have been groomed in the culture of ‘Oppression Olympics’: “I had it much rougher than you…,” “I walked barefoot to school.” But, let’s be objective. I acknowledge that indeed some of us come from really tough backgrounds, others middle class, and others posh. For most grad school applications, every person in each of these categories is worthy of a scholarship. Your merit, your achievements, and your contributions to society count more. There’s no need to fabricate. Be real, be true, be authentic.

Lastly, well at least for me, grad school applications are research projects. Two things to note on this – put in effort, and be an online detective. One author describes our generation as one of info glut (abundance in easily accessible information). Search the internet on everything worth finding. Leave no table unturned. Watch videos, navigate the website of your dream school and scholarship, check out on LinkedIn who got such a scholarship, reach out to them and request for a conversation. Don’t shy away from emailing the school (Admissions team). Some would gladly arrange a call to chat more with you.

Now, let’s move on to the nitty gritty:

  1. Start writing drafts early. Don’t leave it till last minute. Get over the fear of the blank page.
  2. Have a journal (could be hardcopy or an online google doc*) to note down all your milestones, your academic, and your co-curricular activities. Carry this everywhere. Even when you’re sleeping and a memory comes to your mind, wake up and write it down. What are you good at? If you cannot figure this out, ask your friends!
  3. READ, READ carefully the scholarship requirements. Pay attention to what they are asking. Here’s Rhodes Scholarship example (my year of application 2017). In a signed personal statement of no more than 1000 words:
    • Address your general interests and activities and what you plan to do with your life once you have completed your studies
    • Discuss your aims and priorities and the contribution you have made and would like to make to your home country
    • Indicate the course of study and degree you wish to follow at Oxford
  4. A personal statement is one chance you have to make your case to the selection committee. You’re speaking to them via written words. It’s your chance to tell your story, who are you, what matters most to you, and what are you hoping to do in the world.
  5. If one reads your personal statement and they met you, one should be able to tell it’s one and the same person.
  6. You don’t have a lot of space in a personal statement. Most will range from 500-1000 words. Clean up your initial drafts, format, and make sure you edit keenly.
  7. You need to demonstrate commitment to the course that you would want to pursue. Be conversant with current happenings in your field, and also show that you know what is going on globally. Be in the know.
  8. Write with pride, own your story.
  9. Edit, edit, edit…

Also, cool stuff to look at:

  1. Ted Talk – How to win a Rhodes Scholarship| Doug Cutchins
  2. 65 successful Harvard Business school application essays

More about Ruth:

Ruth Nyakerario is a Rhodes Scholar (2018). She holds a Masters in Refugee and Forced Migration studies and African studies from University of Oxford. In 2017, she completed her B.A. in International Relations from USIU-Africa. She is passionate about forced migration, and African youth. Ruth has a penchant for good stories and is a budding storyteller and performer. Currently, she lives in Oxford, with four lovely housemates.

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